Amici’s Premiere Auction Lot Fetches a Record Price

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The bidding was hot at Premiere Napa Valley 2014 (photo by Bob McClenahan)

There were smiles all around yesterday as Amici’s 5-case Premiere Napa Valley Auction lot went for $28,000 after heated bidding.  The lot, 60 bottles of a limited production from a small block on Spring Mountain, was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 2012, one of the best vintages in Napa Valley history.

It was yet another Napa Valley auction for the record books.  Hundreds of the wine industry’s biggest buyers gather each February for Premiere Napa Valley, a trade event which culminates with a Saturday afternoon auction of one-of-a-kind lots, and the wine is often destined for high-end retail wine shops or restaurants.  Almost all of the barrels at the Saturday morning barrel tasting before the auction were from the stellar but yet-to-be-released 2012 vintage, and clearly the wine experts in the room were excited about the opportunity to get their hands on these wines.  Bidding was heated for many lots and there were hoots and hollers from the crowd as paddles flew and bidders competed against each other, pushing certain lots sky-high.

At the end of the day, a whopping $5.9 million was raised (a sizable leap from the 2012 record of $3.1 million).  It was an exciting day for all, and today everyone in Napa is feeling very thankful for the support of those generous bidders.

The Insider’s View of Harvest

This week we kicked off the first of several weeks of “Harvest Boot Camp” at Amici Cellars.  We welcomed friends from around the country that want to get a true insider’s view of how a Napa Valley harvest works–and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard to get that view!  The first week of Harvest Boot Camp was a busy one:  the crew’s days were filled with early morning harvests in the vineyards, sorting stems and leaves from grapes at the sorting table, building barrels, touring vineyards, cleaning winery equipment — and, of course, plenty of fun times with good food and wine to celebrate their hard work.  On Friday we sent our first crew off to the airport, with purple-stained fingers, tired and happy after five days of hard work, and (hopefully) full of great stories to tell their co-workers back home.  Now to greet the next crew!

Wine, and Burgers and Friends…Oh My!

What do you get when you take 10 different wines, and add 1 gourmet food truck and 60 friends from around the country?  You get one fun night.  We welcomed our friends from Total Wine & More at the winery on Wednesday night for our annual chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and taste through Amici’s current and upcoming releases together.  Famous burger purveyor Gott’s Roadside sent their mobile catering truck and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening of gourmet burgers and ahi tacos, wine (and margaritas — no man lives on wine alone!).  It was the kind of beautiful, warm evening beneath the Palisades mountain range that makes everyone want to move to Calistoga and never leave.  A warm thank you to Total Wine & More for making time for us during their whirlwind tour of Napa & Sonoma this week–hosting this group has become an annual highlight for Amici and an evening that we truly enjoy!

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Goodies await the arrival of managers from Total Wine & More stores around the country.

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Amici’s Bob Shepard with Total Wine’s Director of Wine Operations Robb Kimbles.

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A group shot before the Palisades backdrop (and no, Total Wine does not believe in child labor–those children in front are part of the Amici family!)

For more photos of the evening, view the photo album.

Throw a “Wine Country-Style” Party – Anywhere!

August is the perfect month for backyard parties, and a wine country-themed party is always a winner, no matter where you live.  We recently threw a fantastic “wine country style barbeque” for a friend’s birthday – at a location two hours from Napa Valley.  Here are a few tips for adding a touch of wine country to your party, wherever it is:

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Serve the food family style at casual long tables. Baskets of fresh bread and a few simple flower sprigs from your garden are all you need to create a beautiful, informal table.

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For a rustic touch of wine country, use two empty barrels and a plank of wood to create a wine bar.

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Create these fun and easy wine cork napkin rings for each placesetting to highlight the “wine country” theme.

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Place several open bottles of nice wine along the tables and encourage people to explore the different wines and discover their favorites. After dinner move any unfinished bottles to the wine bar and let people serve themselves as they continue to mix and mingle.

Welcoming Uchi Restaurant Group to Amici’s Home

It was our pleasure to host Uchi Restaurant Group of Texas at our winery guesthouse last weekend. Renowned Napa Valley chef Morgan Robinson of Smoke Open Fire prepared a fantastic meal outside under the oak trees and everyone had a wonderful evening.

Chef Tyson Cole has brought his Uchi Restaurants (Uchi in Austin and Houston, Uchiko in Austin) to national prominence serving fresh, inventive and beautiful dishes at his Japanese restaurants.

A great example of Chef Cole’s fresh and creative cooking, courtesy of Chef Cole and the Wall Street Journal, is his recipe for Asparagus Three Ways with Fried Capers.  It’s not always easy to find a wine pairing for asparagus, but with the addition of briny capers and creamy eggs yolks, this dish makes a lovely pairing with the 2012 Amici Sauvignon Blanc.

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Tyson Cole’s Asparagus Three Ways with Fried Capers

Supporting the Napa Valley Farmworker

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An outpouring of largesse from attendees boosted Auction Napa Valley 2013 fundraising to record highs

Auction Napa Valley 2013 will long be held as a benchmark year for the event with its staggering $16.9 million in funds raised, more than 60% greater than the previous high water mark.  It was a year to remember, to be sure.  But amidst all the glamour of the auction, amidst its happily frenzied bidding on lots featuring sports cars, exotic trips, and some of the finest wine and food imaginable, it’s sometimes easy to forget why we all gather for this 4-day bacchanalia on the first weekend of June every year.  We do it to support the neediest in our community.

