The Napa Valley
Is there a wine lover who hasn’t heard of Napa Valley? Not only are its wines superb, but Napa’s natural beauty makes it a feast for the senses.
The broad, lush valley sprawls between the heavily forested Mayacamas Mountains on the west and the spare, rock-ribbed Vaca Mountains to the east.
Between the two, crossroads link a landscape of pristine vineyards, little farmhouses, old stone bridges that span the Napa River and, here and there, architecturally extravagant wineries styled after temples or castles.
Want more expansive views? Head to the hills. You’ll find breathtaking panoramas from high up along twisting lanes such as Oakville Grade and Mt. Veeder Road.
Cabernet Sauvignon is Napa’s superstar wine, of course, but the valley also produces stellar Syrahs, Merlots, Sauvignon Blancs and Petite Sirahs. And its Zinfandels are world class.
Chances are that somebody, somewhere in Napa and its 16 subappellations, is doing something incredible with almost any other grape variety you could name.
The namesake city of Napa draws visitors to its revitalized riverside downtown, home to exciting restaurants, bars, clubs and performance venues.
But top-notch dining extends all the way up Highway 29, from the foodie hotbed of Yountville to laid-back Rutherford, and from glamorous St. Helena to funky-chic Calistoga, with its mud baths and old-fashioned July Fourth parade. Upscale and eclectic, Napa’s cuisine is tailored to match the local wines.
While the dry season (May–October) attracts the most visitors, Napa Valley holds four-season appeal, from spring budbreak to winter barrel tastings. Traffic can be tight, but the reception that visitors get in tasting rooms is warm.—Steve Heimoff
A perfect confluence of soil, climate and smart winemaking makes Napa Valley the continual king for big American reds.
As you drive north on Highway 29 through the Napa Valley, just beyond the little town of Yountville, the valley floor suddenly widens, revealing vistas of vineyards framed by mountains. It looks and feels like a remarkable place.
Napa Valley certainly is remarkable. It’s one of the world’s greatest wine regions. And, like France’s Bordeaux region to which it’s always compared, Napa has staked its history and fortunes on Cabernet Sauvignon.—Steve Heimoff
The Beginnings of Cab
Exactly when Cab came to Napa is unknown, although it was firmly established by the late 1800s. During the first part of the 20th century, the likes of Inglenook, Beaulieu, Louis M. Martini and Charles Krug showed savvy insiders how good Napa Valley Cabernet could be.
However, the wider world of wine lovers only began to take notice in the 1970s.
That was after a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon bested all other red wines, including top Bordeaux, at the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting. Overnight, Napa Valley was on every connoisseur’s lips.
Location, Location, Location
What makes Napa so congenial to Cabernet Sauvignon? After all, Bordeaux sits further north in latitude, making it colder and wetter. But Cabernet has thrived there for centuries. Indeed, Bordeaux made Cabernet’s reputation.
The late winemaker André Tchelistcheff—Napa’s most significant influence of the past century—ascribed the valley’s success with Cabernet to three factors: its microclimates, soils and modern viticultural practices.
Shafer Vineyards co-proprietor Doug Shafer puts it more succinctly: “Napa’s ‘Goldilocks’ climate is just right.” True, it has many different microclimates, “but Cab does well throughout the whole valley.”
Situated in a sweet spot between the cold Pacific and California’s blazing Central Valley, “Napa is in a perfect temperature zone,” says Jayson Woodbridge, proprietor of Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie and Layer Cake. “The weather is more often on our side than not.”
Napa’s warmer than Bordeaux, but the climate pushes Napa’s grapes to a ripeness that Bordeaux only achieves in its warmest years, which reviewers love to dub “the vintage of the century” (and which Bordeaux seems to enjoy every 10 years or so).
The wag who said, “Every year is a vintage year in California,” largely got it right.
Tchelistcheff called the benchlands between Highway 29 and the Mayacamas Mountains that stretch from Oakville northwest to Rutherford, “the greatest region for production of Cabernet Sauvignon in California.”
We might forgive Tchelistcheff for concentrating on that area, the historic heart of the valley, where he had the most experience. When “The Maestro” died in 1994 at age 92, Napa’s other regions were still developing their viticultural prowess.
