Summer Soirées in Wine Country

Three California wine families throw their favorite warm-weather parties and show you all the steps to pull it off at your home.


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The California wine-country lifestyle is undoubtedly an enviable one. With its ideal weather and the state’s propensity to grow just about everything under the sun, enjoying an alfresco wine and food party can be as easy as throwing a few items on a grill, picking a handful of tomatoes from the garden and popping a cork. But why not take it up a notch and give your own wine-country-style soirée extra flair? We tapped three famous wine families in the Golden State for their top tips on throwing a great summer celebration, complete with the personal touches that make the event unique. Enjoy.

Rob Mondavi Jr.

Southern-inspired barbeque in the Napa Valley.

The son of Michael and Isabel Mondavi and grandson of California wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, Rob Mondavi Jr. is firmly rooted in the family tradition of wine.

He is the winemaker for Michael Mondavi Family Estate, which produces bottlings under the M, Isabel Mondavi, Medusa and Spellbound labels, in addition to a line of wines made in partnership with celebrity chef Tyler Florence.

Mondavi also co-founded the premium wine company Folio Fine Wine Partners with his parents and sister, Dina, specializing in Italy, Spain, Argentina and beyond, including the famed wines from Frescobaldi. Since his wife, Lydia, hails from Georgia, Mondavi’s summer party marries touches of his own Italian heritage with a proper Southernstyle barbecue, centered on a slow-cooked pork shoulder with all the fixin’s.

Menu

For the barbecue, Mondavi buys heritage pigs from local grape grower and farmer Lee Hudson, and brines the meat the day before in a mixture of vinegar and herbs, slow cooking it for 15–20 hours at 210–220˚F. Along with the meat, Mondavi loves to highlight the Napa Valley’s abundance of summertime produce, including squash and tomatoes from his own garden, which he uses in various preparations. While the grill’s going, and the pork is left to rest, he’ll throw some Italian sausages on the grill to cut up and pass around as appetizers, as well as fire up a few pizzas to nibble on before the main meal.

Grilled Fatted Calf Italian sausage
Grilled pizzas (see recipe below)
Slow-roasted heritage pork (see recipe below)
Potato rolls
Slaw
Tomatoes with vinegar, anchovies and feta
Panzanella salad (see recipe below)
Summer squash

Playlist

Mondavi keeps the down-home theme going with songs from his buddy, soul singer Chris Pierce, who’ll drop in and play if he’s in town, and the country band Sugarland, whose co-founder, Jennifer Nettles, is also a friend and is known to join the party. Beyond that, Mondavi throws on “some good ol’ Rolling Stones to keep things alive.”

Wine List

Villa Sandi NV Extra Dry (Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore), $18.
A crisp, food-friendly bubbly, with pear and floral notes.

Isabel Mondavi 2009 Deep Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé (Napa Valley), $15.
A beautifully-colored wine, with vibrant redfruit flavors and a juicy finish.

Spellbound 2009 Petite Sirah Reserve (Napa Valley), $15.
Vanilla, spice and layered dark-berry flavors put this red on center stage when it comes to grilled meats.

Macauley Vineyard 2007 Late-Harvest Botrytis Sémillon (Alexander Valley), $90/375 ml.
A lush and decadent dessert wine, with toast, honey and apricot flavors.

Here are some Mondavi menu items you can cook at home:

Rob Mondavi Jr.’s Panzanella Salad

¾ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil, plus more to brush on the bread
¼ cup red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper, plus more to taste
½ cup shredded fresh basil, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ lemon, juiced
Sea salt, to taste
1/3 red onion, thinly sliced
4–6 large heirloom tomatoes, skinned and lightly seeded
1 Italian soda bread, sliced lengthwise
Basil leaves, for garnish

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, pepper, basil, oregano, lemon juice and sea salt. Add the onion slices to the dressing and let marinate for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan filled with water, blanch the tomatoes to loosen their skins, let cool, then remove the skins from the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into large pieces and add them to the bowl with the dressing, allowing them to marinate and release their juices for 15–20 minutes.  

