San Francisco Social Diary: Festival del Sole – Napa Valley

Napa Valley celebrated its eighth annual Festival del Sole with a number of performances by the Russian National Orchestra, joined by a variety of high-profile soloists and conductors.


Every July since 2006, the cognoscenti who enjoy music, food, wine, and culture have headed to Napa Valley’s Wine Country for the international Festival del Sole, an event The New York Times has very accurately dubbed “a feast for the senses.”

In the course of the ten-day festival, over 10,000 attendees enjoy a roster of international musicians, dancers, artists, and thespians in spectacular performances as well as exceptional culinary experiences with notable wines.

In 2013, the annual Festival del Sole once again drew artists and audiences to the Napa Valley with unique venues and a tradition of vintner hospitality.

For eight years, the Festival has offered not only a varied musical repertoire but also a diverse program of theater, opera, and dance.


Festival del Sole was co-founded by Director Richard (Rick) Walker and Artistic Director Barrett Wissman in 2006. The Founders Dinner is held annually the night before Festival del Sole’s official opening.

Festival Co-Founder and Director Rick Walker, with benefactor Maria Manetti Shrem and board member Steven Stull.


The 2013 Founders Dinner was hosted by the dynamic couple Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo Boisset, both descendants of wine dynasties, at their historic estate on Wappo Hill.

Festival Director Rick Walker enticed Jean-Charles, a native of France, and his American wife, Gina, to be the hosts by noting that the event fell midway between Independence Day and Bastille Day. When they accepted, the Boissets promised to make it a “Franco-American evening in every way.”

The Boissets’ home, Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District, sits atop a knoll that is the highest point on the valley floor and boasts sweeping views of the vineyards and valley below.

Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo Boisset, with Festival benefactor Gordon Getty (left), are continuing the tradition of memorable wine and food parties at Wappo Hill.

Married three years ago, each from a dynastic family of vintners, the Boissets are expanding their wine empire with a combination of the California-based Gallo and Burgundy-based Boisset wines.

Charming, gregarious Jean-Charles Boisset grew up in Burgundy among the centuries-old vineyards of Chateau du Clos Vougeot, the birthplace of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Gina Gallo-Boisset is the granddaughter of the late California wine pioneer Julio Gallo. She studied viticulture and enology at the UC Davis and is the chief winemaker for Gallo Family Vineyards.


Once you step over the threshold of Wappo Hill, you are guaranteed to have a jolly good time. Wappo Hill is the 11,500-square-foot modernist home designed by famed architect Cliff May, father of the California ranch house.

Wappo Hill was originally built in 1984 for Margrit and the late Robert Mondavi, with a 50-foot indoor swimming pool with a retractable roof off the living room.

Wappo Hill is a Dali-esque fantasy of eclectic furniture, surrealist paintings, and other original objets d’art that the Boissets find amusing.

The home is also filled with toys and art for their twin toddlers.


The invitation-only event honors the visionaries who helped launch the festival in 2006 as well as the major benefactors and patrons of the yearly program.

Jean-Claude Boisset, Bouchaine Winery proprietors and Festival benefactors Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, and Christian Moueix of Dominus Estate winery.

Benefactors Athena and Timothy Blackburn.

Shahpar and Festival board chair Darioush Khaledi of Darioush, another of the Festival-founding wineries.

Festival Board Treasurer Michael Polenske, Jean-Charles Boisset, Festival Director Rick Walker, board member Steven Stull, and Alexander Shustorovich, a co-chair of IMG Artists.

Alexander Shustorovich’s parents, Maria and Evgeny Shustorovich; Maria is on the board of the Festival and the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Festival board member Antonio Castellucci and his wife Rita Castellucci.

IMG Artists President and CEO Jerry Inzerillo with Mark Harmon, CEO of Auberge Resorts.

Stephen Oetgen and Festival board member Maggie Oetgen.

Kimberly Miller, Gordon Getty, and Martha Bredon.

Jean-Charles Boisset and Jeanne Lawrence taming the peacock. Real or not?

Agustin and Valeria Huneeus of Quintessa Winery with Cherise and Christian Moueix of Dominus Winery.

Neil and Karen Aldoroty, Tessa Edwards, Kimberley Harmon, Karen Walker, and Mark Harmon.


Sixty guests dined around the pool to chamber music performed by members of the Russian National Orchestra (RNO). Though surely jet-lagged, having flown in that very day, they played beautifully.

