San Francisco Social Diary: Festival del Sole – Napa Valley Part II

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.


The annual ten-day Festival del Sole celebrates the fine arts in life, including music, dance, visual art, culinary arts, and wine making, with spectacular events held throughout the Napa Valley.

Part I of my coverage describes some of the food, music, and wine events. The story continues:


During the Festival del Sole, local vintners open their famed wine estates to guests, hosting fabulous soirees and meals prepared by local celebrity chefs and featuring local produce. Sunday Night was the Festival’s Annual Gala at St. Helena’s Meadowood Resort, a 250-acre private wooded estate.

Surrounded by meadows and rolling greens, with not a grape in sight, one guest said, “I feel that I’ve been transported some place other than Napa.” As he was intended to be: the party’s theme was “The Great Gatsby,” from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel set on the coast of Long Island.

Meadowood Napa Valley is a luxury resort with golf, tennis, croquet, swimming, spa, and a three-star Michelin restaurant; many of the local vintners use it as their country club.


Guests complied with the request to come dressed in white and got into the spirit of the Gatsy theme in glamorous ’20s-inspired garb, setting an elegant mood.

Many wore flapper-style dresses or actual vintage pieces accessorized with strands of pearls, diamond brooches, and hair ornaments.

Alton Irby, Daru Kawalkowski, and Trish and Don Stephens. The men looked dapper in simple white linen and vests, leaving it to the women to add the sparkle.


During an al fresco cocktail hour, guests munched on Parmesan lobster appetizers and sipped champagne—Domaine Carneros by Taittinger—from coupe glasses that were fashionable in the ’20s.

Guests were treated to a world-class croquet exhibition on the immaculately manicured championship lawns.

Strolling to the fairways, guests watched the sun set before heading to dinner in the meadows.

Jeanne Lawrence, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Maria Manetti Shrem, and Paul Paradis.

Festival benefactors and board members Timothy and Athena Blackburn with Kimberlee and Ray Raby, General Manager of Tiffany San Francisco.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Martha Bredon, Kay Saatchi, and Wes Carroll.

David Dube, Heather Ryan, Festival patrons Pepper and Michael Jackson, and Meagan Stasz.

New Yorkers Trish Grady and Polly Olnet.

Marion Olin and Joe Betz.

Ortwin Krueger and his wife, former New Hampshire senator Pat Krueger.

Teresa Rodriguez with festival benefactors Tatiana and Gerret Copeland.

Benjamin Oberman with wife Melina Jampolis, Maggie and Steve Oetgen, and Robert Nelson.

Ron and Sheila Light, Festival Director Rick Walker, and Venus and Narsai David.

Kathryn Walt Hall, Elisabeth Thieriot, and George Mickum.

Mara Sistino, conductor Carlo Montanaro, and Festival board member Antonio Castellucci.

Guests praised the intimate setting and enjoyed being close to the stage to listen to the Concord Jazz All Stars.


Festival Director Rick Walker welcomed the crowd, noting that he had just come from a free concert performed by musicians from Orchestra Institute Napa Valley, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000 music-lovers.

The music of the Russian National Orchestra Percussion Ensemble summoned us to dinner, and in came the servers marching like a well-coordinated garrison.

The first course was a duck confit, squab, and guinea hen galantine with summer truffle and frisée, served with 2012 Intrada Sauvignon Blanc.

Our entrée was ribeye “cap & eye,” marble potatoes, Meadowood garden vegetables, and watercress, served with hand-selected 2007 Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, capped off with a light dessert of cheese and pear.


Everyone enjoyed the lively performances by Julio Reyes, Brian Nova, Tom Scott, and Carlos Reyes before and after the meal.

Drummer and producer Gregg Field thanked Festival del Sole for a truly world- class benefit evening.

Singer Monica Mancini, daughter of the late composer Henry Mancini, was later joined by her mother Virginia Mancini, who flew in from Los Angeles.


Fritz Hatton, my former colleague from Christie’s, was an exuberant auctioneer who kept the bidding for one-of-a-kind experiences high-energy.

Festival board chair Darioush Khaledi encouraged the crowd to bid: “The more glasses of wine that go down, the more the number of hands that go up, so please raise your glass and drink all the way.”

Top row (l. to r.): Robert Marinelli, Kay Saatchi, Wes Carroll, Jeanne Lawrence, Jan Shrem, Ken Monnens, and Jim Uyeda. Bottom row (l. to r.): Valerie and Jeff Gargiulo, Maria Manetti Shrem, Carlo Montanaro, and Mara Sistino.

Anita and Ron Wornick.

Top row (l. to r.): Dariush Gabbay, Darioush Khaledi, Dr. Kevin Ariani, Dr. Hooshang Semnani, Lida Ariani, Eli Semnani. Bottom row (l. to r.): Haleh Gabbay, Michael and Katy Saei.

Festival Director of Marketing and Operations Sonia Tolbert, Festival Director Rick Walker, and IMG Artists’ Greg Calejo.


