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PNV 2024: Digging into the Data

What’s all the Fuss?

Earlier this week, Wine Searcher put out a post focusing on the price per bottle average dropping at Premier Napa Valley (PNV) which was held last Saturday. While my analysis does show that as well, I think price per bottle doesn’t tell the entire story. The dynamics from year to year in the lots that are presented are very diverse and just looking at overall price per bottle in my view oversimplifies the action in many ways. Also the main vintage highlighted was the 2022 vintage which has had mixed reviews so far from most critics. I fully expect next year’s auction to get a lot of action since I heard from more than one person that several big spenders decided to skip this vintage solely due to the reputation it has. Since this is the first event that the trade really gets to taste the wines, I think it is sad that people have decided to pass on the 2022s. While this was a challenging vintage for many vintners, the wines that were shown this past week really showed that you can still have amazing wines from Napa even in tough years. There were delicious wines to be had this year and some at bargain prices! I’ll get into my analysis here in a minute but first let’s talk about why PNV is such a big deal.

Why PNV is important?

Premier Napa Valley is a critical fundraising element for the Napa Valley Vintners. This week happens in February in the valley and is attended by trade from all over the world. Wineries sign up in the fall for what they would like to donate to the Vintners and then the Vintners auction the lots off with significant assistance from Sotheby’s Auction House. The nice thing about the partnership with Sotheby’s is that bidders from all over the world can take part in the auction whereas before you had to be in the room to bid. The lots are unique blends ranging from 5-20 cases that usually can’t be purchased any other way making them very collectable and rare. The Vintners then use the proceeds to fund other events and their operations throughout the year.

Time to Get Geeky

So, based on my analysis the average bottle price this year was $218 dollars per bottle which is down from $305 last year, a decrease of 29%. However the overall number of lots was up 7% over last year including a 50% increase in the number of white wine lots (compared to 2023) which usually sell for a fraction of the price of red lots. The number of bottles available was up 25% over last year in general also so there were more lots to bid on which meant bidders needed to be extra careful about where they spent their money. The 240 bottle lots tell an interesting story. There were only seven 240 bottle lots last year compared to seventeen this year. These large lots usually end up on the lower spectrum of the price per bottle. Remember what I said about white wine lots being up this year? Almost half of the white lots offered were larger than 60 bottle lots which impacts the overall price per bottle. Only one lot went for above $1,000 a bottle this year as opposed to three lots last year.

Good news? Sparkling wine bottle prices were up this year over last year with an increase of 14%. Also Cabernet Franc wines have now reached an even price per bottle as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon wines. In 2023 Cabernet Franc wines averaged 14% below the bottle prices of Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m still convinced Cabernet Franc is getting ready to have its moment and the increase compared to Cabernet Sauvignon pricing suggests that bidders are viewing it with the same lens now. Red blends however took a big hit with the average bottle price dropping almost 60% from 2023. Merlot based wines continue to be a challenge and the price per bottle for Merlot is almost 30% of the average CS/CF based wine.

Collaborations!

Winemaking Collaborations were a new thing this year and they really showed some fun lots. There were 12 (by my count) collaboration lots between wineries. This included my lot which was a collaboration with Jean Hoefliger’s The Debate and my brand, Fiadh Ruadh which was a 60 bottle lot that went for 53% above average bottle price. The collaborations averaged 17% above the average bottle price which indicates that buyers were very interested in them and the uniqueness of the wines. While collaborations have been all the rage in other industries, the wine industry has been a little behind on capitalizing on interest in collaborations. The results of this auction would suggest these types of lots should be emphasized and multiplied in future auctions.

The Woman Penalty

Unfortunately we are still seeing wines from women winemaking teams come in at 8% below the average bottle price in general. This held steady from the 2023 numbers but is significantly up from the 2019 numbers when I first looked at this metric when it was 14% below average. Male/Female Winemaking teams saw an increase in average bottle price from 4% above average in 2023 to almost 10% above average this year. Male winemaking teams, not surprisingly, are right at the average bottle price. This year 116 of the 167 lots came from 100% male winemaking teams. Sixteen lots were mixed winemaking teams (males and females) and 33 lots were 100% female. There was minimal growth in lots made with women from the previous year. There were four additional lots made by M/F teams and one additional lot from a female team. Meanwhile the number of 100% male lots went up by another 5 lots from 111 last year to 116 this year. It should be noted that I’m pulling the gendered winemaking information from the photos submitted by the wineries for the auction catalog and am making certain assumptions about how the individual winemakers identify based on how they appear in the photos. The assumption also being that since the photos represent marketing for the lot, the people pictured are, in the winery’s mind, the most important individual(s) to highlight to drive interest in their lot.

The Consultant Effect

At the risk of this analysis being seen as self serving (since I am also a winemaking consultant) it should be noted that the “consultant effect” is still going strong. The wineries which promoted ties to a prominent consulting winemaker in their photos saw a 27% increase in bottle price over the standard average bottle price ($276 and $218 respectively) regardless of style of wine produced. This is in line with what the analysis has shown in previous years also. This was again pulled from the auction catalog information given by the wineries. I know there were a few wineries which do employ consultants who either didn’t picture them or list them in the description of the lot. The data would suggest that this is a mistake and, that if the consultant will allow it, to include their information in the brochure. The one lot that went for above the $1,000 per bottle mark this year and that was the Fairest Creature lot. A combination of consulting winemaking power behind it (Benoit Touquette, Philippe Melka, and Thomas Rivers Brown are listed) suggests the consultant effect can be multiplied!

Conclusions?

So yes. Overall spending was down compared to last year. This mix was quite a bit different this year and if price per bottle is any indication we can pull some conclusions from the data.

  • Sparkling is going to continue to go strong. This may be driven by the luxury aura that sparkling wine has or perhaps people have realized the lower alcohol typically found in sparkling wine as compared to still wines results in lower calories and it is riding a bit of the Low/No trend.
  • Cabernet Franc is rising in popularity and is now being considered of equivalent value as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot is still a hard sell but its doing better than Red Blends
  • Collaborations are in demand for buyers looking for unique opportunities to pick up rare wines. This trend is well established in the fashion world but just seems to be getting going in wine.
  • Mixed Gender winemaking teams have the advantage in average price per bottle. If a winery has ladies on the team they should seriously consider including them in the promotional material.
  • If a winery wants an above average bottle price, hire a prominent consultant. The data doesn’t lie on this one.
Nova Cadamatre MW at the PNV Grand Tasting for the Collaboration Auction Lot #102 The Debate x Fiadh Ruadh.

One Response

  1. Brava Nova! Completely agree. So much more at Premiere Napa Valley then the final price. The week is about relationships and so critical of the overall success of the Napa Valley wine business. So honored and glad to have you there and participating

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About Nova Cadamatre

Nova Cadamatre has become one of the most versatile and experienced winemakers in the industry. She holds a Bachelors from Cornell University in Viticulture.  In 2017 she achieved the title of Master of Wine and was the first female winemaker in the US to do so. 

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