"We're trending above Nascar and the Oscars on twitter," crows auctioneer Fritz Hatton, as he opens the 17th Premiere Napa Valley trade barrel auction with sharp bangs of his gavel.
Everyone cheers, primed to bid big on cabernet after a week of wooing by vintners at tastings and parties. The wildest event was Raymond Vineyards' "Napa Gras," where a woman in long black gloves and abbreviated gold body suit poured wine while hanging upside down.
Napa's annual February event serves as a barometer of demand for expensive Napa cabs.
The 211 one-of-a-kind, not-yet-bottled cuvees offered in five, 10, or 20-case lots represent each winery's best of the best. Most are cabernets from the 2011 vintage, so the pre- auction tastings provide a gauge to the year's overall quality and an opportunity to scout out the valley's hot new names.
The big room at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena is crowded with rowdy retailers, restaurateurs, importers, distributors and media from 39 states and nine countries.
Ichizo Nakagawa, owner of Tokyo's Nakagawa Wine Co. Ltd., which specializes in California wine, is sporting a bright orange jacket and shirt with a wild striped tie and a golfer's tan.
His son Sei, a former bond trader who is now company president, keeps an eye on the spreadsheet open on his white laptop and the auction catalog.
Nakagawa used to design golf courses and run the family lumber business, sampled his first California wine in the 1970s, and started his wine business in 1985.
"Once I tasted Ridge Vineyards cabernet I stopped drinking Chateau Latour," Nakagawa says, as his son translates. "I perceived huge potential for California wine in the Japanese market. It's a useful tool for networking. You can drink it without food."