Brush the bread with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and toast the bread on a grill until golden brown. Once grilled, tear the bread into large pieces and place in a separate bowl. After the, salt and pepper, to taste, since the liquid from the tomatoes will have diluted the dressing. 

Sprinkle a portion of the dressing onto the bread and toss, coating the bread lightly as to soften its tough torn edges and allow for further absorption later. Add the tomatoes and the remainder of the dressing and toss. Garnish with basil. Serves 4–6.

Rob Mondavi Jr.’s Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder

1½ cups apple juice
½ cup cider vinegar, divided
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground pepper and fennel seed, mixed
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 pork shoulder (bone in or out), approximately 5 pounds
Combine the apple juice, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper and fennel seed mixture, cumin and paprika in a bowl and mix well. Submerge the pork into the mixture and keep refrigerated for 12–24 hours.

Preheat a grill to 220ºF.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for about an hour, then pat the pork dry and place on the grill to slow cook for approximately 8 hours. If you’d like, add wood for smoke. At the 4-hour mark, completely cover and seal the pork with aluminum foil and let it continue to cook.

After the pork is cooked, remove it from the grill and allow it to cool for roughly 30 minutes. Use a fork to shred the pork, and place the pieces on a platter. Sprinkle the pork with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Serve with your choice of side dish. Serves 4–6.

Rob Mondavi Jr.’s Grilled Pizza

1 package frozen bread dough, approximately 32 -ounces
Olive oil, for brushing
6 large tomatoes, cut into thin slices
1 cup feta cheese
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat a grill to 400ºF.

Let the dough thaw, then cut it into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ¼-inch thick disk. Brush with olive oil and place on the grill. Cook one side only for 2–3 minutes. Remove the dough from grill and set aside.

Brush the tomato slices with olive oil and place on the grill for 1–2 minutes, making sure not to turn them. In a bowl, combine the feta cheese, basil, salt and black pepper. Place the grilled side of the tomatoes on the cooked side of the pizza crust. Top with feta cheese mixture. Place the pizzas back on the grill. Cook the raw dough side for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and serve. Repeat for the remaining three dough portions. Serves 4.

Décor

Mondavi lives in a circa 1914 house on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District of the Napa Valley, near where his famed grandfather used to live. The mature gardens around his house were designed by John McLaren, one of the designers of Golden Gate Park, and are the perfect setting for dining alfresco under mature cedar trees. He adorns his dinner table with fine Italian linens he picked up in Florence through his travels over the years and, with more than 120 different hydrangeas planted in his yard, the table always includes a beautiful flower arrangement. Aesthetics are essential to Mondavi, but so is character: The table is likely to be set with customized Deruta tableware with heirloom utensils from his wife’s southern upbringing. His glassware of choice is sourced from Riedel’s Ouverture collection, though he’s a fan of serving his Deep Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé in tumblers over ice.

For your California/Southern-style party, consider break-free polycarbonate wine tumblers that look like crystal, but are made for outdoor revelry ($19.95 for a set of four).

Beer & Cocktails

Naturally, most of Mondavi’s parties center around wine, but he also makes sure there’s plenty of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on hand, and will occasionally enjoy a Bourbon on the rocks, pouring Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Years Old.

Katie Jackson

Tri-Tip and pinquito beans in the Santa Maria Valley.

"We always go way overboard with food! My fiancé Shaun loves grilling anything and everything."

The daughter of California wine icons Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke, Katie Jackson is the inspiration behind Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay and is the winery’s roving ambassador, as well as a talented home cook and thoughtful blogger. Before following in the family footsteps, Jackson considered writing as a poet or novelist, but fell under the wine industry spell during the 2007 harvest; today, Jackson’s creativity, combined with the sturdy work ethic inherited from her parents, is helping her promote the business in new and innovatiove ways.

Jackson lives in Sonoma’s Santa Rosa, where she entertains often, usually taking a laid-back approach despite acquiring her mother’s passion and talent for Italian cooking.