Head for the Hills
Today, Napa’s mountain districts—Veeder, Diamond, Spring, Howell, Atlas Peak—as well as southern areas like Coombsville and northern ones around Calistoga, yield Cabernets that are different from those of Oakville-Rutherford benches, but no less beautiful.
Think of Napa’s 16 subappellations as a string of pearls.
A well-made Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has a lush texture and is full bodied yet ethereal, with a fruity ripeness that smacks of warm, sunny summers.
The precise flavors can veer from vintage to vintage, vineyard to vineyard. In general, however, blackberries and cherries abound, with relatively high alcohol giving a liqueur-like headiness, often enriched with chocolate and licorice notes.
Aficionados debate the finer distinctions: How Oakville differs from Rutherford, how the Vacas distinguish themselves from the Mayacamas, the comparison of valley floor and mountain wines.
But no wine region on Earth has better viticulturalists than Napa Valley, as Tchelistcheff said. The intricacies of canopy management, vine spacing and watering schedules make all the difference.
Today, during blind tastings, even experts have a hard time identifying where in Napa any particular Cabernet was produced.
Still, rough templates can be drawn.
Hot and Cool Climates
The southern districts—Yountville, Coombsville and Oak Knoll—are cooler, because they are closer to San Pablo/San Francisco Bay. Hence, they yield tighter, more elegant Cabs.
Thirty miles north in Calistoga, the hotter temperatures make the wines soft and opulent. Some people swear that Oakville Cab is all about blackberries, while Rutherford tastes of sour red-cherry candy.
Mountain wines, because of the volcanic stones in the soil, sometimes have a tang of minerals, although just how to define mineral is an ongoing debate. Grapes from the mountains also tend to be smaller than those from the flatlands, making for more concentrated and tannic Cabernets.
Yet, even the mountains present complexities. Which direction does the vineyard face? Which way do the rows run? What time does the summer sun rise and set on the vines? All this influences the grapes as much as elevation.
So, too, does the vintner’s blending pattern. An 100% Cabernet Sauvignon will be bigger, darker and more tannic than one blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But any Napa Cabernet, regardless of blend, will age well, provided it starts out balanced.
The Cab Critique
During the past 10 years, critics on both sides of the Atlantic have charged that Napa’s wines are too ripe and high in alcohol. Some also accuse them of being too oaky, although this argument is harder to sustain.
This criticism is outweighed by the prices that top Napa Cabernets fetch. Demand far outstrips supply.
However, alcohol levels seem to be moving downward lately because of two factors. Some winemakers, sensitive to the high-alcohol critique, consciously aim to harvest their grapes earlier. (The longer the grapes are on the vine, the higher the sugar level, which determines the alcohol content of the wine after fermentation.)
Also, the past few growing seasons (2010–12), have been cool, yielding lower sugar levels at harvest.
But if you harvest too early, the wines can taste green or unripe. Nobody wants Cabernet Sauvignon to taste like asparagus and bell peppers. Timing the harvest is the winemaker’s biggest decision of the year.
As Michael Mondavi, founder of Folio Fine Wine Partners (and Robert Mondavi’s elder son), says, “If you harvest too soon, you’ll have that bite of tannins. And if you wait too long, you’ll have jam.”
Picking, it seems, has its “Goldilocks” moment as well.
An Influx of Celebs
Today, Napa Valley boasts more than 400 wineries, with more coming on all the time. High-profile luminaries are investing, like Yao Ming (basketball), Boz Scaggs (rock star), Mario Andretti (race car legend), Joe Montana (NFL Hall of Famer) and Bill Foley (mortgage lender/billionaire).
If you want to produce Napa wine, the price of admission is prohibitive. Land is more expensive than anywhere else in California wine country. The price for premium Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can top $20,000 a ton.
That’s why—cult wine-buying frenzies aside—a top Napa Valley Cabernet will never be inexpensive. But the world’s best wines never are.
Napa's Other Reds
While Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties dominate the harvest in Napa Valley, the region also produces many other red wines.
Top picks include Zinfandel and Syrah, especially when grown in mountain appellations, where the fruit achieves great concentration and intensity. Petite Sirah has developed a following in the last few years. It can do well on the valley floor if the soils are well-drained. Sporadic efforts with Sangiovese and Tempranillo suggest promise, but there’s little economic incentive for growers to plant them.
