The Polo Tailgating Party
Athena Nicole Grey’s tricks to preparing a sophisticated alfresco spread.
A small road in the Valley of the Moon bends west off Highway 12 and heads toward the foothills. A few turns later, a driveway framed by bronze horse statues leads to an equine oasis amid the vineyards—Wine Country Polo Club.
The group was established by Henry Trione, a banker who also founded Trione Vineyards in Geyserville. Still vigorous in his 90s, Trione watches matches from the shade of the trees, greeting spectators and players, who range from schoolteachers to software moguls to winemakers. “I want you to enjoy all this,” he says, waving towards the impeccable emerald field.
Open to the public, the club hosts regular matches as well as top events such as the Junior Achievement benefit in September—complete with classic cars and ladies’ hat contest. But visitors can have just as much fun watching the Thursday afternoon “stick and ball” practices.
Club member Nicole Grey is known for her graciously elaborate tailgate picnics. “I see beauty everywhere and I love to create it,” she explains. An entertaining stylist, she owns the namesake Nicole Grey, a purveyor of luxury goods.
Recreate the Region
Players come back hot and hungry after a match. Grey carries on her Greek-American heritage by incorporating an Aegean-inspired recipe or two in her menu. She serves bread and slices part of the roast chicken because “some people—especially the men and the kids—prefer to eat sandwiches.”
Local charcuterie and cheeses, such as Mt. Tam (Cowgirl Creamery) and Humboldt Fog (Cypress Grove)
Grilled seasonal vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant & asparagus
Orzo salad with sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and artichokes
Fresh bread from Wild Flour Bakery, Freestone
Watermelon (in bite-size portions)
Home-baked cookies (peanut butter, oatmeal, chocolate chips)
Athena's Orzo Salad (recipe below)
Grey arrays her spread in the back of her Porsche Cayenne or on a portable table. Guests might lunch at picnic tables topped with white tablecloths or spread blankets on the grassy berm. Channeling Downton Abbey-meets-wine country, she often places Bokara carpets under chairs—”The rugs hold up well and get you out of the dust.” Grey prefers serving off “real” dishes and glassware. “Bringing fine tableware to the country makes picnics even more special. Stoneware from Juliska is practically unchippable. For glassware, I like Simon Pearce tumblers—or anything without a stem.” Any paper plates will be heavy-caliber ones like Caspari. And, she mentions, you don’t need to be feeding a polo
team. “You can do this for just you and your honey.”
No music during chukkas, please. A polo tradition, the “divot stomp” takes place at half-time, when spectators go onto the field to tamp down grass torn by galloping hooves. During this intermezzo, the announcer plays fun music people can move to—the reggae-accented “Country Roads” by Toots & The Maytals is Grey’s favorite. During lunch after games, her playlist mingles the nostalgic with the unexpected. “Horses and country music just go together.” She leans towards old school twang like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. Other eclectic tunes might come from Beth Rowley, Pink Martini, Ray LaMontagne, Madeleine Peyroux, Max Sedgley or Garrett Hedlund—what better setting for “Turn Loose the Horses?”
“At most sporting events you drink beer from a can. For polo, you sip sparkling wine from a flute,” one bystander quipped. Bubbly from Korbel in Guerneville is served at the divot stomp for major events, with Trione wines also featured. The Trione Chardonnay or Pinot Noir (both Russian River Valley) pair well with Grey’s roast chicken and salads. Most important—drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Athena's Orzo Salad
Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena Nicole Grey uses her birth name for her Greek-style recipes like these.
1 pound orzo pasta
¹⁄³ cup Greek olives, pitted
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup artichoke hearts, sliced
½ cup cucumber, diced
1 each roasted red bell pepper, sliced
9 tablespoons Greek extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo and boil until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse the orzo briefly with cold water. Toss the pasta with all other ingredients except tomatoes and fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the orzo salad cool for one hour, refrigerate until ready to pack for the tailgate. Before packing toss in tomatoes and fresh herbs. Serves 6–8.
Athena’s Roasted Potatoes
10 large unpeeled red potatoes, cut into
6–8 wedges per potato
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
1 lemon, juiced
Fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons fresh Greek oregano, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Fill a large pot with salted water, parwboil the potatoes for five minutes and then strain. Place the potatoes with all remaining ingredients into a large bowl and toss.
Align one layer of potatoes in a shallow baking pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes, or until potatoes have reached a golden color. Check occasionally to make sure they are roasting evenly. When done let cool for 30 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh oregano, if desired, before packing for tailgate. Serves 6–8.