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Sophia Loren Brings the Stars out in Napa Valley

I've been to my fair share of special nights in wine country, but this evening tops them all. I got to shake hands with Sophia Loren.
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Photos by Jon Orlin

On Saturday night stars were shining at Far Niente Winery for an evening of Bella Italia! A Tribute to Sophia Loren, the most coveted ticket at this year's Festival del Sole.

This just may be the most star-studded night in the nine seasons of the of festival. Napa Valley is used to its share of celebrities. But not many events can hold a candle to Whoopi Goldberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford, and the ultimate star, Sophia Loren, under one tent. I've been to my fair share of special nights in wine country, but this evening tops them all. I got to shake hands with Sophia Loren.

The grande signora of the Italian silver screen was in Napa Valley for the world premiere of Sinfonietta per Sofia, a tribute in her honor. The work, composed by Daniel Brewbaker, was performed by the LA Virtuosi, a chamber music orchestra created and conducted by Ms. Loren's son, Carlo Ponti.

Both the piece, commissioned by Jan and Maria Manetti Shrem, of Clos Pegase Winery, and the orchestra made their debut earlier in the day at the Lincoln Theatre in Yountville.

Ms. Loren arrived at Far Niente Winery in a spectacular long black gown with a beaded neckline and beaded long sleeves. She and Ponti gave a brief press conference about the performance and the new orchestra. Los Angeles-based LA Virtuosi is dedicated to music education and allocates 100% of its net proceeds from subscription ticket sales to music education programs.

"It's an honor to have a composition written about me, it's the first time this has happened in my life," Ms. Loren says. "I'm very glad it happened when my son is making a concert and an evening in our honor. It's a beautiful moving feeling."

Ponti describes Sinfonietta per Sofia, which translates as "for love and laughter" as having many moods. "Passion and warmth and dedication and effervescence," he says. "It is a privilege to have my mother as my mother. I still cannot believe that I am her son. I mean imagine the chances of it happening, one in a billion and I got that. It is a privilege for me."

We all laughed when Ms. Loren asked him "Why?" We also learned that she only drinks wine with dinner (red wine) and finds that Champagne has too many bubbles. She has a quick wit and sense of humor that I did not expect. When I asked her if she had visited Far Niente before she said all wineries look the same. More laughter.

When Sophia Loren is in Napa Valley, the wine country celebrities show up. Here's Gordon Getty, there's Bill Harlan, over there Margrit Mondavi, Kathryn Hall, Giovanni Scala, Jan Shrem. All enjoying the music al fresco on the grounds of Far Niente, one of the most beautiful and serene settings in wine country.

A movement in Sinfonietta per Sofia is inspired by the Neapolitan classic Funiculí, Funiculá, a spirited song loved by Ms. Loren.

After the concert we gathered in the most glamorous, luxurious tent. It was even carpeted. Whoopi Goldberg was MC for the evening, followed by a video tribute to Ms. Loren that included greetings from Robert De Niro and President Bill Clinton. Margrit Mondavi and Francis Ford Coppola spoke. Then Robert Redford introduced the movie icon. He's a resident of Napa Valley and has been involved in the Festival del Sole for many years. "What do you do when you are going to introduce somebody you've admired much of your life but who you've never met?" Many of us were surprised to learn this was their first meeting.

When Ms. Loren took the stage, she started speaking in Italian. We thought maybe a few words and she'd translate but she kept going. Her son Carlo had to go up to her to remind her to speak in English. Laughter erupted. Clearly she didn't realize she was speaking Italian.

For Sophia Loren, it's been "one of the most beautiful nights of my life." For the rest of us, a night we'll always remember, full of great wine, friends and movie magic.

Special thanks to Festival del Sole, Far Niente Winery, Tom Fuller and Monty Sander.

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