But when she entertains down south in Santa Maria, it’s all about the local tri-tip, which is said to have been named by Santa Maria Valley butcher Bob Schutz in the ’50s. Grilled and enjoyed outside at the winery with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s the primary element of this quintessential coastal California get-together.

Menu

Jackson likes to source from local growers and ranchers in the Santa Maria Valley area. For an outdoor summer party, she builds her meals around tri-tip, a cut of steak synonymous with the Santa Maria Valley, and typically serves it grilled with garlic salt and a black-pepper rub bought from a local rancher. She then surrounds it with traditional accompaniments that include slow-cooked pinquito beans and grilled garlic bread. For dessert, she always serves strawberries, another of the area’s major delights.

Santa Maria Valley-style tri-tip (see recipe below)
Slow-cooked Santa Maria Valley pinquito beans (see recipe below)
Tomato salad with hot peppers (see recipe below)
Grilled garlic bread
Lobster macaroni and cheese
Fresh strawberries

Playlist

Jackson and her fiancé, Shaun Kajiwara, who’s originally from Hawaii, keep it West Coast cool with tracks from surfer/songwriter Jack Johnson, as well as John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Train.

Décor

The vineyards at Cambria are so stunningly beautiful in their own right—think rolling hills and fog meandering in from the Pacific Ocean in the distance—that Jackson keeps her own décor simple. Late-afternoon meals are laid out on picnic tables decorated with white tablecloths and colorful flowers from the winery’s garden, usually an assortment of orange, yellow and pink gladioli arranged in Mason jars or small vases.

Jackson will augment those colors with orange or yellow plates and serving platters from her mother’s colorful Italian dishware collection. She’ll serve familystyle, and have plenty of Burgundy wine glasses for guests to sample a range of wines.

Emulate Jackson’s style with durable Fusion Pinot Noir glasses ($66.95 for a set of six plus two) or a Mason jar glass set ($19.95 for a set of four).

Wine List

Cambria 2010 Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley), $22.
Mango, spice and vanilla bean give this wine complexity that’s great for grilled dishes.

Byron 2008 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley), $40.
Black cherry, plum and rose petal flavors frame this approachable Pinot.

Foxen 2008 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley), $54.
Raspberry, cherry jam and spice put a compelling spin on this Pinot. The smoke marries well with barbecue.

Cambria 2008 Tepusquet Vineyard Syrah (Santa Maria Valley), $20.
Earth, cocoa and cola provide a grounded character that can handle spice with style.

Beer & Cocktails

Jackson sticks to wine at her parties, but Kajiwara loves a hearty stout, like Guinness, with grilled fare. For cocktails, Wine Enthusiast suggests a pitcher of lightly Bourbon-spiked Arnold Palmers or the Pimm’s Cup, a fruit-stuffed libation popular at the summer horse races in England.

Here are some Jackson menu items you can cook at home:

Katie Jackson’s Grilled Santa Maria Valley-style Tri-Tip

Courtesy Jackson Family culinary team

1 tri-tip, approximately 2½–3 pounds                                                                                                                                      
1 tablespoon olive oil                                                                                                                                               
2 tablespoons kosher salt                                                                                                                                         
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper                                                                                                           
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Allow the tri-tip to sit at room temperature for 1 hour prior to cooking.

Preheat a grill to high.

Rub the tri-tip with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and garlic salt. Place on the grill for about 4 minutes. Flip the tri-tip and grill for another 4 minutes. Move the tri-tip to a medium-low heat area on your grill and cook for 20–25 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 134°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

Remove the meat from the grill, loosely cover the tri-tip with aluminum foil and allow the tri-tip to rest for 15 minutes before slicing against the grain. Serves 4–6.

Katie Jackson’s Slow Cooked Santa Maria Pinquito Beans

Courtesy Jackson Family culinary team

1 pound Rancho Gordo dried heirloom Santa Maria pinquito beans
10 cups water, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 carrot, peeled
½ onion, chopped
1 celery stalk
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 slices bacon, diced
1 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces tomato purée
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground dry mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Pick through the beans and remove any foreign matter. Rinse with cold water. Place the beans in a large bowl, cover with 6 cups of water and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the beans and rinse. Place the beans in a pot with 4 cups of water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour or until the beans are tender. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then allow the beans to cool in the liquid. Once cool, remove and discard the carrot, onion and celery. 

