The calendar may say it's still spring, but the summer soirée season in Napa and Sonoma kicked off officially this week with Wine Spectator's annual Bring Your Own Magnum parties.
The gatherings, which herald the start of Auction Napa Valley, are among the most exclusive fêtes in Northern California wine country. Tuesday's party at the Hotel Healdsburg and adjacent Dry Creek Kitchen marked the fourth year for the Sonoma event, while Wednesday's party at Tra Vigne in St. Helena was a 17-year tradition.
The weather for both parties was made-to-order, with clear blue skies and toasty temperatures giving way to balmy nights filled with gentle breezes. There were plenty of VIPs and VIBs (very important bottles) at both gatherings.
The Sonoma party drew about 300 vintners, winemakers and industry professionals, including Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia, Barbara Banke of Jackson Wine Estates, Dave and Patty Rafanelli, Merry Edwards, Dianna and Adam Lee of Siduri and Jean-Charles Boisset, whose family company recently purchased De Loach Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.
They noshed on an array of treats from star chef Charlie Palmer, who owns Dry Creek Kitchen and manned the grill, slicing tender slivers of beef and intensely flavored chicken. Fresh oysters were served on the half shell, and local artisanal cheeses abounded.
|Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer.|
Sonoma County wines were the drink of choice, of course. Iron Horse sparkling wine greeted the guests, and a magnum of Marcassin Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Marcassin Vineyard 2001 was in high demand. Older vintages included a Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 1990 and a Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1982.
"I love this event," said Carolyn Wente, visiting from her family winery in Livermore Valley.
If the Sonoma event was laid-back, the Napa party was high-powered, drawing about 800 guests from around Northern California. The scene was as much about label-watching as about people-watching. As magnums were dropped off at the front gate, guests kept one eye on the labels while the bottles were delivered to serving tables. "Was that a Screaming Eagle?" someone wondered aloud, following the bottle through the crowd to see for himself.
The magnums, which stood like monuments at the wine tables, included gems such as Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 1990, Maya 2001, Rubicon 1985 and Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 1974. Sparkling wine from massive bottles of Schramsberg welcomed guests, and the menu included slow-roasted short ribs with polenta, delicate slices of salmon and, of course, plenty of Tra Vigne's gourmet pizzas and pastas.
|Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken and Chuck Wagner of Caymus.|
For many in the crowd, the party was a chance to catch up, talk a little business and trade gossip. "There seems to be an increased spirit about wine," Chuck Wagner of Caymus said. "Things are good right now in the business."
Things were good, too, on the dance floor as night edged into early morning. Guests finished off their cigars and took a last taste from a magnum before heading home. As Provenance winemaker Tom Rinaldi said, "This is the highlight of the whole auction week."
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