The sun shining down on Napa has created a wonderful gravitational pull with the events offered at this year's Festival del Sole. Featuring beloved and up-and-coming performers from classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, and theater, the ten-day festival is now attracting leading lights onstage, and leading luminaries off. Adding a cultural component to celebrations of wine and food has proven to be a potent formula for locals and especially visitors, who now book the sold-out events as soon as the program is announced. World-class performances seem even more elevated when appreciated with a glass in hand and a perfect plate at the ready.
Ambitiously initiated nine years ago, the Festival del Sole was designed to inject a cultural component into Napa's rich social scene. With so many San Franciscans spending the summer out of the fog, festival founders wondered if the crowds would come; the appealing mix of winery luncheons and dinners, gala performances, and free public events have drawn enthusiastic audiences at every venue. The kickoff concert featured violin virtuoso Joshua Bell at Castello di Amorosa -- what wine goes well with a 1713 Stradivarius? The patron dinner in the castle's candlelit caves proved to be a fitting, if sunless, start to the festivities, which carried on to a tasting room afterparty at Priest Ranch in Yountville. For the rest of the 10-day event, festivalgoers could repent or renew with yoga classes, get louche at luncheons sponsored by various vineyards at Martin Estate, Vineyard 29, the Hess Collection, Jaffe Estate, Beaulieu, Aloft, and Merryvale Vineyards, and then rest up in time for gala dinners and performances each night. (If it's Saturday, it must be Pinchas Zuckerman performing...or is that Tuesday?) Even the most avid afficianados had to pace themselves, as over 200 venues and vintners strove to put their best bites forward, paired with often impossible-to-obtain cellared secrets and sweetened by short musical performances with the next generation of performers. Once recovered from lunch, patrons could choose from themed dinners at Keller Estate, Grgich Hills, Robert Modavi, Alpha Omega, HALL and Chimney Rock. Vocal Arts series sponsored by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, a Young Artist series sponsored by Bouchaine, and a Dance Series sponsored by Dede Wilsey. Partnerships and sponsorships with wineries, corporations, hotels, resorts, and media facilitate the festival, which is glowing more each year.
Sunday's Festival Gala at Meadowwood kicked things into even higher gear, with 300-plus patrons gathering on the greensward for French 75 cocktails and Cuban Jazz, courtesy of the Concord Jazz All-Stars and ten-time Grammy winner Arturo Sandoval. Women were asked to wear white, glowing even brighter by strings of fairy lights that decorated the dappled glade. Meadowwood's three Michelin stars were shining as they served a seemingly simple alfresco meal of just-picked tarragon-scented salad, ribeye of beef with the babiest of vegetables, artisan cheese, and a shared sweet of lavender macarons and killer chocolate. While Jose Luis Nazar spritzed the lucky few in his orbit with an atomizer filled with 1875 madeira, everyone was able to appreciate the Boisset Family Estates and Gallo Signature Series wines poured as prelude to the 10-item auction that garnered over $1 million dollars for music education in the Napa Schools. Magrit Biever Mondavi welcomed guests with the invocation, "life is a present every day," which could well have been the motto of the moment. Festival force Maria Manetti Shrem enthused,
"We can go all over the world to hear wonderful music, to drink magnificent wine, to meet fascinating people. Here we get all of that, and we get to sleep in our own bed at night!" With the Sole shining so brightly on Napa for the week, it's a wonder anyone gets any sleep at all.
Among those favoring the festival: Festival Director Richard Walker and Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, Dorothy and Brad Jeffries, Anita and Ron Wornick, Lisa and John Grotts, Anne marie and Stephan Massocca, Athena and Timothy Blackburn, Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, Karen and Neil Aldoroty, Kay and Steven Fike, Elizabeth and W. Clarke Swanson, Kim Miller and Michael Polenske, Carlie Wilmans, IMG Artist President Alexander Shustorovich, and Managing Director Charles Letourneau, Festival Chair Darioush Khaledi with Shahpar Khaledi, Castello de Amorosi's Dario Sattui, Claire and Steven Stull, Maggie and Stephen Oetgen, Michelle and Robin Baggett, Rita and Antonio Castellucci, Vicki and Tom Celani, Pepper and Michael Jackson, Sandra Jones, Christine O'Sullivan and Jim Bean, Karen and Neil Aldoroty, Pam and Richard Kramlich, Ellie and Dr. Hooshang Semnani, Anne and Roger Walther, Dayna Manning, Carol and Jon Sebastiani, Yu Zhen, JP Conte and Hillary Thomas, and many more whose worlds revolve around wine, food, and festivity.