So we move up from San Francisco to Napa for a series of private parties. The drive into the Napa valley is impressive, acres and acres of vineyards, rigidly straight rows of vines that climb up mountainsides and spread out for as far as one can see.
We got there Friday afternoon, in time to go to party number one. The reception was held in The Backroom, a wine store in the town of Napa proper. It was hosted by Chateau Montelena. If you don’t know Chateau Montelena–and I certainly didn’t until someone pointed it out to me–it is the winery that famously won the blind-taste test against French wines, the “Judgement of Paris,” the first time a Napa wine ever won on the international scale and certainly the first time such a wine had beaten out the French wines. The story is the basis of the movie Bottle Shock, starring a delightfully snooty Alan Rickman.
Anyway, a “variety of wines and heavy hors d’ouevres” was what was listed on our invitation, and it ran true to what it said. When we walked in, we were brought to a table and offered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon which was to be paired with a skewer of mozzarella, basil, and cherry tomatoes. There were seven other tables with rows of various bottles and different foods–steaks, chicken, vegetables, polenta, cheeses, chocolate truffles–and we were to go from one to another for the next four hours. We tasted them all–many of them over and over again. The night was capped when a jeroboam of the Montelena Reserve was uncorked.
The next morning seemed to come very quickly, but we had to get moving, for we were to go to the Detert Family Vineyards–to “Grandma’s house” for a reception. The Detert vineyards butt up against the Mondavi vineyards, and they provide the Mondavi winery with 75% of their Cabernet Franc crop–retaining the remaining crop for their own estate wines.
We drove up an old dirt road, parked between some olive trees, and then walked behind “Grandma’s House.” The stone courtyard was set up with white-clothed tables and white umbrellas. Small pots of lemon trees, pendulous with fruit, ran around the perimeter. About thirty yards away, a swimming pool looked out over the ascending vineyards. And in the corner of the courtyard, in gleaming array were rows and rows of glasses of sparkling white wine. We grabbed a glass or two, mingled for a while and then walked out into the vineyards with the Detert brothers. They explained the nature of the soil, the cultivation of the grapes, and the business side of the winery, in terms simple enough for even the most ignorant of the group (me). But for me the visuals were the most compelling. About twenty of us were standing between rows of shoulder-high vines, the sun glistening off the white wine in our glasses, and the real world seeming very far away.
When we returned to the courtyard, the table of sparkling white had been replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (the wine that the Deters are most proud of). Two long tables of food–roast beef, chicken, grilled vegetables, cheeses, breads, fruit–ran along two sides of the courtyard. I was sure I would never eat and drink again after the night before, but I lied. Conversation, laughter, food and wine–it is an irresistible combination.
The reason we are in California at all is that our neighbors in Philadelphia, Rick and Laura, were celebrating their 20th-wedding anniversary and they wanted to share their love of Napa–and wine–with their friends. Rick is very much a wine connoisseur, and apparently, is fairly well known around the wineries here. There were several winemakers in attendance–as well as the largesse provided by the wineries at last night and this afternoon’s events. Well this later reception was hosted by them and featured wines from their own stock. Again a beautiful setting, magnificent hors d’ouvres (to be followed by dinner), and a bottomless supply of wine.
On a table were ten double-magnums of Cabernet, one for each year from 2000 to 2009. The idea was that you were to taste them all–in order–and compare. You could repeat any particular year–many got stuck on the 2003 and 2005 vintages–or you could stay on the one you liked the best, but they encouraged you to try them all. Later in the evening, they brought out a double-magnum of Syrrah and a double-magnum of a Gold Label Reserve Cabernet that a local winemaker had brought as a gift.
I am too ignorant about wines to distinguish greatly between any of them. I do know that they were all much, much better than what I usually buy at the grocery store.
And so, for a period of twenty-four hours, I have attended three private receptions in the Napa Valley. I have eaten more than I eat in a week. And I have drunk a river of wine.
And now, I am headed off to the final planned event of this Napa weekend–a Sunday champagne brunch!