If previous annual Napa Wine Auctions are remembered for the $10,000-and-over bids for first offerings of exotic wines such as Opus One and Dominus, the 1987 auction held last Saturday will in all likelihood be recalled for a $2,800 bid placed on the first offering of a six-pack of a wine cooler dubbed Dos Okies.
Described in the auction catalogue as the "first, and probably the last" barrel-fermented wine cooler, the lot was put up for auction by Gil Nickel and Beth Yorman, the Oklahoma-born proprietors of the prestigious Far Niente winery. The successful bidder was wine importer Jack Daniels, whose company is the exclusive American agency for several ultra-high priced wines, including those of the Domaine de la Romane'e Conti. Bidding on the lot opened up at 89 cents, but quickly escalated as Daniels, his expression determined, brandished his paddle high above his head until the last of the 20-odd competing bidders dropped out.
For the most part, however, this year's auction was one wherein both vintners and bidders seemed to step back and take a breath from the frenetic bidding of the previous two years. There were no dramatic offerings of highly publicized new wines, and the two highest bids ($13,0000 and $12,000) were not only below previous highs, but were placed on lots that offered barrel quantities (20-plus cases) of wine, rather than the single case or lesser quantities of prior high bids. Overall bidding was also substantially lower, raising a total of $416,680, down from almost $440,000 last year. Proceeds benefit two Napa hospitals and an area clinic.
As in previous years, much attention was focused on a pre-auction tasting event featuring barrel samples of recent vintages and a "wild card" tasting that highlights emerging trends. Based on both presentations, Napa's emerging new star appears to be the cabernet franc. Traditionally used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, this variety was shown to be playing an increasingly larger role in adding dimension and depth to California's more traditional all-cabernet or cabernet and merlot blends.
At the earlier wild card event, several vintners brought experimental lots of all-cabernet franc wine. By itself, the variety offered intense, but simple fruit set against tight acidity. At the later barrel tasting, the variety was shown in blends with other varieties, and its effect was far more impressive. Both Flora Springs, with 1986 Trilogy ($35, 1988-89 release), and Cain Cellars, with its 1985 Proprietors Estate Blend ($25, 1988 release), produced marvelously refined, complex wines based on a 1/3-part blend of cabernet franc. Mt. Veeder, using the same percentage, produced a tougher, but excellent wine for an experimental lot offered only at the auction. Look for much more use of this variety as new plantings, increasingly evident in vineyards throughout the valley, come on stream.