When I opened the email inviting me to the 69th Emmy Awards on behalf of the evening’s wine sponsor, Sterling Vineyards, I was confused by what Napa Valley Cabernet could possibly have to do with Saturday Night Live, Big Little Lies and all the other hit television shows and stars that are fêted annually. But after experiencing the star-soaked event, starting with the red carpet through the awards ceremony and after-party Governors Ball (the country’s largest catering event with roughly 4,100 guests), it made perfect sense. This is one of the biggest shindigs on the global calendar, and when people are celebrating, there’d better be wine flowing.
It all started with a drive from my home in Santa Barbara to downtown L.A., where I checked into my hotel, changed into my tuxedo (I opted for a black clip-on bowtie) and made my way to meet my hosts, the Sterling Vineyards team.
Tuxes, gowns and glasses of sparkling wine abounded. In no time, we were meandering past many oversized Emmy statue photo ops and toward the red carpet, where I snagged visuals of John Lithgow, Giancarlo Esposito, Laverne Cox and Kiernan Shipka. We all wound up packed together in front of the Microsoft Theater trying to dodge everyone’s selfies.
Inside, the awards show proved incredibly entertaining and well produced. The logistics of the live show must be daunting—countdowns between commercial breaks were constant, requests for applause happened often, and professional “seat-fillers” filled open spots seamlessly like gloves. And throughout, Stephen Colbert rocked it as host.
Given today’s electric political environment, it was no surprise that many award winners’ speeches were imbued with progressive pushes, while others were filled with tear-laced, joy-filled gratitude. Standing ovations occurred when stars hit the stage, from Norman Lear and Carol Burnett to Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Dolly Parton and Lena Waith, the first African-American female to win an Emmy for comedy writing (with Aziz Ansari for Master of None).
I managed to sneak out during one commercial break to find the bar, which was really just the Microsoft Theater’s concession stand, full of popcorn, wine, a decent range of hard liquor, and 24-ounce beers, the smallest size.
“That’s an aggressive option,” one man commented about the large suds format, as I slugged a cold tallboy Corona. He pounded his Chardonnay and skittered away to ask a nearby winner if he could hold the Emmy Award in his hands.
Once the awards segment concluded, it was (finally) time to party. Together, the few thousand attendees wandered toward the steps of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where we were greeted with sparkling wine in sturdy flutes. Inside, the décor was dazzling, a quartet of female violinists played cover songs, and celebrities hobnobbed with the rest of us.
I was assigned to the table next to the Sterling Vineyards station, where the Emmy Award winners got their statuettes engraved with their names and then received a bottle of the winery’s brand new Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. There, I got a very early taste of the wine—chalky in texture, ripe with black fruit, ample with spice—and then did my best to keep it coming to our table, even though it was only supposed to go to the winners.
The food, by Patina Catering, was quite good, especially considering it had to be prepared for 4,100 people. A salad of heirloom tomatoes, plums, red quinoa and fascinating cubes of balsamic jelly was waiting for us, followed by chunks of medium-rare filet mignon with figs, asparagus, roasted grapes and horseradish. The former worked well with Sterling’s fruity Sauvignon Blanc, and the latter made friends with the Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was the Iridium, which was served in the heaviest bottle I’ve ever held, that stole the show.
Following a decadent brownie bar, music shifted to Boyz II Men, Bel Biv DeVoe covers and other favorite dance hits. I made my way over to the Hilhaven Lodge Whiskey station (solid Old Fashioneds) before eventually wandering back to the hotel, where the lobby bar was lively. But before I called it a night and to commemorate the whirlwind, once-in-a-lifetime occasion, I enjoyed one last pour, naturally.