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Big Bottles for a Big Party

Wine Spectator's Napa and Sonoma BYO Magnum parties kick off Auction Napa Valley

Tim Fish
Posted: June 4, 2010

Napa rolled out the Cabernet and Sonoma popped open the Pinot Noir as Wine Spectator's annual Bring Your Own Magnum parties kicked off this week’s Auction Napa Valley festivities.

For California industry insiders, the parties are the place to be and be seen, and where vintners and winemakers—weary from a spring spent selling wine on the road—gather to share a glass and catch up with old friends.

The Sonoma party started things off Tuesday night at the Hotel Healdsburg and adjacent Dry Creek Kitchen. The mood was typically breezy and laidback and about 250 guests attended, including Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer of Marcassin, Dianna and Adam Lee of Siduri, Williams Selyem winemaker Bob Cabral, Michael Browne of Kosta Browne, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, Gina Gallo, Bill Foley and Daryl Groom.

Chef Charlie Palmer, owner of Dry Creek Kitchen, worked the outside grill and laid out a feast that included a suckling pig slowly roasting on a spit and a seafood buffet of oyster shooters, shrimp, mussels and clams. While they nibbled, vintners exchanged war stories from the past year, often about the difficult economy. “It’s really competitive out there,” Mike Benziger said, summing up the sentiment.

Wineglasses were filled with the likes of Marcassin Pinot Sonoma Coast Blue-Slide Ridge 1999 and Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch 2008. Mike and Kendall Officer of Carlisle brought the 2007 Montafi Ranch Zinfandel.

On Wednesday night, festivities moved across the mountain to Napa Valley, as about 550 guests mingled on the grounds of Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena. The dress code was more formal than the Sonoma shindig and the energy and decibel level was higher. Guests included Jayson Pahlmeyer, Delia Viader and her winemaker son Alan, Randy Dunn, Doug Shafer, Bill Harlan, Michael and Stephanie Honig, Margrit Biever Mondavi, Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non, as well as auction co-chairs Mary Novak and Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode.

Food and wine were bountiful. There were pastas such as ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spring peas, wood-fired pizzas, delicate fried zucchini blossoms and grilled octopus salad. Magnums and other big bottles were lined up for the tasting on surrounding tables. It was heaven for Cabernet lovers with the likes of Shafer Hillside Select 2001, Harlan 1991, Ghost Block 2005, Beringer Private Reserve 1991, Dunn Howell Mountain 1991, plus treats such as Selene Merlot 1994 and bottles from Spain, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Vintners congregated in the courtyard tables, drinking wine and catching up. At one table, James Hall of Patz & Hall, Quintessa winemaker Charles Thomas and Carneros grower Larry Hyde commiserated about the usually wet and cold weather conditions of spring 2010. The growing season is weeks behind the norm, with vines just beginning to bloom.

“The real question is whether this is going to be another 1998 or 1999,” said Hall, recalling that while both were cool vintages, 1999 produced excellent wines, while 1998 was uneven. With worries of mold and other pests on his mind, Hyde said, “And this is a year we chose to go organic.”

With a hearty laugh and raising his glass, Hyde quickly changed the subject. “This,” he said, “is a great party.”

Today, Auction Napa Valley moves into high gear with Taste Napa Valley barrel auction at Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, with the live auction following on Saturday afternoon at Meadwood resort in St. Helena.

Look for more photos from the events below this video from the Sonoma Bring Your Own Magnum party.


Dave Phinney of Orin Swift
Margrit Mondavi

Beth Novak Milliken (right) and her mother, Mary Weber Novak, of Spottswoode
John Shafer, Elias Fernandez and Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards

Alexandra and Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars
Manfred Krankl and Jim Binns of Sine Qua Non

Corey Beck of Francis Coppola Winery
Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines

Chris Gallo, chef Charlie Palmer and Gina Gallo
Jamie and Kristen Kutch of Kutch Wines and Mary and Michael Colhoun of Landmark Vineyards

Bob and Jean Arnold Sessions of Hanzell Vineyards
Michael Browne of Kosta Browne and Daryl Groom of Groom Wines

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