Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Checking Out the Buyers at Premiere Napa Valley: The Super Fans from Oklahoma and Arkansas

While merchants, collectors and winemakers use Premiere Napa Valley to get some good ink, personally, I've become fascinated by the buyers' clubs from around the country who converge on the event and buy some of the top lots.

Unlike the wine merchants, the clubs don't often have web sites. Super Fans don't need to advertise.

I happened to be sitting on an outdoor couch at one of the Friday tastings at Meadowood where I was surrounded by one group of very nice guys from Little Rock, Arkansas who I might have mistaken for the residents of a Superbowl Skybox. Later I found out this group, all wearing Cliffewood Wine Syndicate name tags, took home one of the priciest Premiere lots - 5 cases of the 2013 Green Envy from Chateau Boswell for $100,000 or $1,666 a bottle.

During the week, they told me they'd dined and visited with Tim Mondavi of Continuum, one of the elite producers on Pritchard Hill (above Napa Valley). They'd bought his Premiere lot last year. "We love that wine," one said to me. "And we really like Tim."

Another group I am perennially fascinated by are the Petroleum Clubs. Last year there was a spirited bidding war between the Texas based one and the Oklahoma based one which the auctioneer played up, merrily making fracking jokes along the way.

In the 1950's, my dad worked for Phillips 66 and I was born in Texas during the time he spent there; my godfather was his then boss, and he lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, one of the centers of the fossil fuel universe.

As I found myself rubbing shoulders with one of the Petroleum Club of Oklahoma bunch at the Entre Nous booth (at the Melka tasting at Meadowood), I asked him what the club was all about. (Unlike the buyers' clubs, the Petroleum is a real club, with a restaurant, meeting facilities, and more.) He told me the group just liked to drink wine and that they stocked the wine list with these bottles. "Any member can buy them," he said.

I told him briefly of my ancient ties to Oklahoma, and in typical Oklahoma fashion, he invited me to check out the wine list and to stop by at the club any time. "Just mention that your dad worked for Phillips 66 and they'll let you in," he told me.

After I took a look at the wine list - and its prices - I was ready to book a flight. The prices seem not to have change much from when Napa's finest Cabs cost no more than $110, as evidenced by a 2002 Spottswoode for that price. (That vintage goes for $289 on and a ). There were numerous wines from Premiere on the list - a 2001 Oakville Ranch Cab for $95, a 2007 Martin Estate Cab for $85 and more.

At any rate, it's always refreshing to me to meet the people who love wine and make it their hobby. They come in so many sizes, classes, states - and accents.

(Note: This article breaks with our usual organic theme. In order to eliminate any confusion, the wines mentioned that have organic vineyards in these vintages are Spottswoode and Entre Nous wines. Oakville Ranch's more recent vintages are as well.)

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