Thirty years ago, Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken had the idea to put on a party to bring vintners together for a relaxing evening before the Auction Napa Valley festivities began. The only admittance fee was to bring a magnum of wine to share.
Wine Spectator's Bring Your Own Magnum party has become an institution in the valley and is heralded as the unofficial kickoff for Auction Napa Valley. This year was a fete to top them all. For the first time, the party had a new venue, in the pavilion next to Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant in Yountville. It was the perfect full-circle way to celebrate 30 years, as Chiarello was the executive chef for the very first party hosted at Tra Vigne in St. Helena in 1988. Pamphlets featuring photos from magnum gatherings over the years were on every table for guests to flip through and recollect fond memories of parties past.
Over the years, the event has welcomed some of the industry's most prominent and influential members for an evening of food, wine and music, and an opportunity to rub elbows with old friends and new. This year there were plenty of first-time attendees, including former San Francisco Giants shortstop–turned-vintner Rich Aurilia of Red Stitch.
Carter Cellars vintner Mark Carter was attending his 20th magnum party. "I believe the first I attended was in 1998, the same year we received our first Grand Award," said Carter, who also owns the Grand Award-winning Restaurant 301 at the Carter House Inns in Eureka, Calif. "I don’t recall missing a party in those 20 years," chuckled Carter.
Guests were greeted with near-perfect weather—warm, with a faint breeze. Numerous guests commented on the splendor of the evening, as well as the open layout of the pavilion, which allowed for a comfortable night of socializing. Some of the Napa vintners in attendance included Garen, Shari and Shannon Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard, Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez, vineyard management mogul Andy Beckstoffer, Joey Wagner of Copper Cane Wine and Provisions, Bill Harlan of Harlan Estate and 2016 Wine of the Year winner Randy Lewis of Lewis Cellars.
The new location didn’t deter the Sonoma factions from showing. David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars, Adam Lee of Siduri, Tom Klein of Rodney Strong, and Morgan Twain Peterson and his dad, Joel Peterson, of Bedrock and Ravenswood could all be found in the crowd.
While the night is an opportunity for vintners to mingle, it’s also an opportunity to try the wines of their peers. Three wine stations were packed with intriguing offerings, including classics such as Joseph Phelps Insignia 2007, Harlan Estate 2012, Schrader Cellars "Old Sparky" MMXIV, Shafer Hillside Select 2006; as well as newer labels such as Jesse Katz’ Devil Proof Malbec 2012 and Aperture Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. A new label from vintner Donald Patz, a 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet dubbed Secret Door, also made an appearance.
Not to be missed treasures included Ramey Cellars’ Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 2009 and El Molino Pinot Noir 1998. There were even sightings of non-California offerings, including a special edition 25th-anniversary bottle of Ornellaia 2010. "This year’s wines were some of the best and most diverse, I think I’ve ever seen," said PlumpJack general manager John Conover.
Chiarello and his culinary team outdid themselves, offering multiple food stations representing his various restaurants with an array of regional cuisine, including paella with prawns, mussels, octopus and chorizo; smoked and braised short ribs with Calabrian chile and broccoli rabe; sliders with spicy pickles and a side of garlic fries; and the showstopper, "pig in a sleeping bag." That would be whole hog, wrapped and roasted over a spit, and served sliced, like porchetta, with a chutney garnish.
In between bites and sips, vintners shot the breeze and reminisced. The ever-jovial Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars chatted with Joey Wagner about being recognized in Italy of all places. "This guy came running into the plaza, saying, ‘I know you, I know you!" said McDonald, "He left and came running back with a Wine Spectator in his hand with me in it." McDonald noted that Joey’s grandfather, Caymus co-founder Charlie Wagner, was his inspiration to join the wine industry.
Veteran guests know that the party really gets going once cigars start being passed and the music gets turned up a notch. Chiarello addressed the crowd toward the end of the evening, expressing gratitude to all the attendees who make this industry what it is. "Wine Spectator celebrates all the good things of the good life," said Chiarello. "And you’re all here to enjoy them with us."