I had the opportunity to attend the 29th annual Auction Napa Valley this past weekend, which is definitely one of the more hifalutin' wine events I've ever run into. Held at Meadowood in St. Helena, it featured the requisite huge tent, some mighty nifty chandeliers made out of grape vines (designed by Erin Martin), a multi-course dinner prepared by big name chefs such as Joachim Splichal, Dean Fearing & Meadowood home talent Christopher Kostow (an F&W Best New Chef 2009, and an incredibly nice guy, too), and a whole bunch of bidding on extravagant auction lots.

Was the money down from last year? Sure. But, as someone mentioned to me in passing, $5,700,000 is still a lot of cash, especially when it goes to folks who really need it (the auction earning go to local youth and health charities, primarily).

On Friday, before the big shindig, the annual barrel auction took place. Top lot honors there went to Shafer Vineyards; but for my money, the real payoff was getting to taste barrel samples of a huge array of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons. Anyone interested in Napa Valley Cabs should start saving up now, because '07 is clearly a fantastic vintage: impeccably balanced, gracefully structured wines with great aromatics and flavor. Favorites for me included the Realm Cellars Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, Cliff Lede's Poetry bottling, and Shafer's Hillside Select. These won't be on the market for quite some time, but they're worth noting down now. —Ray Isle