Grenache and Mourvèdre don’t do particularly well, although this may be due to lack of effort rather than unsuitable terroir.
The climate in Napa Valley is largely too warm for Pinot Noir. However, it does thrive in the Carneros appellation, which sprawls across the southern parts of Napa and Sonoma counties.
Napa's Top Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style red blends
California’s finest come from here. The wines are lush, yet balanced and dry, with ripe, supple tannins. The best can age for decades.
Merlot can be thin in the flatlands, but put it on a hillside and it sings. Smooth and delicious, with red cherry and, often, chocolate.
Like Merlot, Syrah loves hill-sides. From Napa’s mountainous appellations, wines are rich in blackberry fruit and soft, often showing bacon and pepper notes.
In terms of structure, Napa Valley Zins are the most Cabernet-like in California. Balanced and elegant, they retain a briary and brambly personality.
Napa brings balanced elegance to a variety than can be rustic. Always full-bodied and tannic, and often heady, Napa Petites exude fruity richness.
Clockwise from top left: Alejandro Alfaro, Jim Heiser, Jeff Fontanella and Anne Vawter
Napa Valley constantly reinvents itself. Through passing seasons, vineyards transition from budbreak, harvest and new spring anticipation. In the same way, a generation of winemakers rises, matures and is eventually succeeded by dynamic new crafters and creators. Progress balances with continuity. Here are four vintners who carry forth Napa’s tradition of greatness.—Steve Heimoff
When Alfaro was a kid in a little town in Mexico, he’d hear stories from neighbors who’d gone to the U.S. to do agricultural work.
A lot of them went to Napa Valley. “They’d come back and talk about it,” Alfaro says. “I always wondered about this place. So when I was 18, I came up here to find out.”
It wasn’t hard for him to get work, first at Pine Ridge, then Hess Collection. Alfaro also studied English and winemaking at Napa Valley College.
After a stint as cellarmaster at Bell Wine Cellars, Alfaro became fulltime winemaker at Sabina Wines in 2008. A little later, Teachworth, another Napa winery, hired Alfaro as a consultant.
At both wineries, “I do it all, from making the wines to cleaning the drains,” he says.
His third consulting winery, Rutherford Grove, is bigger, meaning Alfaro has more help. But he’s still very much a hands-on vintner.
Sabina owner David Sabin hired Alfaro when his original winemaker injured his back and was unable to work.
Sabin calls Alfaro “a big guy, a gentle giant. I love the way he works with the wines.”
Alfaro’s content working with just three wineries. “We have small kids at home, and this is enough for me,” he says. He plans to launch his own brand, but that’s down the road.
When Alfaro looks back at how far he’s come, he shakes his head in wonder.
“To be where I’m at now, it’s the American dream,” he says. “I came, worked the vineyards, never even imagined what a winemaker did. And now I’m making wine for three wineries.”
Heiser is senior marketing manager for Photoshop at Adobe Systems (he was at Apple before that). As you might expect, he works long days.
But the Redwood City resident also loves wine. He has his own brand, Michael James, co-owned with friend Michael Dekshenieks.
Heiser oversees winemaking. His 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, from purchased grapes on Howell Mountain, is superb, despite being only his third vintage.
In the mid-2000s, Heiser, who’d been making homemade wine, experienced a midlife crisis.
“I realized, if I don’t start now, I’ll be over 40, and it will be too late,” he says.
He earned a degree from UC Davis and began making wine at the old Crushpad facility in San Francisco and then at Dogpatch Wine Works.
“Winemakers are big Apple and Photoshop fans, so I’ve met a lot of them through that,” he says. “It’s good at opening doors.” Among his mentors are Doug Shafer and Andy Erickson.
Production at Michael James is only about 200 cases, but Heiser envisions increasing slowly.
“Some people come into Napa Valley, throw a lot of money down, and put a team together with all the right names,” he says. “Michael and I take a different approach. We want to let things grow organically.”
Jeff Fontanella has already had a storied career.
After graduating in viticulture and enology from UC Davis, he apprenticed at Opus One and ZD. He was then lucky enough to become protégé of legendary Napa winemaker Nils Venge at Saddleback.
It was there that Fontanella decided to become a consulting winemaker.
