Is Napa's wine auction recession-proof?

  • 6/6/2007: D1: none

    6/4/2006: B1: Million-dollar woman: At right, after bidding a record $1.05 million for a lot put up by Staglin Family Vineyards, Joy Craft of Woodside is congratulated by Ryan Seacrest, left, and Garen Staglin.

    PC: News/--3 of 4--After bidding $1 million 50 thousand at the Napa Valley Wine auction, Saturday June 3, 2006 in St. Helena at Meadowood Resort, Joy Craft is congratulated by Ryan Seacrest, left and Garen Staglin owner of Staglin Family Vineyards. Craft, of Woodside, set a record with the bid which was a Lot put up by Staglin. (CQ'd) (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2006

Few can claim they?ve camped out in the vineyards of Screaming Eagle, no less in a safari tent filled with custom furniture. But Joy Craft can.

The owner of High Point Ventures, an investment company in Woodside, paid $500,000 in 2007 for the Auction Napa Valley lot featuring the camping trip for eight at the exclusive cabernet sauvignon-producing winery in Oakville.

?In the morning I walked in my pj?s through the Screaming Eagle vineyards, coffee in hand, with hot air balloons flying over,? said Craft, the top bidder at the auction for two years running ? 2006 and 2007.

Last year?s top bidder was Sandra Thompson, also of Woodside, who along with her husband, John, spent $1.1 million on a single lot.

With Auction Napa Valley 2009 taking place Saturday, many are curious about these high flyers. The auction, which raises funds for numerous Napa Valley charities, also has a public relations mission: to showcase the valley?s wine with hotly contested lots.

But are top bidders recession-proof or will their generosity be tempered by the current economic downturn? Will there be any record-breaking, champagne-infused, spiraling bids under the white tent at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena?

Chuck McMinn, co-vintner of Vineyard 29 in St. Helena, expects fewer free-flowing bids. McMinn doubts he?ll reel in as much for this year?s lot as his $160,000 peak for a previous lot.

?People don?t have two sets of wallets, one philanthropic wallet and one ordinary wallet,? he said. ?It?s all tied together.?

The auction, now in its 29th year, is the theme of McMinn?s lot, crafted to play off the name of his winery. It features two 2.9-liter bottles of Vineyard 29 cabernet, a 2.9-carat diamond custom-designed necklace, and nine dinners for two at any restaurant in the U.S. that carries his cabernet sauvignon.

McMinn said most auctions, whether local school fund-raisers or large national charities, have raised 10 to 50 percent less this year than last. ?It?s all over the map.?

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