There are only two things to do in Napa the first weekend in June: live it up or avoid it altogether. On this particular weekend, and every year in June, the valley celebrates its wine and its lifestyle in a three-day-long extravaganza that is as fantastic as it is fatal for the local traffic. Those who stay away avoid the madness on Highway 29, but they also miss the best opportunity of the year to experience the breadth and depth of what Napa has to offer California wine and food lovers.
Auction Napa Valley is actually three separate events rolled into one long weekend, all focused on celebrating the bounty and beauty of Napa Valley while raising millions for local charities.
THE LIVE AUCTION AND GALA
The first, and most famous, is the Live Auction Gala, which begins with exclusive small dinner parties hosted by wineries on Thursday and Friday nights and culminates in the star-studded auction on Saturday night where local stars mix with just-of-the-jet Hollywood celebs for a live auction, dinner, and dancing. The auction features some outrageously extravagant items any one of which would make most wine lovers' day. Here are a few highlights from this year's catalog:
This event is as exclusive as its $3750 per-person ticket price tag might imply. Invitations are sent out each year to a limited list, and getting on that list uncannily resembles the process (and emotional ride) of trying to get on the mailing list for some of the valley's most sought after wineries. It's a combination of persistence and who ya know.
However, a call to the Napa Valley Vintners today indicates that there are some tickets still available So if you didn't make the list, or you're just hearing about this all for the first time you can still get in on the action. A word of warning, though, that at this late date you'll be paying through the nose for lodging in the valley, which is likely near to sold out.
FRIDAY BARREL AUCTION AND FESTIVAL
In addition to the main auction on Saturday night, there is also a smaller, lower key auction that takes place on Friday during the day. The Friday Barrel Auction and Festival is essentially a gourmet picnic, wine tasting, and barrel auction all rolled into one. I went last year and can't recommend it highly enough to those who are interested in tasting some of Napa's best wines without investing a lot of cash. 106 different barrel lots (20-25 cases) of Napa wine are available for tasting and public bidding by interactive kiosk. Those who don't want to take part in the auction can wander around the grounds of Trinchero winery listening to live music and sampling food and gourmet treats from some of wine country's best artisan producers. The $200 tickets to this event are currently sold out except as part of that full package at $3750 per person.
GOOD MORNING NAPA
There are two more publicly accessible (and less expensive) events as part of the big weekend. The first is a mellow breakfast event at COPIA, which involves breakfast, a walk around wine tasting of wines from all the various Napa appellations, and cooking demonstrations. Tickets are $50 and are still available for purchase online. I haven't been to this event in the past, but it sounds like a good one. As an added bonus, if you get bored at COPIA, the Napa Farmer's Market will be taking place in their parking lot that same morning, so you can get some shopping done as well.
There is a third auction which is taking place even as we speak on the internet. For the first time, Auction Napa Valley is offering a fully public, globally accessible, e-auction of 62 different lots of wine and other exciting gifts for anyone who wants to bid. Highlights from this auction include:
So even if you're not anywhere near Napa for the weekend you can still get in on the action. Here's the link to bid online.
SUNDAY OPEN HOUSES
Finally, on Sunday after the big auction, many wineries (including some usually only visited by appointment) open their doors for public open houses (for those who aren't too hung over to get a little more wine tasting in). If you're in the mood for some tasting I recommend stops at Fantesca, Ehlers Estate, Pine Ridge, The Terraces, and Revana Family Vineyard.
Lots to do the first weekend in June if you love wine and you have the time and money.
Auction Napa Valley
Thursday June 1 through Sunday June 4th
Various Locations in Napa Valley
Tickets: $3750 per person for full package, $50 for breakfast event. Available for purchase online. All others are sold out.
My tips for attending: go early to any event and plan on twice the normal travel time, even if your coming from somewhere else in the valley. Avoid Highway 29 at all costs, and stay in the area if you can rather than braving the drive anywhere else at the end of the day. Sunscreen, spitting, and lots of water are also a must.
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