This week more than 250 wine trade buyers and professionals descended upon Napa Valley to bid on wine lots mainly from the stellar 2021 vintage, as part of the annual Premiere Napa Valley Auction. After a week of multiple tastings around the valley, the final auction paddles were raised on Saturday afternoon. The tally for both the live and online auctions, managed by Sotheby’s, resulted in $3.4 million raised to fund programs that protect, enhance and promote Napa Valley.
“This is a special event and time of the year,” said Priyanka French, Premiere Napa Valley Steering Committee Chair and Winemaker for Signorello Estate. “It is a chance for Napa Valley to showcase its wines, and express appreciation for the trade who helps to move our wines to the market.”
This year marks the 27th year of the auction, with more than 150 unique wine lots crafted especially for the event. The majority of the lots are from the 2021 vintage, with many of the wines still aging in barrel. They will be shipped to the winning bidders (all members of the trade) later in the year, after bottling and labeling with the distinctive Premiere Napa Valley label (above). In addition, more than 50 older lots, from the 2004 to 2013 vintages, were auctioned as part of the Vintage Perspective Auction segment.
Napa Valley Vintage 2021 – The Joy is Back
After surviving the harrowing wildfires of 2020, the pandemic, and a drought year in 2021, it is only natural that Napa Valley winemakers were a little nervous about the outcome of the 2021 vintage. However, Mother Nature smiled on the valley in 2021 and delivered a vintage of celebration and joy. Following are some excerpts of interviews I had with winemakers and other professionals during the various tastings events.
“This has been a great vintage after the wildfires,” said Hope Goldie, Director of Winemaking at Darioush winery. “Given that it was a drought year, we were a little nervous, but the wines are juicy, luscious, and concentrated with a sense of freshness and elegance.”
During drought years the grape clusters are usually smaller, resulting in more intense flavors and concentration. However, if it is too hot, there is a possibility that the wines will taste jammy with higher alcohol levels and lower acidity. At the same time, it is possible that Mother Nature may also deliver the perfect balance, with good concentration, complex flavors, and a lively acidity to cleanse the palate and create an age worthy wine. In 2021, Mother Nature decided to smile upon Napa Valley.
According to Shafer Vineyard Manager, David Ilsley, “Even though it was a drought year, the grapes regulated themselves to deliver an excellent crop.” Shafer Head Winemaker, Elias Fernandez, who has been making wine at Shafer for more than 30 years, agrees: “ The 2021 vintages delivers great texture, concentration and length.”
Luc Morlet, who grew up in France and is the owner and winemaker at Morlet Family Estate, discussed the positives of a drought year. “Sometimes a drought year can be a serious advantage. After dealing with 2020, we are very happy with the 2021 vintage. It is more classic, with good vibrancy, freshness and concentration.”
Freshness and Concentration Define the Napa Valley 2021 Vintage
Indeed, the terms ‘freshness’ and ‘concentration’ came up again and again in conversations with winemakers and buyers.
- “It was a dream vintage. Though lower in quantity, due to the drought, it was higher in quality with excellent depth and freshness.” Ashley Hepworth, Winemaker at Joseph Phelps.
- “Fresh and opulent, with athletic grace.” – Carey Jayne Marvin, DTC Sales and Marketing Director at Turnbull Winery
- “It has power without being too big, plus good intensity and freshness.” Kurtis Ogasawara, Senior Winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery.
- “This 2021 vintage we are tasting is delicious now, but it will be there for the long haul. It has lots of concentration with the ability to age well. I would call it a true Napa Valley signature wine.” Chimo Boehm, Director of Domestic Wine with Wine.com
Premiere Napa Valley – Time To Build Relationships
Another oft repeated comment during Premiere Napa Valley 2023 was how pleased people were with the chance to have an in-person event again after the pandemic, as well as the chance to shake hands. In fact, last year, everyone was still required to present a vaccine card and to complete a Covid test (and wait 15 minutes), before being allowed to enter the grand-tasting. This year, it seemed as if everything was ‘back to normal,’ and there were many smiles and a sense of relief and celebration.
Johnathan Chandler, a Sales Consultant with Winebow, summed this up in a succinct way. “We are here to taste award winning wines and check out the new vintage for our customers. It is also a great way to build relationships with wineries and for the future.”
Surprisingly, Mother Nature also delivered a blanket of snow on Napa Valley mountains and vineyards during Premiere Napa Valley week. Though it created colder temperatures than usual, it also made for some dramatic scenery.