The Franco-American musical program began with George Gershwin’s American in Paris and continued to include selections from Porgy and Bess.

The party was held around the pool in the living room, illuminated by exquisite Baccarat crystal chandeliers. The color-changing lights of the pool contributed to the festive mood.


Boisset Family Estate Executive Chef Michael Cornu’s delectable Franco-American menu drew raves, and I was impressed by the table linens, as perfectly starched and pressed as in a Michelin three-star restaurant.

French porcelain company Bernardaud celebrated its 150th anniversary by asking a dozen contemporary artists, including David Lynch, Jeff Koons, and Sophie Calle, to design plates. Corinne Oats and George Kakaty show off the creations.

Video artist Marco Brambilla’s “Last Supper” design substituted celebrities for the Twelve Disciples, a commentary on how pop stars are worshiped today.

The entrée, inspired by both American and French cuisine, consisted of Mini Kobe Beef Burgers and Joue de Boeuf (beef cheeks) Bourguignon & Onglet (a steak cut) with Potato Flower Lyonnaise.

The main course was paired with Gallo Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma 2008 and Raymond Generations Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009.

Jean-Charles is so enthusiastic about his wines that he served many varieties. By the end of the evening our table was completely covered with wine glasses, and I had lost count of how many we tasted. But I do remember all were very good!

Wappo Hill, the art-filled fantasy house, is definitely a fun party venue. (Thankfully, no one ended up in the pool!)


The First Night Gala at Castello di Amorosa kicked off the Festival’s 2013 season. A sold-out performance by stunning Broadway singer Audra McDonald was followed by dinner at The Napa Valley Reserve in St. Helena, the ultra-exclusive private club. It was a night to remember.

The Tuscan-style Castello di Amorosa Winery, one of Napa Valley’s top destinations, was built in 1994 by Dario Sattui, a fourth-generation vintner and owner of V. Sattui Winery.

Castello di Amorosa, the 107-room medieval-style castle, enchants with features like a moat and drawbridge, secret passageways, a family chapel, and stately guard towers. It’s a favorite spot for romantic weddings.

Los Angelenos Monica and Virginia Mancini (respectively, the daughter and widow of Henry Mancini) in front of the castle built of more than 8,000 tons of local stone and 850,000 imported European bricks.


VIP ticket holders were invited to a pre-concert wine tasting on the castle’s turreted terrace with commanding views of the Castello di Amorosa vineyards.

Festival Director and co-founder Rick Walker with his wife Karen Walker.

Mahvash Yazdi, Festival benefactor Gordon Getty, and Farrok Yazdi.

Shahpar Khaledi and Festival board chair Darioush Khaledi.

Richard Marinelli, Jeanne Lawrence, Maria Manetti Shrem, and Wes Carroll.

Castello di Amorosa President George Salzner with Christine Salzner and Pat and Ortwin Krueger.

Phillip Norfleet, Steven Stull, Carol Norfleet, and Roger Walther.

Jason LaFond and Brandie Dixon LaFond, with Kimberly Miller and Michael Polenske.

Philip Norfleet, Jeanne Lawrence, Daru Kawalkowski, and Alton Irby.

Festival patrons Ted and Pamala Deikel.

Dan and Alicia Bythewood, John Hinds, and Pamela Baxter.


Before the performance, Pam and Dick Kramlich and Fred and Mary Constant mingled in the castle’s Great Hall, with its 22-foot coffered ceiling and fresco-covered walls.

Wes Caroll, Carol Saatchi, and Richard Marinelli.

Oliver and Karen Caldwell in the courtyard.

Festival benefactors and board members Athena and Timothy Blackburn.

Vintners Greg and Petra Martin.


Audra McDonald’s extensive list of credits includes TV (the ABC series Private Practice), Broadway (she won a record-tying fifth Tony for her leading role in Porgy and Bess), and records (she won two Grammy Awards for opera and classical recordings).

Festival Executive Producer Charles Letourneau, a French-Canadian who studied music in Russia, welcomed the crowd in the intimate open-air pavilion in the Castello di Amorosa courtyard.

The audience enjoyed sitting in the Castello’s courtyard for the performance in perfect summery weather. Singer Audra McDonald, originally from Fresno, announced that this was her first visit to Napa Valley. I predict she will be back.

Audra McDonald sang a pastiche of Broadway tunes by such legends as Kander and Ebb, movie classics, and material from new, young writers.