In a large pot set over medium heat, add bacon and remaining olive oil. Cook until bacon is golden brown. Add the red onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomato purée, brown sugar, dry mustard and Tabasco sauce. Next, add the reserved beans, 2 cups of the bean-cooking liquid, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and cook for 30 minutes at a low simmer. The beans can be refrigerated for up to one week. Serves 8.

Katie Jackson’s Grilled Pepper & Tomato Salad

Courtesy Jackson Family culinary team

5 bell peppers, poblanos, serranos, jalapeños and Anaheim peppers, 1 of each                   
12 Roma tomatoes            
3 garlic cloves, chopped                                            
2 tablespoons kosher salt
½ large onion, chopped                                          
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat a grill to 400°F.

Trim the peppers and discard the seeds and membranes. Halve or quarter the peppers, then press them with the back of your hand to flatten. Grill the tomatoes and peppers until the skins blacken and blister all over. Let cool. Once cool, chop the peppers and the tomatoes into large pieces.

Muddle the garlic with salt, and place in a bowl. Add the peppers, tomatoes and onions. Add the red wine vinegar and oil, and mix. Serves 4–6. 

Liz & Markus Bokisch

Paella and tapas in Lodi

"We try to keep our parties friendly and casual, and wine is the focus. When friends cover over, they bring a bottle of wine. We start with wine, and when we're cooking we'll have some wine, too."

Liz and Markus Bokisch came to Lodi, California, to be growers after traveling through Markus’s native Spain in a classic Volkswagen bus (which they still have) and falling in love with the wines of Portugal and Spain.

As a trained viticulturalist who worked for many years in the Napa Valley, Markus honed in on Lodi as an ideal place in which to branch out. From the Bokisch’s rural Victor backyard, just outside of Lodi, they grow grapes for their own Bokisch Albariño, Tempranillo and Graciano wines.

The couple’s time spent in Spain is also the inspiration for their meals and style of entertaining, centered around creating an ambience that’s casual, friendly and family-oriented. The moment guests walk in, they’re handed a glass of wine or sangria and put to work around the tableside paella pan.

Menu

Markus loves to preside over a huge pan of paella tableside, making a version traditional to his hometown of Sant Carles de la Ràpita in Spain that includes both seafood and chicken, and he enlists his guests to help stir things up. Since paella can take some time to perfect, he’ll pull out choice bits of fried chorizo, prawns and chicken from the paella pan for everyone to enjoy, along with plenty of wine, almonds and tapas that Liz has made, until the main meal is ready.

House-marinated Marcona almonds with fresh rosemary
Pineapple, date and kumquat skewers
Manchego, membrillo and Jamón Serrano rolls
Tableside paella mixta
(see recipe below)
Plat Miró (dipping plate of olives, boquerones, olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil) (see recipe below)
Crusty, warm French bread
Cold sangria terrine of fresh fruit in a rosado gelée
(see recipe below)

Playlist

The couple keeps it cultural with a mix of modern Spanish, Brazilian and Cuban tunes, as well as more traditional choices like the soundtrack from the Buena Vista Social Club.

Décor

The Bokischs decorate with personal items, many of which hail from Spain or are inspired by the couple’s time there. The meals are served on Spanish, hand-painted green and yellow monogrammed ceramic plates selected for specific dishes, and Liz likes to stack other hand-painted, custom-made tapas plates on top of those. The big wooden table in their garden is decorated with a collection of shells from Sant Carles de la Ràpita or fishing nets, and Liz also uses a simple olive branch as a centerpiece along with Mason jars filled with sunflowers and zinnias from her garden. For glassware, the Bokischs go casual, with standard-sized, winerylogo stemware or large, squat-bottomed margarita-style glasses for the sangria. Liz also likes to keep a large supply of shawls and wraps on hand for when the sun goes down and the temperature drops, encouraging guests to linger longer outdoors.