A nice cross-section of attendees from Napa Valley, Los Angeles, and New York, the guests stayed on to mingle with one another. It was a relaxed and pleasant environment to greet old friends and make new ones.

Meeting for the first time, Patricia Stevens excitedly told Julia Wainwright, founder of luxury designer resale website, “I’m one of your biggest customers, trust me. I’m up at 7 a.m. and bidding away!”

IMG Artists President and CEO Jerry Inzerillo, actor Jeffrey Wright, and IMG Artists co-chair Alexander Shustorovich.

IMG Artists co-chair Barrett Wissman and his wife, cellist Nina Kotova.

Michael Polenske, Carol and Jon Sebastiani, Laurie Nigliazzo, and Richard von Saal.

IMG Executive Producer and Festival Producer Charles Letourneau with some admirers.

The idea evening began with watching the sun set and continued as we enjoyed the best food and wine by moonlight, serenaded by a jazz ensemble.


On Wednesday, I dined at Ma(i)sonry, with its owner, my friend Michael Polenske and his fiancée Kim Miller, editor of Napa Sonoma Magazine. Michael is also proprietor of Blackbird Vineyards, one of the Festival’s founding wineries.

When I first met Michael, he had just moved to Napa Valley and bought Blackbird. He adds new ventures constantly, and I joked that someday I expect he’ll own the entire Valley.

Kim Miller, Michael Polenske, and Jeanne Lawrence.


The Ma(i)sonry property, located in Yountville, has been one of my favorites for years. An original stone house, it’s one of only two local buildings listed on the National Register of Historic places.

Yountville—one of the country’s food capitals and home to The French Laundry—is a charming town filled with homes such as this.

Michael has renovated the former private residence and created a lifestyle space that combines wine tasting with art in a private club-like atmosphere—the perfect backdrop for savoring limited production, boutique wines.

Ma(i)sonry offers wine tastings in private rooms and in the outdoor gardens, which are landscaped around architectural remnants, contemporary sculpture, and a stone fire pit.

Longtime festival patron Jose Luis Nazar with an antique bicycle complete with sidecar.

The restaurant/gallery hosts events ranging from an intimate Valentine’s Day tête-à-tête to a 200-guest banquet.

The name Ma(i)sonry—with a lower case “i” in parentheses—is a hybrid combining the word maison (French for “home”) and masonry (the craft of working with stones), reflecting its historic origins and its goal of representing “a life aesthetic.”

Ma(i)sonry showcases a rotating collection of wines from 22 boutique vintner partners.


We enjoyed a casual wine tasting under umbrellas on the grounds.

Festival Director of Marketing & Operations Sonia Tolbert with Michael Polenske.

Diablo Publications Founder and President Steve Rivera and Diablo Group Publisher Barney Fonzi.


We lunched outdoors, seated beneath century-old olive trees, and enjoyed wine pairings from the Bespoke Collection of brands—Blackbird Vineyards, Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, and Recuerdo Wines.

Michael toasted us and talked of his wine and the Festival.

The wine flowed and the appetizers kept coming.

Maryam Pak and Shahpar Khaledi.

Chef Richard Haake prepared a casual summer meal that we loved: family-style platters of the freshest produce from the gardens—and fish, for a change.

Katherine Schmidt and Michael Polenske.

Greg Calejo and Kim Miller.

Kim Miller was named editor of Napa Sonoma Magazine earlier this year.

Brian Ball, wine educator for Ma(i)sonry.

We all loved the relaxed atmosphere and the splendid setting.


An evening of “extreme theatre,” called 24 Hour Plays, was a very popular ticket again this year. The audience liked seeing award-winning, big-name actors up close in four one-act plays that they, along with writers and directors, created, wrote, rehearsed, and performed in the space of 24 hours.

This year’s participants included film and television stars Allison Janney, Christopher Meloni, Alfre Woodard, Chazz and Gianna Palminteri, Jim O’Heir, Amy Povich, Kathy Garver, Tamara Tunie, Thomas Sadoski, and Star Jones, guided by Hollywood directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee.

Actress Alfre Woodard was nominated for her eighteenth Emmy Award earlier in the week.

Law & Order: SVU alums Christopher Meloni and Tamara Tunie appeared in a dance performance.

Christopher Meloni with festival co-founder Barrett Wissman and his wife Nina Kotova.

Kathy Garver.

Matthew Vincent, Thomas Sadoski, and Kristie Janczyk.

Amy Povich, Gianna Palminteri, and Gizem Yucel.

David Siegel, Allison Janney, and Scott McGehee.

Star Jones, Prudence and Jerry Inzerillo, Helena Zakade Inzerillo, Alfre Woodard, and friend.

Prudence Inzerillo, Star Jones, Helena Zakade Inzerillo, Alfre Woodard, Tamara Tunie, and Gianna Palminteri.


