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Auction Napa Valley 2009: Not As Glitzy This Year, But It's No Hoedown

Auction Napa Valley, the premier party of the year in California’s glitziest, most glamorous wine region, is set to take place this Saturday at Meadowood. I always love it when a Napa Valley winery owner refers to himself as a “farmer,” because ACN is a lot of things, but a hoedown is not one of them.

Foremost ACN is a fundraiser, and has raised eye-popping amounts of money for local “healthcare, youth services and affordable housing non-profits.” It’s still a community that takes care of its own, even though it's dealing with mounting issues like the fact that its much-needed service workers can barely afford to live there anymore.

But to get the charity dollars flowing, it helps to throw one a hell of a nice party: high-dollar wines flow like gatorade at a Niners game and big-name chefs (this year to include Charlie Trotter and Joachim Splichal) cook a multi-course tasting menu. And this shindig follows two-nights of smaller dinners at parties spread out at wineries across the valleys. Count on great food and great wine in beautiful settings. Ticket price is $2500 for the whole shebang. During Saturday’s dinner, bidding will proceed on 43 lots of varying lavishness, such as Lot Number 36 from Chappellet, which includes a round trip business-class air fare to and within Chile and stays at the Ritz Santiago and Explora Lodge in Patagonia. After the fact, it's always interesting to see which lots went for the highest prices.

The big question this year is how the feeble economy will affect things. Some downsizing has already occurred. For instance, last year’s MC was Jay Leno. This year's is wine educator Kevin Zraly. And the amount of money raised is a huge point of pride for the vintners of Napa Valley. Last year (in an already forboding economy) ACN defied expectations and raised a whopping $10.35 million, only a few bucks off the all-time record. But, if the barometer is ACN’s archrival, Florida’s Naples Wine Auction (which has siphoned off both attention  and all-important wealthy bidders the last few years), things don’t look good. Naples only raised $5 million this year, down from an average of $15 mill the last two. The Napa Wine Auction is always an over-the-top celebration and raises a lot of dough, but if it manages to top Naples this year you can bet things will go through the roof.