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Wine and song


The Silverado Pickups is a rockabilly band and who would have guessed its honky-tonk musicians are moonlighting Napa Valley vintners?

By day, David Duncan is the CEO of Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey Cellars, as well as a chief organizer of this year's Auction Napa Valley with its big rollout this weekend.

Between rehearsing and helping to plan the auction, Duncan has had to step up his pace.

"People don't realize what goes into an event like this, how much generosity there is even before the bidders show up," he said.

Events begin Thursday, with the main attraction Saturday's live auction at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. Another popular draw is Friday's Napa Valley Barrel Auction at Charles Krug in St. Helena.

This year's theme — "Sweet Home Napa Valley" — comes with an oversized prop: a colorful hot-air balloon that will be anchored at the Meadowood grounds.

Duncan and his wife, Kary, have teamed up with Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo of Napa's Gargiulo Vineyards to co-chair the auction. It's been a year-long preparation.

"We've been very active in recruiting to bring in new bidders as well as past bidders to the auction," Duncan said. "Last year was amazing. It was a perfect storm of lots and bidders in the room."

Last year's take was record-breaking; the live auction reeled in $14 million, while the grand total for the entire weekend was $16.9 million.

Courting bidders proved to be a successful strategy, so vintners were at it again this year, hosting eight different events throughout the year in cities that included Shanghai and Hong Kong.

With organizers putting the final touches on the auction, Duncan said it seems to be in good shape and working with fellow vintner and band buddy Gargiulo has been seamless.

"We know how each other works, so it makes it reasonably easy for us," Duncan said.

They've been friends for more than a decade and they helped launch the band in 2010. Today it's well-known for its single, "Wine Country Cowboy," with lyrics like, "I have dusty boots and rain on my mind." It's the closing song in the Imax film called "Napa Valley Dreams."

The band has opened for musician Leon Russell and country singer Tim McGraw, as well as shared the stage with country singer Billy Dean. It has opened for Bottle Rock in Napa last year and was on the roster again this year.

The Silverado Pickups won't be performing at the auction, but if you want a glimpse of Duncan and Gargiulo on stage, they are expected to appear with the band after dinner on Saturday.

Duncan and Gargiulo say they love to celebratetheir two passions — wine and music. In fact, it seems their favorite pastime is to make a case for wine and music as the perfect pairing.

"They fit together like a glove," said 62-year old Gargiulo, the band's lead guitarist. "When you drink wine, you're relaxed and you want to listen to music. It's such an authentic experience, a part of the art of living."

Gargiulo has a collection of hand-made guitars in his tasting room and draws a connection between crafted guitars and boutique wine.

The guitar, over the years, has become something of an appendage for Gargiulo who began playing at 13. Back then he had an infection in his leg and had to be hospitalized for six months. He explained that one day his mom just handed him a guitar to keep him sane, and since then he and music have been practically inseparable.

Duncan, 48, also loves the synergy between wine and music, and puts it this way: "When you get the wine just right, it's like hitting a chord on the guitar. But you first have to have all the notes in place."

Playing in the band, Duncan said, has had a profound effect on him.

"I'm not afraid to get up and speak in front of people anymore because speaking is much easier than singing," he said.

What's more, Duncan loves the camaraderie he has with his fellow Wine Country cowboys. That said, he's quick to add with a laugh, "My wife tells me not to quit my day job."

<i>Staff writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310.</i>

Here's a glimpse of some highlights in auction lots expected to inspire some spiraling bids:

<strong>Crazy about cruises?</strong> - <strong>Lot 1:</strong> Features a 14-night voyage for four aboard The World, the largest privately-owned residential mega-yacht on earth. This lot also features 14 bottles of library vintages of Napa Valley wines donated by Napa Valley Vintners Association members, as well as dinner for 20 at Bella Oaks vineyard in Napa Valley.

<strong>Mad about the Oscars? - Lot 5:</strong> Offers private jet transportation to the Academy Awards in Hollywood from the San Francisco Bay Area, with a luxurious gown and tuxedo for the show. The package includes a 9-liter bottle of Raymond Vineyards'Generations, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon signed by the cast of a Weinstein Company film and a private VIP table beside the stars at the Weinstein Company.

<strong>Shoe fetish? - Lot 33:</strong> Features a $10,000 shopping spree for one couple at Footcandy in St. Helena, a Juslyn Vineyards' 3-liter bottle of Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, and a week's lodging at Las Ventanas al Paraiso resort in Cabo San Lucas for one couple.

<strong>Travels with Margrit? - Lot 38:</strong> This lot offers a trip to France with Margrit Mondavi as well as with Genevieve Janssens of Robert Mondavi Winery, taking in a sweep of Burgundy. It also features 24 bottles of Mondavi wine — eight cabernet sauvignons, eight chardonnays and eight pinot noirs.

<strong>Dinner in Zurich? - Lot 47:</strong> This lot is built around a trip to Switzerland for four, treating them to a three-night stay. It includes a trip on the Glacier Express Train to visit the Gantenbein Winery, capping off the trip with dinner in Zurich. It also includes 36 bottles of wine from Napa Valley Vintners Association members.