“Things were just evolving that way,” he says.
In 2005, he purchased property on Mount Veeder, built a small winemaking facility and launched Fontanella Family Winery with the 2008 vintage—just as the economy fell off the cliff.
“My wife and I had two small kids and no paycheck,” he says. “It was like, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’”
Fontanella learned something from each of his experiences.
“At Opus, I had a good look at a traditional approach to winemaking,” he says. “Then, at ZD, it was Davis-oriented, with more
modern influences. And with Nils, it was instinctual—he shoots from the hip, is more palate-driven.”
The combination, Fontanella feels, “gives me a diverse set of skills.”
His dream is for Fontanella Family to continue its progress. Production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Zinfandel comes from purchased Mount Veeder fruit. Fontanella’s own five-acre vineyard, planted to Cabernet, should yield grapes in a few years.
Through word-of-mouth and tourism contacts, he lures visitors “who want something that’s not on Highway 29, but is off the beaten path.”
It’s working: Fontanella sells 95% of his wines through the tasting room and wine club.
When Karen Cakebread started Ziata, she wanted the best winemaker she could find.
So Karen, who had married into the Cakebread winery family, turned to a vintner with a pedigreed apprenticeship. Anne Vawter had worked at Paradigm under superstar winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett.
Vawter came to Ziata in 2009, crafting its Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Francs and Sauvignon Blancs, as well as her own brand, Red Mare. The Calistoga mom of two has come a long way in making a name for herself in a very short amount of time.
“I grew up in agriculture,” Vawter says. “My dad was a dairy farmer.”
When the family moved to Washington State to take over a heifer business, Vawter was exposed to the wine scene around Walla Walla.
“My dad and my uncle were wine lovers and would bring home local wines,” she says. “I’d taste them, and thought it was pretty cool.”
Still, she didn’t consider a career in wine until her father told her about the viticulture and enology programs at UC Davis.
“Dad thought it would be a good fit,” Vawter says. “So I looked into it, and it just felt super-right. I knew I’d met my people.”
Her first job was at St. Supéry. Peterson Barrett then brought her to Paradigm. She remained until 2008, when she started a consulting business.
“When I told Heidi what I was thinking, she was incredibly supportive,” she says. “In fact, Heidi was one of the people
who recommended me to every client I have. She gave me the courage to go out on my own.”
The Restaurant: Solbar
Pasilla-rubbed Pork Cheek Tacos
3 pasilla negra or ancho chiles
3 garlic cloves (medium to large)
2½ pounds pork cheeks, raw
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 quarts chicken or pork stock
1 cup cilantro leaves
4 limes cut into wedges
Pickled red onions (recipe below)
Crème fraîche (recipe below)
Chiles de arbol (recipe below)
16 tortillas, corn or flour
The day before serving this dish, toast the chiles on a cookie sheet until puffed and crisp but not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes at 350°F. Meanwhile, trim the pork cheeks and place them in a large mixing bowl. Grate the garlic onto the pork using a microplane. Add the salt and pepper and mix. Destem, deseed and finely chop the toasted chiles. Mix them into the pork. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The following morning, preheat the oven to 325°F. Bring the stock to a boil in a separate pot. Pour the boiling stock over the pork, cover with the lid and place in the oven for about 3½−4 hours or until the pork has begun to fall apart. Remove from oven and hold warm.
To assemble, place the pork on a tortilla with slices of avocado, onions, chiles de arbol, crème fraîche and cilantro, to taste. Serve immediately, with plenty of napkins. Serves 8.
For the lime crème fraiche:
1 cup (or less) crème fraîche or sour cream
2 limes, zested and juiced
Place the crème fraîche in a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the juice and zest of the limes. Cover and hold refrigerated till ready to serve.
For the pickled red onions:
1 each red onion, peeled and cored, thinly sliced
1½ cups red wine vinegar
1½ cups sugar
1½ cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the chiles de arbol:
½ pound chiles de arbol, Serrano chiles or Thai bird chiles (fresh)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tsp kosher salt
Place the onions and chiles in separate heatproof bowls. Bring the remaining ingredients in the corresponding amounts above to a boil in separate pots and pour over the onions and chiles as indicated. Let sit at kitchen temperature until able to handle. If using serranos, this step should be done a day in advance, and you will want to leave the chiles in the liquid overnight.
