Kathryn Hall knows how to throw a party.
Maybe it's because she spent four years as the United States Ambassador to Austria during the Clinton administration.
But I think she just loves to have fun and enjoys seeing her guests have a great time.
This past weekend at Hall Wines in Napa Valley, the scene was literally set in red - huge red sofas placed everywhere in a large grass courtyard. I thought they were leather at first, but they are actually some sort of inflatable material. Fun, clever and definitely eye-catching.
You could also play I Love Lucy and stomp on freshly picked Merlot grapes that will go into making wine. My feet are in the 2014 Merlot. I'll have to get a bottle when it is released.
We were all at Hall for the release of the 2011 Kathryn Hall Cabernet, her top-of-the line signature wine. It's a blend of several vineyards, but mostly grapes from the Sacrashe Vineyard, the Halls' home vineyard in Rutherford. This happens to be the 11th release of this wine. "When you have momentous events," Kathryn says, "I think about how it was before years ago when we first started Kathryn Hall and even before that. Here we are today, we have 600 people." Not something she imagined 11 years ago. "It pumps you up," she says. "Everyone in this business does it because they love it, they have a lot of pride but it still matters when people drink it and say they enjoy it."
A vertical tasting of the Kathryn Hall Cabernet kicked off the event. We had six vintages, the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Winemaker Steve Leveque led the tasting and talked about the weather during each vintage, how he made his wines, adjustments he had to make for less than optimal vintages (think the cold and rainy 2011, which by the way is elegant wine and shows lots of finesse).
My favorite was the 2008, opulent, rich, fruity and floral, still very much a young, fresh wine. There is a common thread of floral notes and silky softness that I notice in the wines. "The wine is really getting enough age on it now," Kathryn says, "and it's evolving so we can show the differences in it and give people a sense of the real quality of the grapes and ageability of the wines we can grow in Napa Valley."
This past weekend was a busy one in Napa Valley, with many wineries throwing release parties, and lots of visitors in the valley not just for harvest, but to help support the community post-earthquake by shopping, eating and drinking wine. We had a great pizza at Velo Pizzeria - really good crust, something that is a must for me in a good pie. The next morning we went to Butter Cream Bakery for waffles and cinnamon French toast, yum! Some of their bakers were in the kitchen at the time of the earthquake. No major damage and the bakery ended up giving the donuts that people stand in line for away for free post-earthquake.
These are some of the photos I took walking around downtown Napa. Seeing it on TV and in pictures was one thing. In person, it's just shocking and heartbreaking. All the businesses that weren't red-tagged are open and need your support.
This is the Vintner's Collective.
A corner of the courthouse that crumbled. And see those red roof structures on the ground?
They were once at the top of this building.
Special Performance by Jewel
This weekend was also the 20th annual Music Festival for Brain Health at Staglin Family Vineyard, a benefit to raise funds and awareness for brain health and injury research. In the past 20 years, the Music Festival has raised more than $208,000 million for these causes.
The Staglins also know how to throw an impressive soiree. At the red wine tasting in their caves, wineries that never pour at events where there. It was a chance to taste some legendary wines, including Colgin, Maya from Dalle Valle and Araujo Estate.
I had two tastes of Scarecrow and also sipped Harlan Estate, DANA Estate, Crocker & Starr, Ovid, Peter Paul Wines, Shafer, and of course Staglin (apologies for the obscene name dropping, couldn't help it).
The highlight of the Music Festival was a performance by the legendary Jewel closing the event. When Jewel walked onto the Lincoln Theater stage and began singing a cappella, she wowed everyone.