13TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL NAPA VALLEY OPENING WEEKEND 2018
Part II – THE GALAS
Festival Napa Valley recently “uncorked” its 13th season. I made my annual pilgrimage, one of a delighted 10,000 attendees who enjoyed wine, food, and cultural events over ten days at different venues throughout the Valley’s Wine Country.
Continuing my coverage of the Festival’s opening weekend, this week I share two fabulous gala-style events I attended.
TREFETHEN FAMILY VINEYARDS 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The patron dinner at historic Trefethen Family Vineyards was a Festival highlight and a landmark occasion celebrating Trefethen’s 50th anniversary.
Trefethen, which pioneered the idea of cross-promoting wine and food in the 1970s, offered a bounty of local delicacies and award-winning wines. The legendary Cuban band Grupo Compay Segundo performed, and an after-party lasted until the wee hours.
THE HISTORICAL WINERY
Trefethen Family Vineyards is one of Napa Valley’s most historic wineries. Originally constructed in 1886 by a Scottish sea captain who designed several wineries, it was named “Eshcol” after the Biblical valley where grapes were grown.
In 1968, the first generation of Trefethen wine makers, Eugene and Catherine, purchased Eshcol and six adjoining properties to create Trefethen Family Vineyards. The winery had fallen into serious disrepair, but after years of careful research and work, the couple’s son John and his wife Janet restored it to its former glory.
INTERNATIONALLY AWARD-WINNING CALIFORNIA WINE
John and Janet Trefethen produced their first commercial wine in 1973. Six years later, the Trefethen 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 World Wine Olympics organized by French food and wine magazine Gault Millau.
Since the patron dinner was my first trip to Trefethen, I was eager to see the winery. As the evening began, between sips of estate wines, I looked around at the vineyards, pool, and lush garden. The expansive size and beauty of the property amazed me.
PASSING THE BATON TO THE THIRD GENERATION
In his welcoming speech, Trefethen patriarch John announced he and his wife Janet were passing the baton to their children Lorenzo and Hailey, who currently run the operations.
The winery was passed to John and Janet in the 1970s by John’s parents Eugene and Catherine Trefethen, the winery’s founders. Now a third generation is continuing the family credo: “One Family, One Estate, One Passion.”
A LEGENDARY CUBAN BAND MAKES THE PARTY
Who hasn’t heard of Buena Vista Social Club? The 1997 album, performed by an ensemble of Cuban musicians, revived the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba. One of the ensemble members was the late Compay Segundo, leader of the band Compay Segundo y sus Muchachos and inventor of the seven-stringed, guitar-like armónico.
Today, Segundo’s son, bassist Salvador Repilado (who also participated in the Buena Vista Social Club project), performs with some of his father’s former Muchachos bandmates under the name Grupo Compay Segundo.
THE ARTS FOR ALL GALA AT HALL ST. HELENA
It was no surprise that the 2018 annual Arts for All Gala raised a whopping $2.5 million, thanks to the presence of headliner and Tony- and Emmy-winner Kristen Chenoweth, and to a dozen once-in-a-lifetime auction experiences on the block.
Proceeds from the biggest arts charity event of the year will support public school arts education programs in Napa County, scholarships for emerging musicians, and the festival’s tuition-free Blackburn Music Academy.
HALL ST. HELENA WINERY
The venue for the Gala was at HALL St. Helena Winery, owned by Kathryn and Craig Hall. The former Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn Hall grew up working in her family’s Mendocino vineyards, and has realized her long-held dream of opening a winery that celebrates both fine wine and fine art.
A LIVELY PERFORMANCE FROM THE QUEEN OF BROADWAY
The highlight of the evening was Kristin Chenoweth’s high-voltage performance. Through my involvement with the New York Drama League, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her onstage several times.
CHEERS TO THE ARTS!
The evening was a colorful delight, from the performances to the food and décor.
INCREDIBLE AUCTION ITEMS
After the musical performances, guests bid on a dozen enticing auction experiences, including Kentucky Derby tickets in the Jet luxury suite, accompanied by breakfast by Chef Bobby Flay; three nights in Italy’s Monteverdi Tuscany village, with a dinner at singer Andrea Bocelli’s home; and a dinner with actress Sophia Loren in Geneva, Italy.
After the auction and dining, guests enjoyed a lively after-party in the winery, where more libations were poured.
THE INK HOUSE, NEWLY OPENED HISTORIC LUXURY INN
Being a guest in the historic Ink House during the Festival Napa Valley made the trip even more special. Staying there is like having your own private house in Napa while enjoying impeccable service.
Ink House was opened in February by the Castellucci family: Antonio, Rita, their daughter Maria, and son Marco. The Castellucci family had the vision to transform the 130-year-old property into a luxurious Wine Country inn.
Originally named the Hilios Ranch when it was built in 1885 by Napa Valley pioneer Theron H. Ink, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With the feeling of a private residence in Wine Country, and offering large and well-appointed rooms, Ink House is a perfect place to rent with a group of friends. More luxurious and better than an Air B&B, here you have staff to take care of every little detail, from preparing breakfast, to making all your itinerary arrangements, and even driving you around Napa Valley in a Rolls Royce so you can visit wineries without worry.
OTHER EXCITING FESTIVAL EVENTS
I was so disappointed at having to leave before the ten-day festival was over (and to return to a gloomy, rainy New York besides!). Just some of what I missed:
- Violinist Joshua Bell reuniting with composer John Corigliano for the world premiere of The Red Violin, with an orchestra accompanying the full-length feature film
- The new Festival Live! Chamber Series featuring faculty and students (from three continents and eight countries!) from the Festival’s Blackburn Music Academy
- A Bernstein Centennial concert featuring selections from West Side Story performed by tenor Michael Fabiano and soprano Larisa Martínez
Over the years, the Festival has introduced me (and thousands of others) to artists, local vintners, and wineries that aren’t on the tourist route maps. I’ve loved having an insider’s view of the California wine country lifestyle.
If you want to share this terrific experience—with great music, food, and drink, and a chance to meet the locals—mark it on your calendar for July 12-21, 2019 (and for 2020 as well!).
LINKS TO OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
Photos by Drew Altizer, Bob McClenahan, Paul E. Richardson, Jeanne Lawrence, Wikimedia Commons, and courtesy Hall Wines.