Banded margarita glasses in four colors ($59.95 for a set of four) are sturdy, stylish and capture the festive nature of the Bokisch gatherings.

Wine List

Bokisch 2010 Terra Alta Vineyard Albariño (Clements Hills), $16.
This medium-bodied Spanish white offers alluring apricot and tropical fruit flavors.

Bokisch 2009 Terra Alta Vineyard Garnacha (Clements Hills), $18.
A red with bright strawberry and spice elements that pair well with the chorizo and jamón.

Vall Llach 2007 Priorat, $95.
Waves of plum, tobacco and cherry give this rich red the complexity to accompany the Bokisch menu.

Gramona 2008 Gran Cuvée (Cava), $20.
The Bokisch’s finish their meal with this elegant, palate-refreshing Cava from Spain. It’s an uplifting and celebratory end to a spirited repast.

Beer & Cocktails

Guests are often fellow Lodi growers and winemakers who like to taste each others’ wines, but sangria is always on the table. When it comes to cocktails, Liz loves an ice-cold gin and tonic. The flavorful menu of thiswarm-weather party also lends itself to beer: Wine Enthusiast recommends Anchor Steam, a California classic that’s rich yet refreshing.

Here are some Bokisch menu items you can cook at home:

Bokisch Vineyards Sangria

2 ounces Presidente Brandy
1½ ounces Cointreau
2/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
2½ cups club soda
Orange slice, for garnish
Lemon slice, for garnish

Combine brandy, Cointreau, orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and club soda, and stir. Pour the mixture into wine glasses, and garnish with orange and lemon slices. Serves 2–4.

Markus Bokisch’s Paella Mixta

4 cups onions, chopped
4 cups poblano peppers, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1½ cups ripe tomatoes, grated
16 pieces seafood (mussels, clams, squid), mixed
6 cups chicken broth
6 cups fish broth (or clam juice)
2 cups dry white wine
40 saffron threads
16 pieces meat (chicken thighs, pork spareribs, chorizo)
Assorted vegetables (artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, lima beans)
4 cups steamed rice (Arroz Bomba or Calrose)
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (Spanish sweet paprika)
¼ cup pre-cooked lima beans.
½ jar roasted red bell peppers, for garnish
Lemon slices, for garnish

Coat the bottom of a paella pan with olive oil and set over low heat. Add the chopped onion in a pan and sauté until browned. Add the peppers and garlic and let cook until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and let cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the mixture from paella pan and set aside.

In the meantime, steam the seafood until cooked. Once steamed, remove and set aside. In a large pan set over high heat, combine the chicken broth and fish broth, and let simmer. Add the white wine and saffron threads to release the color and aroma. Once it’s simmering, set aside.

Coat the bottom of the paella pan with olive oil and set over medium heat. Sauté the chicken, turning over once, and set aside. Next, sauté the steamed seafood pieces and set aside. Sauté the assorted vegetables and set aside. Add the sofrito (onion, garlic and tomato mixture) and rice to the paella pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Once cooked, add the pimentón dulce and the saffron-infused wine. Stir, then spread evenly across the pan and flatten slightly. Pour the broth mixture until the rice is completely covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes, adding more stock as necessary. Return to the pan and add the seafood, chicken and vegetables. Garnish with lima beans and roasted peppers. Remove from heat and cover with a towel for 5–10 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

The Bokisch’s Plat Miró

Extra-Virgin olive oil, for drizzle
4–6 arbequinas, picholine and kalamata olives, mixed
1 teaspoon olive tapenade
2–3 boquerónes
1 teaspoon pimentón dulce
French bread, sliced

On a square, white ceramic dish, drizzle a thin layer of olive oil. Place the olives in one corner. Place the olive tapenade in the opposite corner. Place the boquerónes diagonally across the center. Make a design with dots or squiggly lines with the pimentón. Serve with French bread for dipping. Serves 4.

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