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Auction Napa Valley will be replaced with yearlong fundraising campaign

Auction Napa Valley, where some of America’s wealthiest wine lovers bid six- and seven-digit sums to raise millions for local nonprofits, is ending after a 40-year run that brought in more than $200 million.

In place of the three-day event that brought bidders from all over the world and featured celebrity entertainers including Katy Perry and Ayesha Curry, organizers plan to return from a pandemic-induced, two-year hiatus with a series of more inclusive events that appeal to a range of income levels.

“We want to have a much larger footprint with a larger audience than we’ve had in the past,” said Blakesley Chappellet, who has been on the auction steering committee for five years. “We want to be inclusive with price point, ages and diversity all the way around. We’re looking at this as a global stage where vintners could travel to other places to put on events, while still bringing people here to Napa. And we want fundraising not to just happen over three days but throughout the year.”

Organizers said the pandemic gave them an opportunity to reflect on the event they’ve talked about redesigning for the past decade.

The newly created “Collective Napa Valley” will focus fundraising efforts on seasonal offerings, with the initial event the first weekend of June 2022. It will be patterned after Auction Napa Valley’s barrel auction, which had an online component in the past. Details on all of the offerings, they said, will be forthcoming as they work out the logistics.

“Our bidders and vintners were getting a bit fatigued,” Chappellet said. “We realized the live auction was a small event for a small number of people and we were just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of wine enthusiasts.”

Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization comprised of 550 vintners, has committed to funneling $15 million to the local health care and childhood education nonprofits through 2023. In the fall of 2020 the Napa Valley Vintners contributed $8.3 million through its Healthy Community Fund to 29 of its non-profit partners.

Auction Napa Valley raised $12 million from its live auction, barrel auction and a separate E-Auction in 2019, its most recent event. And it has continued to set aside a rainy-day fund from its fundraising totals since its inception in 1981.

“I don’t know of any rainier day than this past year,” said Teresa Wall, Napa Valley Vintners’ senior director of communications.

But, Wall said, the wildfires, the drought and the pandemic didn’t play into the decision to eliminate the live auction. Nor did the longtime setting, Meadow resort, which was severely damaged by last year’s Glass fire, she said.

“A lot of people are making these assumptions, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Our vintners were feeling a little tapped out by the level of giving required to sustain the live auction portion of Auction Napa Valley … the barrel auction event in 2022 will not have a live auction. That part is not coming back.”

Over the years, the live auction has piqued the interest of the wine world with a highfalutin pairing of celebrity with outrageous disposable income. Politicians, producers, entertainers and musicians converged under the white tent and they included notables like then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Francis Ford Coppola, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey and Lyle Lovett. But even they couldn’t compete with the jaw-dropping show of affluence that spiraling bids commanded. Most notable was a 6-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle, a cabernet sauvignon that sold for $500,000 at Auction Napa Valley in 2000. It continues to hold the record for the highest price paid for a single bottle.

But the fear of the unknown with wildfires, the drought and the lingering pandemic, may give even the most generous bidders pause.

Wall said she’s not sure whether the new fundraising model will be able to match the $12 million raised in 2019, but she’s hopeful.

“We’re looking at this as a startup business where it will take time to roll out these offerings,” she said. “Fundraising will ramp up as we roll out these offerings.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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