The audience was moved to tears by her performance of “I’ll Be Here,” a tribute to 9/11, by composer/lyricist Adam Gwon. McDonald told us to keep an eye on this newcomer.

McDonald conveyed loving warmth to her audience and concluded by saying, “We’re all that we have. Take care of one another!”

The VIPs had seats in the balcony overhang, a contemporary equivalent to the balcony reserved for aristocrats in medieval times.

It was a magical night in a magical setting. As we left, the sun was setting over the vineyards of Napa Valley, a most auspicious start to Festival del Sole 2013.


After the First Night concert, patrons departed for an elegant dinner hosted by The Napa Valley Reserve. Located in a private enclave, the exclusive club has a worldwide membership of more than 500 wine aficionados.

A world-renowned private club, The Napa Valley Reserve is located in a private enclave hidden in the heart of Napa Valley and draws leading wine experts.

Guests arrived at The Reserve, where architect Howard Backen designed a cluster of barns meant to complement the country lifestyle.

Timothy and Athena Blackburn with hosts and Napa Valley Reserve directors Carol and Philip Norfleet.

Festival co-founder and director Rick Walker, singer Audra McDonald, and benefactor Maria Manetti Shrem.

Judith and John Renard.

Cellist Nina Kotova and her husband, Festival co-founder and artistic director Barrett Wissman, with Maria Shustorovich and Dario Sattui.

Shahpar Khaledi, Steve and Kay Fike, Darioush Khaledi, Mahvash Yazdi, Carol Norfleet, and Pepper Jackson.

Jan Shrem, Maria Manetti Shrem, Daniel Diaz, Tyler Florence, Craig Card, Rolando Beramendi, Tolan Florence, and Alex Chases.

Festival board member Michael Polenske and fiancée Kimberly Miller with board member Kathryn Walt Hall and Craig Hall.

Nune Worraruji and Merline Nyberg.


Dinner was held in the Napa Valley Reserve Pavilion, decorated with seasonal pink flowers. Dinner wines included handcrafted selections from The Napa Valley Reserve and Fritz Hatton’s Arietta wine.

I first met Jerry Inzerillo, the energetic New York-based CEO of IMG Artists, in South Africa when I attended the 2010 World Cup, where he was in charge of Sol Kerzner’s “One and Only” hotel empire.

By luck of the draw, I was seated at the head table with Audra McDonald; cellist Nina Kotova and her husband, Festival Co-Founder Barrett Wissman; and Sibylle Szaggars.

Vintner Fritz Hatton personally presented to Audra McDonald a magnum of his Arietta wine, a Napa micro-brand featuring handmade Bordeaux-style choices.

Virginia Mancini, widow of Henry Mancini, with Don Franzen.


The lobster and mango salad appetizer, spiced with sweet chili, cilantro, and avocado, was served with Arietta on the White Keys 2012.

The main course of grilled beef tenderloin with potato gratin and garden vegetables was served with Napa Valley Reserve 2006.

The dessert was irresistible: liquid-center cake with vanilla ice cream and malted meringue crisps—one of my favorites.


On Saturday evening, I dashed off to hear a concert by the Russian National Orchestra with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. “The Mighty RNO,” as the Festival dubbed it, opened with a piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff, in honor of the 140th anniversary of his birth. In a nice bit of synchronicity, one of the Festival founders is Tatiana Copeland, a grandniece of the composer.

The Russian National Orchestra performed at the 1,200-seat Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater in Yountville, one of the villages of the Valley.

Benjamin Oberman and his wife, Dr. Melina Jampolis, a nutrition specialist and TV personality who spoke on “Cabernet & Chocolate” as part of the Festival’s “Wellness Conversations.”

Donna Long, Martha Bredon, and Kay and Steve Fike represented the new bootie fashion.

The night’s performance was sold out and the Lincoln Theatre atrium was packed with a crowd eager for wine-tasting opportunities.


In the new VIP lounge at Lincoln Theater, supporters sipped wines provided by Gerret and Tatiana Copeland from their award-winning Bouchaine Vineyards, located in the Carneros district of Napa Valley.

IMG Artists President and CEO Jerry Inzerillo with Michael Madden, executive director of the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater.

Dick Kramlich and Andy Pilara brought wine to their friends.

Maria Manetti Shrem, Pam Kramlich, and Mary Pilara.


