Napa Valley Wine Auction draws $320,000 bid

By Michelle Locke, Associated Press Writer
Monday June 10, 2002

ST. HELENA – Sparkling wine flowed and “Hey, Big Spender,” belted out over the loudspeakers as 26 magnums of Napa Valley’s finest went to the high bidder of $320,000 in the celebrity-studded annual wine auction Saturday. 

“I really wanted the lot,” winner David Doyle said, a glass in his hand and a smile on his face as the software entrepreneur shook hands with people, including valley patriarch Robert Mondavi, who crowded around his table with congratulations. 

Saturday was the 22nd Napa Valley Wine Auction, billed as the world’s largest charity event. And although individual bids were a bit below the high-flying days of the Internet boom, the money was rolling in. 

Doyle’s lot had been one of the most closely watched because it contained a number of highly prized wines including bottles of the almost impossible-to-get Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle. 

The auction was spread over four days, starting Thursday, but the big event came Saturday afternoon when people bid on bottles donated by members of the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association, the event’s sponsor. 

Celebrities in the audience included actor Rob Schneider and former San Francisco 49er Joe Montana. But the money was the real star. 

“Forty-five-fifty-five-sixty-five-seventy,” auctioneer Fritz Hatton whipped out, barely drawing breath as the bidding on Doyle’s lot jumped $30,000 in about 30 seconds. Seated at tables crowded under a big white tent, the smell of bruised grass mixing with wine, bidders held up yellow paddles to signify their intentions. Whistles blew to make sure they had Hatton’s attention. 

When the bid got up to $310,000, Doyle, from Newport Beach, “thought about it for 10 seconds. I looked at her (his girlfriend) and said, ’What do you think?”’ 

She nodded, which means they’re the owners of 26, 1.5 liter bottles of wine from various wineries in Napa Valley’s prime Oakville region along with tours, tastings, lunches, brunches and a plane ride. 

“One of the reasons the wine auction gets such incredible bids — it’s not just because of the wine, it’s because of the personal relationships that people have developed,” said Tom Fuller, of the vintner’s association which has been putting on the auction for 22 years. “You’re bidding on your friendship more than just wine in a bottle.”