Remembering a legend at one legendary event |

Remembering a legend at one legendary event

Kelly J. Hayes

On the one hand, when the 28th annual Napa Valley Wine Auction kicks off on June 4, things will be the same as they ever were. Millions of dollars will be raised for charity; thousands of people will converge on the valley for sun, wine and great food; Jay Leno will tell jokes; and a good time will be had by all.

But on the other hand, things will never be the same, because for the first time, the global ambassador of California wine will not be around for the revelry and celebration. With the death of Robert Mondavi earlier this month at the age of 94, the world of wine lost a legend, the Napa Valley lost a champion, and attendees and beneficiaries of the auction lost a friend.

The Napa Valley Wine Auction was founded in 1981 as an opportunity for Napa winemakers to both promote their wines and give back to the community. Since that first year, the Napa Valley Vintners have given $78 million to 47 different health services, local housing and youth organizations, including $8.8 million last year alone.

Mondavi, who was one of seven original signatories of the document that launched the vintners association in 1944, was instrumental in the creation of the auction. Modeled after the Hospice de Beaune auction in Burgundy, Napa’s iteration got off to a hot start. Literally.

According to the Wine Spectator’s Jim Laube, who was there as a reporter, the event was forged in fire as several arson-generated infernos raged in the hills surrounding the valley. A case of Opus One, an as yet unreleased wine made as a joint venture between Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton Rothschild, sold for an unheard of $24,000 that inaugural year and the event was off and running.

Today they refer to the events that make up auction weekend as the 30-mile block party. Napa Valley wineries open their doors and serve stellar meals prepared by celebrity chefs in the intimate settings of their caves or cellars to the 700 or so registered attendees who pay $2,500 each for the opportunity to bid for the very the best of the valley’s bounty. The climax of the event is the auction itself, which takes place under a tent on Saturday evening at the Meadowood Resort, where wealth and charity come together in a perfect storm.

This year those who cannot attend but have access to the Internet can participate for free, exclusive of their bids of course, in an online auction at If you have the space and a love for wines from the valley floor, for example, you might want to bid on Lot #103, which features 30 bottles form the St. Helena Appellation. Your winning bid will net you wines from Anomaly Vineyards to Wolf Family Vineyards and everything in between. Many bottles will not be found anywhere else.

In addition, many of the lots have extras such as overnight accommodations at the winery or meals and other perks. Lot No. 160 offers bidders an opportunity for two couples to spend a night at the Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco, sail across the Bay to Napa and then be ferried by limousine to Spring Mountain Vineyard to pick up 13 magnum bottles, one of each vintage of the winery’s best releases. Lot No. 129 includes a helicopter ride, a shopping spree and three nights for four at Franciscan Winery. Gargiulo Vineyards will let lucky bidders come to work at the winery if they top out on Lot No. 132, which is titled “Winemaker Fantasy Camp.”

Mondavi, a master marketer and promoter, would have loved each and every offering. And though nobody could have anticipated that people from around the world would be able to bid on magnums and helicopter rides from their desktops, the promise of the “Napa Lifestyle” that is inherent in each lot is precisely the kind of image that Mondavi promoted.

While this year’s Napa Valley Wine Auction will be tinged with sadness for the loss of Robert Mondavi, it is likely that most who knew him will raise a glass in honor of a life well lived.

Hear, hear.

For those interested, here is the link where you can comment on the life of Robert Mondavi:

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