The Napa Valley may be world-famous as the source of some wonderful wines, but we in the valley have to remind ourselves often that none of our success would be possible without the thousands of underprivileged workers that live and work here.  With land going for up to $300,000 per acre, the Napa Valley is not exactly the most affordable agricultural community in which these workers find themselves.  These hard workers that support the wine economy perform a variety of important tasks:  they’re cellar workers, restaurant dishwashers, hotel cleaning staff and migrant farmworkers that prune and harvest the vineyards.

The migrant farmworkers in particular perform important tasks under what can be harsh living conditions.  While 75% of the grapes in California are picked by machine, in Napa Valley roughly 75% are picked by hand. This means that come harvest, thousands of workers are needed to get those grapes immediately from the vineyards to the crushpad.  Experts estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 migrant farmworkers live in Napa Valley, many seasonally.  A lack of beds, particularly in decades past, has meant that migrant farmworkers were often living in makeshift camps in the woods, under bridges, in cars, or bunking six or more men to a bedroom.

Thankfully, life for migrant farmworkers in Napa has improved dramatically from years past and is far better than most agricultural communities.  Through the work of Napa Valley Housing Authority and other important organizations, for about $12 a day many of these workers can have a shower and a hot meal when they return from the vineyards, and sleep in a clean bed in a shared room.

In 2002 vineyard owners voted to assess themselves $10 per acre to create a program which helps house and feed migrant fieldworkers. Those tax revenues along with donations contribute to provide a wide safety net for these workers, including not just housing and food, but healthcare and job placement.  While in other farming communities migrant fieldworkers are sadly exploited, paid little and charged exorbitant living expenses, in Napa hourly wages for fieldworkers are an average of 9% higher than the rest of California.

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Vineyards workers race against the warming sun during harvest 2012

It’s satisfying to be part of a community that recognizes the importance of the often unheard group that supports our economy.  As a whole, the community of vineyard owners and winemakers in Napa understands and appreciates that we couldn’t be successful without these workers.  Every year the proceeds from Auction Napa Valley go to programs that support this community of workers and their families, helping with everything from housing and food to medical care and after school programs.  With all of its glitz and glamour the auction is certainly a fun time, but every year it’s the end result that makes it worth it.

A Great Way to Support Public Schools

SONY DSCLast weekend we had the chance to host what has become tradition for Amici, the 3rd annual Amici/Las Lomitas Education Foundation fundraiser.  As anyone who lives in California knows, our public schools in this state need all the help they can get these days, and  this fundraiser has been a great way to raise funds for the public school district in Menlo Park and Atherton area.  Parents and wine lovers at the event were the first to get to try all three 2011 single vineyard barrel samples side by side.  Also in the line-up was the pre-release 2010 Amici Reserve Napa Valley Cab , as well as all of our new spring releases.  It was a great line-up of wines, a fun evening and, best of all, with 25% of all proceeds going straight to the school foundation, thousand of dollars were raised for public school programs.  Sounds like a win-win-win to us!

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Exploring the Terroir of Napa Valley Sub-Appellations

Last week we had the pleasure in taking part in an exploratory “terroir” tasting of Cabernets from six of the 16 appellations in the Napa Valley.  While the concept of terroir comes to us from France, arguably there is no better place to explore it and taste it in the glass than here in the Napa Valley.

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Terroir is an imprecise concept of how the geography, geology and climate of a specific grape-growing location can affect the resulting wine.  The relatively tiny Napa Valley, just 1/8 the size of Bordeaux and only 30 miles long by 5 miles wide, offers winegrowers a dizzying array of elements that create vastly different terroir from one appellation, and even one vineyard, to the next.

Our tiny valley has 100 different soil variations and fully half of the world’s soil orders. With five mountains surrounding the valley and volcanic knolls throughout, as well as the Pacific Ocean sitting 30 miles to the west, the valley contains micro-climates of valley and hillside vineyards facing all different directions, some cooled by ocean fog sneaking in, some much warmer.  Vineyard soils can be alluvial, volcanic, clay, loam or other.  Add the winemaker’s influence into that mix, and what you have is a concoction of almost infinite variables influencing a wine’s terroir.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignons from various Napa appellations side by side is an entertaining, always-educational exercise that I highly recommend for anyone interested in wine.  The six wines we tasted last week, every one of them an exceptional and delicious wine, spanned a wide variety of flavors and profiles:  some showed red perfumey fruit, others deeper black fruits, some tannins were gripping and powerful, others were velvety.

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At Amici in addition to our Napa Valley blends, we love to create vineyard-specific wines that allow people to explore in-depth the characteristics of the sub-appellations of Napa Valley.  From Spring Mountain to Rutherford Bench to Oakville, we have an exciting array of vineyard-specific wines in the bottle and in the barrel now.  Each one has its own distinct personality, an expression of its terroir, waiting to be expressed when the cork is pulled.

Special thanks to those involved in this tasting: it was organized by the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma (CANVAS), led by the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and hosted at the beautiful Alpha Omega Winery.  

A Debut for Palisades View

Those of you who follow this blog know that for several months we’ve been hard at work finishing up the event space at our guest house, and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. We’re calling it “Palisades View,” and now that it’s done we’re happy to spread the word about what a stunning location this is for wine country events. Surrounded by breathtaking views of the Palisades Mountain range, and studded with mature oak and olive trees, Palisades View is truly a one-of-a-kind space. We took some recent photos from the last week or two and dropped them into a video slideshow to show guests what they can expect when they visit.

Click below for a video slideshow:

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