Would life be better if you owned a winery? Would you rock the wine world? Be the envy of everyone you meet? Well here’s the next best thing.
Smack dab in the midst of Napa’s 2013 grape harvest, here’s a long weekend you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Channel your inner Lucy and go knee-deep at the grape stomping competition. Take home wine you bottled*. Welcome Napa Winemakers to your table. Dine by candle light surrounded by century-old barrels. In short, see Napa like an industry insider.
To make this all possible, the folks at Chicago Magazine and I have developed this “Insider’s Tour” of Napa. If you can join us, here’s what you’re in for…
Weekend Itinerary: (Items subject to change)
Friday, Sept. 20th
Arrival, Reception and Dinner
Arrive SFO before 3:00PM Pacific Time. Hop aboard one of the hourly shuttles to the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa – your home base for this “insider’s” weekend.
6:00 PM — Welcome Reception. Get to know your fellow wine enthusiasts and meet boutique producers you won’t find in wine shops back home. Who knows? One or two winemakers might even show up, if we can tear them away from their 20-hour days during harvest.
7:00 PM — Garden-to-Table Dinner. You want Fresh? You want seasonal?? Join Chef Brian Whitmer in the hotel garden to pick ingredients for your al fresco dinner. He may fly below your radar, but Chef Whitmer has chops. His resume includes stints managing culinary operations for the Masters of Food and Wine, working with New York’s Daniel Boulud at Polo Club and Bradley Ogden at San Francisco’s Campton Place before earning Esquire’s “Best Restaurant” nod for his work at Montrio in Monterey. Brian and I will work together to perfectly pair Napa wines with each of your three courses.
Saturday, Sept 21st
Napa’s Emerging Winemakers
9:00 AM — Enjoy breakfast in the hotel at your convenience. Or arrange for an early spa treatment. Or take a lap in the pool. Just don’t be late, because the bus leaves at 10:50 sharp for your next immersion experience…
11:00 AM — Bottle Your Own Barrel at the Ried Family Vineyards
Owner Kirk Reid leads us through his family’s vineyard, then through the production facility and on to the bottling room where you’ll bottle the barrel of wine purchased for your group – all 24 cases. As reward for your hard work, you’ll gather around the farmer’s table for lunch overlooking the vineyard. When you get home and open a wine you bottled, the story pours out with the wine.
Ried Family Vineyards are a boutique winery, crafting a miserly 400 cases each year. Yes, that’s hundred. The family ‘s Napa roots date back to the mid 1800’s, though their vines date back to 1992. Their vineyard provides homes for vines producing choice Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Viognier.
3:00 PM — Private Tasting at Kenzo Estate
What would you do with an extra $100,000,000? If you’re video game tycoon Kenzo Tsujimoto, you buy 3,800 acres in Napa and build a custom winery to produce world-class wines. Kenzo Estate produces just 11,000 cases of such wine, most of which is exported to Japan. But you’ll get to taste Kenzo’s rare wines ($80 – $250 a bottle) in the luxury of their hospitality facility and have the opportunity to purchase them directly from the winery. (3-minute video – Kenzo Estate in the news)
6:45 PM — Stomp Grapes!
You’ll eat dinner on Saturday at the “Harvest and Grape Stomp Party” at the beautiful Castello di Amorosa. Winery owner Darius Sattui built this Italianate castle, complete with dungeon and various hidden chambers, over the course of a decade. He was inspired to build it during trips to Italy, where he was struck by the celebratory Italian spirit of food and wine, friends and family. That was something he wanted to bring home to Napa. But while you and I might bring home Italian spirit with a painted dish or an airport tchotchke, Darius built a castle. And it’s here he hosts the annual harvest party you’ll be joining.
What do you wear to a stomp party? Leave the coat and khakis at the hotel and break out whatever goes with grape juice stains. (Note, grape stomping is not required. You’ll still be fed if grape-colored calves aren’t your thing.) Click the image to view video from last year’s event.
Sunday, Sept 22nd
Napa’s Classic Winemakers
9:00 AM — Breakfast and Bubbles
After a hard night of stomping grapes, you’ll need a breakfast with bubbles to get going. And there’s no more scenic spot for sipping on bubbly than on Mumm’s patio (weather permitting) or glassed-in dining area.
One can never tell what September mornings will bring. But if it’s a clear Sunday you’ll watch hot air balloons as you enjoy breakfast. Or maybe you’ll just want a cuppa java to get going – take it to go and stroll through Mumm’s famed photo gallery to start your day. Your continental breakfast will provide just enough to get you off the launch pad – which is perfect, given that your three-course lunch is just a short time away…
11:30 AM — Mondavi Immersion
How can an “insider’s tour” include wines carried in every wine shop around the world? Because you’ll see it as no regular tourist does. And because you’ll want to take home a deeper knowledge of this icon of the wine world to share with as many friends as possible. Appreciating this winery’s impact on Napa, and the whole Mondo Vino, is your foundation for appreciating today’s entrepreneurs.
You’ll begin with a vineyard tour hosted by a Mondavi’s historian, who will then guide us through the production facility and a private tasting of their Reserve wines in the breath-taking barrel room (above right). You’ll end your visit with a leisurely three-course lunch (with wine pairing) served in their hospitality facility.
2:30 PM — Restoring Inglenook!
You’ll enjoy a private tour and tasting at this facility, until recently known as Niebaum-Coppola/Rubicon Estates. This magnificent estate is home to one of the valley’s finest Bordeaux blends — Rubicon. Is there a better way to learn how to detect the distinctive “Rutherford Dust” found in Cabernets from this exclusive part of Napa? The short answer is no.
And the winery’s history is just as intriguing – it was Inglenook’s early history from the mid 1800’s that inspired owner Francis Ford Coppola to abandon plans for a simple “weekend get-away” in favor of re-building Inglenook. After two decades and countless millions spent acquiring the property’s original vineyards, he’s now completed this Herculean task, and restored the property to its original name – Inglenook. You’ll be among the early visitors to this re-named property, which never disappoints.
4:30 PM — Return to the hotel and spruce up for your intimate dinner.
6:00 PM – Merryvale by Candlelight
You’ll have just enough time to freshen up and change for your final event in the valley – your candlelight dinner amid century-old barrels at Merryvale. You’ll find this the culinary and experiential highlight of your weekend, with a menu designed specifically for Merryvale’s library wines. This is an experience like no other so don’t forget your camera.
Monday, Sept. 23rd 9:00 AM — Swap phone numbers and email addresses with all your new friends of your final breakfast at the Marriott. 10:00 AM — First shuttle departs hotel San Francisco International Airport.
About Your Guide
Your tour guide will be Dave Chambers (www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com) who spent time as a marketing consultant for wineries before launching the “Sideways Wine Club” for Fox Searchlight Pictures. He now curates an ever-evolving portfolio of artisanal wines for his adventurous wine club members and is a regular guest lecturer on California’s wine history for the SFSU Hospitality Management program. Dave will co-host your weekend with Rich Gamble, the Publisher of Chicago Magazine.
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