Accompanied by the Russian National Orchestra, Festival favorite Jean-Yves Thibaudet played the rarely performed Camille Saint-Saëns “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 before a large crowd at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro was discovered by conductor Zubin Mehta and is now music director at Teatr Wielki in Warsaw.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, known for his technical prowess, is a very sought-after soloist who made his performance debut at age 7.

Thibaudet demonstrated grace under pressure when shortly after he began to play, one of the piano keys proved unresponsive. In short order, a dusty rehearsal piano was found, and Thibaudet returned to the stage and resumed the concert.

My seatmate remarked that the pianist was no prima donna, or he would have refused to play on anything but a concert-quality baby grand. The orchestra received a thunderous standing ovation; a little drama no doubt made the audience especially appreciative.


I’ve known Martin Estate Winery proprietors Petra and Greg Martin for years, so of course I was happy to attend their Vintner’s Luncheon. Long-time fine art collectors, the couple purchased their 1887 historical three-story stone chateau in 1996 and have lovingly restored it.

The now renovated historic Martin Estate is filled with 18th- and 19th-century antiques, and eludes an “Old World” charm.


Greg Martin has been involved with numerous episodes of the History Channel series Tales of the Gun, was an appraiser in the early years of Antiques Roadshow, and hosted more than 200 episodes of HGTV’s Appraise It with Jan Yanehiro. He even joined the Mythbusters for an episode on Japanese armor.

Greg Martin in his office, in front of a George Washington portrait Jane Stuart painted in her father Gilbert Stuart’s studio.

Greg’s highly regarded private collections are often on loan to museums. To house many of his prized pieces, he endowed the Greg Martin Colt Gallery at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.

When I remarked that his house is like a museum, Greg countered, “—except you can play with the toys!”

The many pianists who have practiced on the Martin Estate’s 1910 Bechstein concert grand piano include the renowned Simone Dinnerstein, Christopher Taylor, Andrew van Oeyen, Conrad Tao, and Joyce Yang.


Greg led me on a tour of the 12-acre estate’s stone chateau winery, located in the Rutherford Appellation, famous for its Cabernet Sauvignons. The Martin family lives upstairs and the winery is on the first level: a nice commute!

Just as in 1887, all Martin Estate Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon is estate grown and entirely handcrafted—produced and bottled on the premises.

All wines are aged in French oak barrels selected by Martin Estate’s award-winning French-trained winemaker Aaron Pott, voted 2012 Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine magazine.


Host Greg Martin, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, host Petra Martin, and Paul Paradis.

Lunch was served under umbrellas in the garden. Perfect for a hot summer day, the menu began with an ahi tuna Niçoise salad accompanied by the 2012 Martin Estate Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Greg said this dark-hued rosé was made like a fine wine, aged in neutral oak. Paul Paradis remarked that it was not only refreshing and fun to drink, but it also had more body than usual. “There’s no wimpy Rosé here,” Greg responded.

The main course was a grilled bavette (skirt steak) with crushed fingerling potatoes and haricots verts, as well as grilled wild salmon with garden vegetables, paired with the 2010 Martin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

For dessert, we enjoyed tarte tatin with crème fraîche and rosemary syrup, paired with 2007 Martin Estate Gold Late Harvest Dessert Wine, which Wine Enthusiast magazine awarded 94 points.

Festival Director Rick Walker presented Petra and Greg Martin with a gift from Tiffany & Co. in thanks for “providing the rehearsal piano, hosting us in their incredible chateau, and gifting us with such magnificent wine.”

In return, Greg toasted Rick Walker “for your vision and persistence in making all my dreams of classical music in Napa come true. I will always support the Festival.”

Robert Marinelli practiced the “wine wave,” in which you clink your glass to the person next to you, who then turns to the person on their other side and does the same, and on it goes.

Benefactors Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem.

Dr. Allan Basbaum and Marcia Fortnoff with Mark Pope (left) of Bounty Hunter wine scouts, who said, “Great wines don’t show up on your doorstep. You have to hunt them out.”

Greg Martin, Jeanne Lawrence, and Petra Martin, who has been proactive in successfully promoting Martin Estate wine in China.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Festival, July 11–20, 2014, for a Napa Valley experience unlike any other. Patrons interested in buying tickets can find more information on the Festival’s website,


Photos by Drew Altizer, Moanalani Jeffrey, and Jeanne Lawrence.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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