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Estimated $15.5 million raised at Auction Napa Valley with Francis Ford Coppola as guest chef

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Auction napa valley totals, by year

Here are the weekend bid totals for the past five years of Auction Napa Valley:

2017: $15.5 million (projected)

2016: $14.3 million

2015: $15.8 million

2014: $18.6 million

2013: $16.9 million

The Coppola Family, assisted by a supporting cast of vintners, chefs and volunteers, drew an audience of 950 to the grassy fairway at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena Saturday to raise money for the Napa Valley community during the 37th annual Auction Napa Valley.

Temperatures in the mid-80s greeted guests in mid-afternoon as they gathered under a tent to preview the 36 premium auction lots that ranged from wine and food experiences to global travel and arts adventures.

The auction is the headline fundraiser in a weeklong event put on by the Napa Valley Vintners to benefit local nonprofits serving community health and children’s education.

The bidding kicked off at 4:30 p.m. under an air-conditioned white tent with crystal chandeliers and spotlights, as auctioneer Fritz Hatton ramped up the excitement for the first lot, a food and wine trip donated by the Coppolas that spanned their historic winery, Inglenook in Rutherford, and a trip to Italy at the Coppolas’ boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita.

Sitting onstage in a trademark white linen suit with his family, vintner and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola reminded bidders that the trip to Italy would be made on his Falcon 7X jet, which can accommodate “50 people, not just 6.” The winning bid for the lot was $460,000 amid fast and furious competition.

But the top lot of the day was $2.1 million for a private dinner at Colgin Cellars, followed by a trip to Paris and the Champagne region for tastings and dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants. The lot included three bids of $700,000 each.

That drove up the weekend’s projected take to more than $15.5 million.

As a jazz band played between lots, guests in sundresses and wide skirts, golf shirts and suit jackets kept up the bidding, fueled by Napa Valley wine and small bites.

Meanwhile, in the outdoor kitchen, caterer and butcher John Sorensen was coaching his 13-member crew on when to light the grills for the main course of the dinner following the auction.

“I’m worried about timing and if the wind picks up,” said Sorensen, who was personally appointed by Francis Ford Coppola to oversee the grill. “I’m also the fire chief of St. Helena.”

For the antipasti, Sorensen was asked to prepare Uncle Mikey’s sausage as a tribute to Coppola’s uncle. It has a special blend of fennel, red pepper flakes and paprika spice.

“I’ve been Francis’ butcher since 1992,” he said. “We practiced the steak with Francis two weeks ago.”

In the morning, Coppola prepared potato gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce in what amounted to a cooking class for 20 of the highest bidders from past auctions. Other Italian-style dishes included vegetable sides of deep-fried eggplant, arugula salad, broccolini and escarole.

Celebrity chefs have long played a starring role in the auction. Last year’s event featured Argentine grillmeister Francis Mallman, who used a backhoe to dig a huge trench to cook his rustic meats.

“That’s a hard act to follow,” said Sorensen, who called on members of St. Helena Oddfellows Lodge No. 167 to operate the grills. “Francis said no chefs. No firefighters,” he said. “Just give me guys who know how to barbecue.”

There were not many celebrities to be seen, but Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom stood up to help boost the bidding for a lot involving the winery he co-owns, PlumpJack in Oakville.

Auction napa valley totals, by year

Here are the weekend bid totals for the past five years of Auction Napa Valley:

2017: $15.5 million (projected)

2016: $14.3 million

2015: $15.8 million

2014: $18.6 million

2013: $16.9 million

Coppola family members each directed an event during the four-day affair, regarded as the swankiest wine auction in the country. Film director Sofia Coppola, who recently won best director for “Beguiled” at Cannes, hosted a private party Thursday night. Eleanor Coppola was the guiding force behind the barrel auction Friday at Inglenook, which drew 2,200 people. Roman Coppola, set the scene for the live auction, from the speakeasy-style jazz music and dancers to lighting and set. He is co-creator of the Amazon Prime TV series “Mozart in the Jungle.”

For the first time, the board of the sponsoring Napa Valley Vintners offered their own auction lot, which included a dinner in the caves at Chateau Boswell Winery in St. Helena.

“We have all-natural caves that show the geology of the Napa Valley,” said Susan Boswell, who serves on the 12-member board. “This is our inaugural lot, and we’re hoping to continue it.”

Mike and Sandy Davis of Davis Estates in Calistoga, who hosted a dinner on Thursday night for 35, said they participate because it allows them to give back to the valley and the people. They were looking forward to bidding at the auction.

“The things that are offered are so unique and personal,” Mike Davis said. “That’s why it attracts so many people.”

The denouement of the auction featured the annual Fund-A-Need, which came in increments ranging from $1,000 to $250,000 and is focused on funding early intervention to support troubled children.

The event’s estimated overall take topped the more than $15 million raised by the Naples Winter Wine Festival in January as well as the $4.6 million raised by the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction last September.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5287

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