The Chef: Brandon Sharp, Solbar
“To be a force for something different with food—and to do it with that ‘oh wow’ feeling for people—it’s a lot of fun,” says Solbar executive chef Brandon Sharp. Sharp’s creative perfection has earned him gastronomy’s holy grail—a Michelin star.
Solbar wears its ranking without snobbery or pretense. Set around a broad patio at Solage Calistoga Resort, the restaurant conveys easy elegance. Outdoors, guests lunch under umbrellas or ruffling mulberry trees. Flames flicker from a fire pit poised amid a reflecting pool. Inside, the high-ceilinged dining room is understatedly modern.
What defines wine country cuisine? Chef Brandon thinks it means fresh, seasonal, local ingredients elevated by attentive refinement. “When people go on a wine/food vacation they head to Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa. We work with luxury ingredients and French techniques.”
He sees Napa Valley as an epicurean epicenter. “Coming here, the most humbling—and at the same time freeing—thing is to learn restraint. We’re so close to these great ingredients. We get so many things we cannot improve upon, unless maybe we peel them. The best tomatoes, the best peaches… How do you improve upon a perfect fig? A perfect strawberry? It’s impossible.”
Sharp’s culinary destiny dawned slowly. His restaurant debut: part time as busboy at Chi-Chi’s, but years later graduated from CIA Hyde Park and soon found a job at The French Laundry.
Today Sharp and his team are well known for pushing the envelope in a region often known for staid servings.
“I’d like to see Napa Valley cuisine shaken up little bit,” Sharp comments. “That’s our goal, to have menu items that pique interest in a stimulating way.”
Likewise the wine list rewards curiosity. It compiles A-list Cabs such as Harlan Estate, Scarecrow and Shafer Vineyards—as well as Blaufränkisch from Shooting Star, Garganega from Prà and Sagrantino from Benessere.
For pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon, Sharp thinks outside the steak-and-potatoes box. “Chiles are a great component with Cabs—the smoky, dry chiles with flavors of coffee, tobacco, or dried fruit. I love the pasilla-rubbed pork cheeks with Cab—it’s unexpected.”
Favorite Farm-to-Table Finds:
Radish pods: From overgrown radish flowers, they resemble Thai bird chiles. Tiny pods inside pack a tingle like wasabi. Solbar uses them with crispy braised pork belly.
Pork Cheeks: “The succulence-to-price ratio of pork cheeks cannot be beat,” says Chef Sharp. “Flavorful, rich, with lots of sinew, they stay incredibly moist.”
Fresh Eggs: Lily and Jon Berlin are owners, winemakers and chicken-feeders at El Molino winery. Hens peck-peck all over the property; their high-carotene diet yields yolks the yellow of a school bus.
Thistle Honey: From Jericho Canyon Vineyard, it’s less sweet than orange blossom or alfalfa honey. Used in honey-vanilla vinaigrette for the peach salad.
Niman Ranch: Their farms raise lamb, beef and pork by natural, sustainable methods. “You know the animals were treated correctly,” says Chef Sharp.
Napa Triple Play
Downtown. Affordable. Romantic. Variety isn’t just about grapes in the Napa Valley. The region uncorks experiences for all tastes—from small bites to gourmet splurges, the artistic to the artisanal, the scenic to iconic.—Risa Wyatt
A River Runs Through It
With its River Walk, historic buildings and booming restaurant-cum-wine scene, the namesake town of the Napa Valley carries a new quotient of cool.
More than 20 tasting rooms pour fine wines. Carpe Diem Wine Bar seizes the way with 250-plus selections to match globetrotting cuisine. A wine lounge where you buy 1,000-plus labels at retail prices, 1313 Main just opened Lulu’s Kitchen, which serves savory pairing bites. Curtained alcoves add incognito allure to the second-floor terrace bar at Andaz Hotel.
Oxbow Public Market gathers purveyors of eclectic eats from oysters (Hog Island) to gourmet burgers (Gott’s Roadside). At Kitchen Door, Chef Todd Humphries favors multi-ethnic comfort dishes from pâtés to pizzas to pad Thai.
