A magnum of wine is like a party in a bottle. So what does that make more than a hundred magnums? Some of the American wine industry's biggest names decided to find out May 28 and 29, at Wine Spectator’s annual Bring Your Own Magnum parties. The two evenings, held on subsequent nights in Sonoma County and Napa Valley and filled with food and wine, offered an unofficial kickoff to this weekend's Auction Napa Valley and its multiple events. The parties also gave winemakers a chance to bring a magnum of their favorite wine and share it with friends and compatriots.
Threatening rain clouds gave way to a warm evening on Tuesday in Sonoma, as winemakers, grapegrowers, chefs and others filled the confines of Charlie Palmer's Healdsburg Hotel and Dry Creek Kitchen. Palmer's team passed hors d'oeuvres of truffled mac’n’cheese, prime-rib sliders and porcini soup, and manned multiple food stations piled with seviche, house-cured charcuterie, a whole-roasted pig and more.
And of course there were multiple filling stations for guests' wineglasses, offering some of Sonoma’s finest, including a 3-liter bottle of Kosta Browne’s Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Koplen Vineyard 2008, a magnum of Williams Selyem’s Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard 2003 and a rare, non-Sonoma gem, a magnum of Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Alsace Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence 2005.
Sonoma vintners in attendance included Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer of Marcassin, Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines, Barry, Audrey and Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards, winemaker Tom Dehlinger, Williams Selyem winemaker Bob Cabral, Judy Jordan of J Vineyards and Michael Browne of Kosta Browne. A visiting Michael Twelftree from Two Hands in Australia joined the festivities. For JC Cellars' Jeff Cohn, celebrating his 51st birthday with 300 of his closest friends and strangers was a no-brainer. “All winemakers should be here on their 51st birthday,” said Cohn. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
On Wednesday night the festivities doubled in size, as nearly 700 wine and food professionals descended on Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena. The energetic crowd included a who’s who of Napa vintners, including Michael Mondavi, Delia Viader, Fred and Carol Schrader, Chuck Wagner of Caymus, Spottswoode’s Beth Novak Milliken, Mike Grgich, and Auction Napa Valley honorary chairs Garen and Shari Staglin. It wasn’t all winemakers though, with U.S. congressman Mike Thompson, who represents California’s fifth district, and former New York Mets All-Star Rusty Staub also in attendance. Both parties drew multiple generations from some of California's top wineries, including Mondavi, Harlan, Turley, Shafer, Iron Horse, Spotteswoode and more.
The mood was boisterous as wine lovers wandered between pouring stations, sampling a dizzying array of magnums brought by guests. This being Napa, many of the highlights were Cabernet Sauvignons such as Harlan Estate 2009, Opus One 2003, Shafer Hillside Select 2006, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1997 and Robert Mondavi Reserve 2001. There was plenty of food on hand as well, with crisp wood-fired pizzas, grilled Mediterranean octopus and fried calamari skewers.
Vintners mingled in the packed courtyard, drinking wine and sharing stories. For many, the parties are an opportunity to celebrate and catch up with friends, both old and new. “For a couple who were consumers first and then got into the business, we are humbled to be here,” said Russell Bevan of Bevan Cellars, attending the party with his wife, Victoria. “For us it’s a red-carpet event.”
The energy only increased as the sun went down, with some partygoers gravitating to the dance floor, while others enjoyed the superb weather, puffing on cigars. The housemade gelato bar was a popular destination. “It’s a traditional kickoff to the auction weekend,” explained Jay Buoncristiani, winemaker at Napa’s Buoncristiani. “I really look forward to the dancing and the cigars,” he added with a smile.
Click any thumbnail photo to open the slideshow. Photographs by Kent Hansen.