Happy Birthday, Sergei! A “once-in-a-lifetime event” to celebrate the 140th anniversary of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birth, the soiree at Opus One Winery was another highlight of the Festival. It showed once again the power of the arts to bring different peoples together.

The colossal Opus One Winery in Oakville (Napa Valley) features distinctive exterior architecture made of Texas limestone.


Opus One is the realization of a dream shared by Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux’s Château Mouton Rothschild and Napa Valley Vintner Robert Mondavi.

I looked forward to this occasion a great deal, both to hear cellist Nina Kotova perform and to visit Opus One, which I hadn’t visited recently. I have many fond memories of time spent with Margrit and Bob Mondavi at this magnificent compound.

Opus One is situated in the Oakville Appellation of Napa Valley, across the road from the Mondavi Vineyard.

Mondavi and de Rothschild produced their first vintage in 1979 and opened Opus One as a winery in 1991. Its vineyards comprise 169 acres and are planted with the traditional Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

The wine label features a silhouette of Mondavi and Rothschild, founders of the vineyard.

Several 18th-century French pieces are incorporated with contemporary bronze furniture designed by Philippe Anthonioz of Paris in the décor of Opus One’s great salon.


We sat in the courtyard of Opus One, amid the vineyards and old growth oak trees, enjoying the perfect weather and the caressing breezes.

Looking through the arches before us, we could see the famous vineyards and mountains (Mount Veeder) and watch the sun set over the Valley.


Three extraordinary artists from Russia—cellist Nina Kotova, soprano Erika Baikoff, and pianist Vadym Kholodenko, who won gold in the 2013 Van Cliburn competition—performed some of Rachmaninoff’s most beloved work.

Rising star Erika Baikoff, 19, performed in the Festival’s Bouchaine Young Artist series. This talented soprano, a Princeton student, sang “like an angel,” my seatmate exclaimed.


Lovely Nina Kotova has participated in the Festival every year. Hailing from a musical family, she studied at the Moscow Conservatory and Musikhochschule in Germany, and was an orchestral soloist for the first time at age 11.

Nina Kotova’s cello, a gift from her husband, Festival co-founder and artistic director Barrett Wissman, is the 1673 Stradivarius that was once owned by the late Jacqueline du Pré.

Sibylle Szaggars, Festival Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, Nina Kotova, and Vadym Kholodenko.


With so many of the Festival founders present, the evening was a sort of family night, more so since it was a celebration of the 140th anniversary of the birth of Rachmaninoff, the grand-uncle of Festival founding benefactor Tatiana Copeland.

James and Doreen Ho with Athena and Timothy Blackburn.

Mara Sistino, Carlo Montanaro, Darioush Khaledi, Vida Vazim (seated), Maryam Pak, Shahpar Khaledi, and Hoshang Pak.

Donna Long, Gordon Getty, and Pepper Jackson.

Tom Perkins, Jeanne Lawrence, Jan Shrem, Dolly Chammas, and Maria Manetti Shrem.

Supervisor Bill Dodd and his wife Mary with Kathryn Walt Hall and Craig Hall.

Rick Niello with Bobbi and Michael Brown.

Pascal and Melanie Levensohn.


Following the concert, guests descended from the Rotunda to dine in the romantically lit cellar where the wine is aged.

Opus One’s $26.5 million winery features a gravity-flow system that moves its signature Bordeaux-style red wines deep underground to a breathtaking semicircular barrel room.

IMG Artists co-chair Alexander Shustorovich said, “Russians are sentimental and emotional”—especially when they are celebrating a special event like the commemoration of Rachmaninoff’s birth.

Festival founding benefactor Tatiana Copeland gave an emotional toast: “I grew up to this music,” she recalled. “This is truly what dreams are made of.”

Margit Mondavi responded, “It’s wonderful to see the Festival succeed, to hear great talent in the vineyards. Robert [her late husband] believed wine belongs with art and music. I’m sure he’s watching from the clouds and saying, ‘Bravo.’”


We also celebrated the birthday of Festival benefactor Jan Shrem, the proprietor of Clos Pegase Winery, in attendance with his wife Maria Manetti Shrem.

First course was yellowtail carpaccio with lemon, lime, and chili oil, served with Fume Blanc Reserve 2011 from Robert Mondavi Winery.

The entrée was Colorado rack of lamb with wild mushroom quinoa and black truffle reduction, paired with Opus One 2009 and Opus One 2005.

Dessert was blood orange cake with orange bergamot cream, served with Château Coutet 1997.

Dinner guests were serenaded by a quintet of string musicians.

Pepper Jackson, Jeanne Lawrence, and Margrit Mondavi.

Board member Steve Stull and his wife Claire.

Antonio Castellucci and Olivia Decker.

It was another unforgettable evening of musical and gastronomic pleasures.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Festival del Sole, July 11–20, 2014, for a Napa Valley experience unlike any other. Patrons who would like to buy tickets can find more information at the Festival’s website,

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

*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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