Cross-cultural currents flow at Morimoto restaurant where the eponymous celebrity chef devises dishes such as lamb carpaccio with wasabi leaf plus impeccable sushi. A notorious murder scene shuttered for nearly 40 years, Fagiani’s Bar is reborn as The Thomas, a classy new eatery from Brad Farmerie, with awesome views of the Napa River from its third floor deck. Oenotri wins for Italian with wood-oven pizzas and entrees like quail with green lentils.
Values Among the Vines
Yes, you can use “affordable” and “Napa Valley” in the same sentence by following three guidelines: timing, timing, timing. Avoid summer, fall harvest and weekend travel.
First rule of frugality: looking is free. Both Napa and Yountville have art walks. Set in a 1903 stone winery, The Hess Collection displays contemporary artists such as Morris Louis and Francis Bacon. Designed by postmodern architect Michael Graves, Clos Pegase showcases sculpture by Henry Moore and a six-foot-tall bronze thumb by César Baldaccini in the courtyard vineyard.
It doesn’t cost a penny to ogle Napa Valley’s outstanding architecture. Classic structures include Chateau Montelena, Inglenook, Beringer and The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Over-the-top designs range from a medieval castle (Castello di Amorosa) to Persian palace (Darioush) and hunkering pyramid (Opus One).
The Napa Valley believes in equal opportunity epicurism. A local’s secret, Pearl (Napa) fields ultra-seasonal menus anchored by favs such as Dungeness crab cakes and brined pork chops. JoLé (Calistoga) offers local salmon and flatiron steak plus unusual cuts like lamb’s tongue. Adjoining the Michelin-starred restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, the Bar revels in vineyard vistas.
Hotel rates vary with seasonal demand. Napa River Inn features adorable, cottage-like one-bedroom mobile homes. Embassy Suites Napa and DoubleTree American Canyon often present good deals.
Toast to Love
Plush red velvet and Baccarat chandeliers add allure to exclusive tastings in the Red Room at Raymond Vineyards. Terra Valentine resembles a hilltop castle complete with stained glass and massive doors crafted by the original owner. True love always finds happiness with bubbly—try Schramsburg and Domaine Carneros.
Venture to Napa’s wild side by biking byways or kayaking the Napa River. The Land Trust of Napa County leads free hikes, or people can follow the River to Ridge Trail that climbs to Skyline Wilderness Park.
The only fine dining restaurant at a winery in the Napa Valley, étoile at Domaine Chandon features indoor and outside seating. Chef Perry Hoffman elevates the subtle into the superlative in dishes such as Zabuton beef with mushroom ragoût. Relaxed yet elegant, Farm Restaurant encourages stay-around lounging with cozy firepits and bocce courts. Clubby with leather banquettes and basement bar, Goose and Gander shakes up the cocktail scene with retro-fresh libations.
Recipe courtesy The Thomas, Napa, CA
Mixmaster Naren Young uses basil picked fresh from The Thomas’ garden co-op at nearby COPIA to lend herbal punch to this drink.
½ ounce basil syrup
1½ ounces Caña Brava rum
¾ ounce lime juice
½ ounce Bénédictine
½ ounce cucumber purée
5 thin slices of cucumber
To make the basil syrup, simmer a handful of basil leaves in a cup of simple suyrup for 30 minutes and cool. In a shaker with ice add all the liquids. Shake and strain into a coupe glass. Top with the cucumber slices.—Brandon Hernandez
Rob Mondavi's Comfort Food Feast
The son of Michael Mondavi and grandson of Robert, Rob Mondavi is firmly rooted in the family tradition of wine.
Rob is the winemaker for Michael Mondavi Family Estate. The company produces wines under the M, Isabel Mondavi, Medusa and Spellbound names, in addition to making the Tyler Florence Wines.
He is also, with his parents, a founder of Folio Fine Wine Partners, which produces the brands Oberon, Emblem and Hangtime. They also import an array of fine wines from Italy, Spain, Argentina and elsewhere, including the famed wines from Frescobaldi.
Since Mondavi’s wife, Lydia, hails from Georgia, his summertime menus have evolved into proper Southern-style barbecue, centered on a slow-cooked pork shoulder with all the fixings.
“I think you can have a warm, welcoming dinner and still have Italian linens and heirloom utensils and enjoy lovely conversation,” Mondavi says.
