Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wine, wonderful wine!

Oenophiles enjoy a wine-soaked weekend in Sun Valley

Wine, wonderful wine!

Illustration by Gavin McNeil

"We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!" cried actor Richard E. Grant in the British cult classic "Withnail and I." Similar pleas may well be heard, and answered, this weekend as some of the United States' foremost oenophiles arrive for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts 24th Annual Wine Auction.

Ranked seventh in Wine Spectator magazine's listing of the 10 most successful U.S. charity wine auctions, the auction in 2004 saw its proceeds exceed the $1 million mark for the first time. The auction is the 33-year-old Center's largest fund-raising event and the proceeds enable it to continue its educational arts programming and community outreach.

In addition, a special auction lot in which patrons can "bid" on donations funds the Center's scholarship program. In 2004, proceeds from this lot topped $100,000. This year the hope is to emulate and transcend the amazing success of 2004.

"With the auction lots that we have, the vintner participation and the returning and new patrons, we absolutely have the potential to reach that goal and surpass it," said Christl Holzl, wine auction director. "But we simply couldn't do it without the incredible support of the donors, board members, volunteers, vintners, sponsors, underwriters and Center staff members. It's a true group effort."

The wine-lover's wonder takes place Thursday, July 21, through Saturday, July 23. The main events include the much-talked-about vintner dinners, the auction itself, grand wine tasting and a picnic concert.

"There are still tickets available for a handful of the vintner dinners, tickets for the tasting and a small number of tickets left for the auction dinner," explained Holzl. "The picnic is sold out and there will be tickets available at the door for the tasting."

A vintner dinner goes for $550 per person, the auction dinner $450 per person and the wine tasting a more palatable $35. Call the Center at 726-9491 for more details.

The 15 vintner dinners, held in luxurious, private residences on Thursday, July 21, feature wines by some of the country's most exclusive vintners and are being hosted by such Sun Valley celebrities as Teresa Heinz and her husband, Sen. John Kerry, and business magnate Kiril Sokoloff. Winemakers the likes of Ann Colgin of Colgin Cellars, Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode Vineyards, John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, and the Duncans of Silver Oak Cellars will introduce guests to their wines at these dinners and tell behind-the-scenes stories about what makes their wines what they are.

The main event, the Gala Wine Auction and Dinner Dance, takes place from 5:30 p.m. to midnight on Friday, July 22, at River Run Lodge, near Ketchum. Grape-derived highlights of the auction include offerings from 15 vintners new to the auction. Holzl is particularly excited about the addition of Colgin Cellars, from California's Napa Valley.

"(Ann's) wines are highly sought after and sell out before they even make it to the open market—we're thrilled she's a part of the auction this year," Holzl said. "She's donating a three-liter bottle of 1999 Herb Lamb Vineyard cabernet sauvignon. Only 12 bottles were produced and this one is number 10."

Last year, a bottle from Napa's Screaming Eagle was the highest earner of the night. The winery is donating again this year, but Colgin's offering has the kudos to steal that moniker on the night.

Holzl estimates that about 50 percent of the auction's attendees are from out of town. "We have huge contingents from California and the Washington area (where most of the wines hail from). We've got a Texas group, too, and a few pockets from the East Coast, which is exciting. A good percentage have second homes here."

Auction goodies that didn't grow on a vine include some breathtaking opportunities. "We have (among many others) a trip to New Zealand, a trip to Australia and a trip to Italy. These are incredible, very exclusive trips. (The winners) walk away with something they can't just go out and buy. They are not trips you can create on your own. It's going to exclusive wineries, it's having a private dinner in the caves, it's bottling wine with the winemaker, it's tasting a wine library—you can't just walk of the street in Napa and have a private tasting with the winemaker," said Holzl.

Even a teetotaler could find a gem at this shindig. Top on the list of non-alcohol related lots is a 2006 Lexus GS 300 all-wheel-drive luxury performance sedan. "We've never had a car auctioned off before, and it's a car that's not even on the market yet!"

Other new additions include "The 750 Stars." This special lot will conclude the live auction and consists of at least one bottle from virtually every vintner participating in both the live and silent auctions making up over 190 entries. Many have contributed their finest wines and the Center promises it will be a true roll call of 750-milliliter stars—hence the lot's name.

A local lot sure to inspire a bidding frenzy is the Evergreen Bistro Hail and Farewell—Times Four. The popular Ketchum eatery closed its doors in March of this year, after 20 years of business. The owner and co-chairman of this year's auction, Jack Thornton, has donated four rare, turn-of-the-century French posters that hung on Evergreen's walls for the past two decades. Each poster will be accompanied by a double-magnum from Evergreen's cellar.

The auction is just a warm-up, however. More fun can be found at the ever-popular wine tasting, which pops its cork on Saturday afternoon, July 23, from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at River Run Lodge. Over 125 vintners will make their wares available, providing an opportunity to sample wines that range from old favorites to new cult offerings.

The packed picnic concert wraps up the rosy-glowed weekend at Bigwood Golf Club on Saturday evening, beginning at 6 p.m. The more than 1,500 expected attendees will be serenaded by the music of Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie while indulging in culinary delights.

So, get those taste buds flexing, that nasal passage primed and stockpile a veritable vocabulary in preparation for the wine event of the year.

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