You can’t keep a fine wine celebration down. Even as economic woes have slowed the attendance for – and bidding at – high-end Northern California fundraisers, Auction Napa Valley keeps packing in the people.

Oprah and Leno greet fans

This year’s blowout, being held Thursday, June 3 through Sunday, June 6 at Meadowood Napa Valley resort, looks to be just as hot. While organizers are plotting a more casual program for wallet-weary 2010, the four-day festival is commanding a $2,500 price tag.

Plus, of course, however many more thousands you’d like to bid on the 41 live auction lots of ultra-premium, ultra-exclusive wines on display at the Saturday Afternoon Live Auction and Supper; or the smorgasbord of gourmet meals, resort packages and other over-the-top luxury items that will be up for grabs throughout the entire shindig.

The 2008 main event was a sell-out, with an estimated 1,000 attendees for the luxe supper emceed by comedian Jay Leno. Guests of honor included Oprah Winfrey plus Her Royal Highness Princess Nandi Zulu, promoting an auction lot offered by Lokoya Winery that included just the jaunt we’ve all dreamed of: a safari on the Thanda Private Game Reserve in South Africa and dinner with the princess and her father, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

Think they won their bid?

As the recession took its toll, the 2009 party was less star-studded, with the emcee being wine educator Kevin Zraly. It was still a dramatic destination, though, tended to by big-name chefs such as Charlie Trotter and Joachim Splichal, and with eye-popping goodies like years’ past – the opportunity, perhaps, to camp in the vineyards of Screaming Eagle in Oakville, or to snatch up a package of two 2.9-liter bottles of Vineyard 29 cabernet, a 2.9-carat diamond custom-designed necklace, and nine dinners for two at any restaurant in the U.S. that carries Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Yet this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Auction, and even though its organizers are promising a more relaxed affair, all signs point to it as still being the glitziest ticket in town. Tickets are tight, and there’s talk that events may sell out quickly.

That’s no small feat for the world’s largest wine charity event that’s raised more than $90 million raised for local nonprofit agencies since its inception in 1981, and more than 350 wineries participating.

Salute to the good life

Even if a magnum lot of million-dollar wine is too rich for your blood (it’s true, there are such things), you can get a taste of Napa luxury for as (relatively) little as $1,000. Beginning June 3, wineries are hosting a parade of posh events, including these highlights:

Thursday, June 3

Welcome to the Valley Private Parties – You can join top vintners in their homes and at their wineries for intimate gatherings, lush with fabulous food and wine. Just one standout: Blackbird Vineyards’ wine-paired dinner hosted by proprietor, Michael Polenske and winemaker, Aaron Pott at Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley. Guests will stroll the sculpture garden and tour the art, design, and furnishings gallery before enjoying an alfresco dinner prepared by the renowned chefs of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

Friday, June 4

Taste Napa Valley at Auction Napa Valley – This is the best of Napa Valley food and wine, in a grand tasting of 100-plus wineries alongside 60 signature local restaurateurs and artisan food producers, served al fresco at the historic Rubicon Estate in Rutherford. Highlights include the Barrel Auction, an elaborate tasting with samples ‘thieved’ from the barrel by the winemaker, plus an auction of case lots from more than 100 Napa Valley wineries.

Friday Evening Bidder Private Dinner Parties – For cozier affairs, opt for more intimate fetes with winemakers in their homes and wineries, many featuring star chefs from around the country.

Saturday, June 5

The Centerpiece of Auction Napa Valley: the Live Auction Gala – Begin the Auction day at Meadowood with a walk-around tasting lunch prepared by a dozen top chefs. Then vie for 41 rare and one-of-a-kind wine lots at the event’s centerpiece Live Auction. As the sun begins to set, the Auction Supper commences on the fairway at Meadowood, followed by live music by the Bangles (“Walk Like an Egyptian”). The celebrity guest emcee hasn’t been announced yet, but the Auction organizers promise a worthwhile surprise.

I’m too sexy for my wine...

Sunday, June 6

The Farewell Reception – A late-morning brunch of more food, music and wine at Meadowood.

You know you want to go. Here’s how. But act fast – tickets have been selling at a brisk pace, and don’t be surprised to find a sold-out situation.

The Four Day Package – $2,500 per person

  • Thursday Evening Welcome Private Parties
  • Friday Taste Napa Valley, Barrel and E-Auctions
  • Friday Evening Private Bidder Dinner Party
  • Saturday Daytime Chef’s Tasting Luncheon
  • Saturday Afternoon Live Auction and Supper
  • Sunday Farewell Reception

The Three Day Package – $1,000 per person

  • Thursday Evening Welcome Private Parties
  • Friday Taste Napa Valley, Barrel and E-Auction
  • Sunday Farewell Fete

Details: For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Tip: An Auction and party is even more enjoyable when you leave the driving to Pure Luxury! We’ve been a proud sponsor of the Auction for the past four years, as just one of our many commitments to supporting the community. Did you know that Auction proceeds benefit healthcare, youth services and affordable housing non-profit programs across Napa Valley?