Recreate the Region
Mondavi gets heritage pigs from local grape grower and farmer Lee Hudson. The day before cooking the meat, he brines it in a mixture of vinegar and herbs. Finally, he slow-cooks it for 15–20 hours at 210–220°F.
Mondavi loves to highlight the Napa Valley’s abundance of produce. Meals might include squash and tomatoes from his garden, which he’ll season with vinegar, anchovies and feta, or a juicy panzanella salad.
While the grill’s going and the pork is resting, he’ll slip on a bunch of Italian sausages to cut up and pass around as appetizers. He’ll also grill a few pizzas to nibble on before the main meal.
Grilled Fatted Calf Italian sausage
Slow-roasted heritage pork
Tomatoes with vinegar, anchovies and feta
Mondavi lives in a house at Wappo Hill built in 1914, near where his famous namesake and grandfather used to live in the Stag’s Leap District of the Napa Valley.
The mature gardens around his house were designed by John McLaren, one of the founders of Golden Gate Park, the perfect setting for dining alfresco under mature cedar trees.
He adorns his dinner table with fine Italian linens he’s picked up in Florence through his travels. With more than 120 different hydrangeas planted in his yard, the table always includes a beautiful flower arrangement.
Mondavi loves to have a great table presentation, piecing together customized Deruta tableware with heirloom utensils from his wife’s Southern heritage. His glassware of choice is Riedel Magnum or Overture glasses, though he’s a fan of serving his dark Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé in tumblers over ice.
If Mondavi’s buddy, soul singer Chris Pierce, is in town, he’ll grab his guitar and play. Mondavi is also friends with Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland, who’s known to come by and play, too. If not, he’s got plenty of her early bootleg stuff, or he’ll throw on some classic albums from the Rolling Stones to keep things moving.
Villa Sandi Extra Dry (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene)
Isabel Mondavi Deep Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé (Napa Valley)
Spellbound Reserve Petite Sirah (Napa Valley)
Macauley Vineyard Late-Harvest Botrytis Sémillon (Alexander Valley)
Most of Mondavi’s parties center around a lot of wine, since so many fellow winemakers are usually around the table, but he makes sure there’s plenty of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on hand. He’ll occasionally enjoy a Bourbon on the rocks, pouring Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Year Old.—Virginie Boone
Devo's Gerald Casale
“Whip it. Into shape. Shape it up. Get straight,” sang the New Wave band Devo in the 1980s. Today Gerald Casale, a founding member of the group—and a thoughtful, knowledgeable wine lover—is shaping up fine wine. He is proprietor of The 50 by 50 brand in the Atlas Peak AVA, named after a house on the property recreated from plans by Mies van der Rohe, a pioneer of modern architecture. The first release—Pinot Noir—is slated for late 2013.
“If there’s any one place to eat, it’s Terra—as good today, if not better, than the first time I was there. The crudo is incredible and they do decadent risottos.
“I like walking around Yountville. I’ll go to Redd Wood for pizza—I also recently had their pappardelle with ragout of rabbit, which was amazing. I love Bouchon Bistro—I’ll get some oysters, frisée aux lardons and a nice rosé. And I like Bottega tucked in the V Marketplace, which also has great shops.
“For wineries, just for the architecture and the insanity of the structures, go to Hess—that art collection is impressive. I think everyone should see Chateau Montelena for the history of the building and because of Bottle Shock. Also visit CIA at Greystone and Opus One.
“In Calistoga, Indian Springs Resort has a semi-funky series of bungalows with the hugest hot springs pool. Eclectic people hang out there late at night with the steam rising. It’s bohemian, hipster… and reasonably priced.
“The town of Napa isn’t just a side street any more. I like Kitchen Door, Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Celadon—lovely courtyard. For music, few venues compare with the look and history of the Uptown Theatre. People can see and hear performances no matter where they are seated. Devo loved playing there.
“Finally—at sunset it’s so much fun to drive along the Silverado Trail.” —Risa Wyatt
- 2The Bold and the Beautiful
- 3Four Winemakers to Watch
- 4Napa Valley: Food
- 5Napa Valley: Travel
- 6Napa Valley: Entertaining
- 7Your Napa Valley Tour Guide