Thursday, September 1, 2011

San Francisco Social Diary

Shahpar and Darioush Khaledi. had the foresight to build a semi-circular 200-seat amphitheater in their vineyards that is an ideal setting for an intimate performance.
NAPA VALLEY FESTIVAL DEL SOLE OPENING WEEKEND
by Jeanne Lawrence

GREAT PERFORMANCES, FINE DINING, A FABULOUS CROWD

 
Napa Valley, California—Make plans right now to visit the seventh annual Napa Valley Festival del Sole July 13-22, 2012. It’s ten non-stop days of performance, food and wine, a wonderful way to experience the best of what the region offers.

This July, I returned from Shanghai—much too steamy in the summer—and flew out to California just so I wouldn’t miss the 2011 Festival.

I was dazzled to see how huge the list of attractions had grown since the last Festival I’d been to. This event has become so huge in the international classical music circuit that even its founders were scrambling for tickets to some of the performances.
The unique venues and tradition of vintner hospitality draw both artists and audiences to the Napa Valley Festival del Sole, which celebrated a sixth season in 2011.
The Story of the Festival del Sole

The Festival de Sole originated in 2003 in the medieval Tuscan town of Cortona. It was the inspiration of impresario and pianist Barrett Wissman, who that year acquired IMG Artists, one of the largest cultural arts management companies in the world; his wife, composer/cellist Nina Kotova; and Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.

Wissman and Kotova, who were part-time residents of the town, shared the dream of a venue where their musician and artist friends could come together each year.

Then in 2005, Wissman and Kotova joined forces with Richard (Rick) Walker, a Bay Area music attorney who was worldwide manager of the Russian National Orchestra (RNO).

Barrett, Rick, and Nina began to explore the opportunity of bringing the Festival del sole to Napa Valley. Very early on they were able to bring Athena and Timothy Blackburn, Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, Maria Manetti Farrow, Gordon Getty, Margrit Mondavi, and John Traina into the discussion as supporters.
The 2011 Festival opening night gala, held at the Darioush Gallery, featured a classical music performance followed by a lavish dinner.
Friday—Opening Night Gala at Darioush Winery
 
Festival del Sole’s opening night gala began with a concert and lavish dinner at the Darioush Winery on the Silverado Trail, a road lined with many famous Napa vineyards.
 
Our hosts were Shahpar and Darioush Khaledi. Darioush grew up in Shiraz, one of Iran's prominent wine-producing regions, and like many Napa vintners, he has put an individual stamp on his winery. Its architecture was inspired by Persepolis, the ancient capital of Persia.
The romantic Iranian and Spanish music on the program inspired handholding and created a happy mood as everyone headed to the alfresco dinner.
The featured performers in the evening’s concert were Spanish guitarist and conductor Angel Romero and pianist Tara Kamangar, whose repertoire includes Western and Middle Eastern compositions.

Sitting in the audience was composer/conductor Loris Tjeknavorian, considered “the father of Iranian classical music.” 

“Tjeknavorian is one of my favorite composers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would hear his music in my home,” marveled Darioush.
Vintner Darioush Khaledi, who hosted the evening with his wife Shahpar. Darioush is also the Festivals board chairman. Maria Manetti Farrow, wine maker Ryan Pierce, and Stephanie Lawrence in front of the 18-foot tall columns that grace the entrance of the Darioush Gallery.
Barbara and John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards. Impresario David Foster and Maria Manetti Farrow, a major benefactor. Maria remarked that the “wonderfully extravagant” opening event set the tone for the entire Festival.
As Darioush Khaledi welcomed the guests, conductor and composer Loris Tjeknavorian sits in front.
Angel Romero, who performed Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” said he’s played it more than any other piece in his repertoire. At 17, he gave the piece its West Coast debut in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Pianist Kamangar played excerpts from Loris Tjeknavorian’s “Danses Fantastiques.”
Festival board member Michael Polenske and Kimberly Miller.
Bruce Sudano, Donna Summer, Yolanda Hadid, and David Foster.
The Gala Dinner

For the post-performance dinner, the Khaledis hosted a sit-down dinner that had the cozy feel of a private dinner party in a very elegant house.

Festival del Sole Director Rick Walker raised his glass in a toast. “I don’t think life could be any better than this. Look around!” 
 
The crowd mingled after dinner and many of us stayed on late into the evening. Amid the beautifully lit columns of Persepolis, with the light from a full moon shining through the tent, we were transported to another world.
After such a romantic performance, we were happy as we headed to the alfresco dinner.
17-year-old harpist Sage Po, one of the Bouchaine Young Artists, provided music during cocktails and dinner.  The hand-cut paper table arrangements seemed to float in the air.
The custom-made linens and decorations were among the carefully planned elements that made the Khaledis’ party so special.
With chef/publisher Sarah Scott and San Francisco’s caterer Dan McCall at the helm of the “farm-to-table” dinner, I knew dinner would be superb.
The menu included Chilled Beet Salad, Slow-Roasted Salmon, and Persian-Spiced Filet Mignon.
The dessert wine was Shahpar, a sweet late harvest wine named for Darioush's wife.
Festival del Sole Director Rick Walker and Karen Walker. Festival supporter Beth Nickel of Far Ninete Winery.
Singer Angel Romero and family with Festival Artistic Director Barrett Wissman and Nina Kotova.
Maria and Evgeny Shustorovich with Alexander Shustorovich, a principal of IMG Artists.
Jeanne Lawrence with Stephanie Lawrence, who said, “This is like a Town & Country wedding in the Hamptons: everything is perfection.”
Jessica Hague and Kevin Hague.
Major Benefactors Athena and Timothy Blackburn.
Architects Ardeshir and Roshan Nozari collaborated with Khaledi on the Darioush Gallery, which is the third-most-visited winery in the Napa Valley. Lisa and John Grotts, Festival supporters.
Catherine Schmidt on left with Ron and Anita Wornick.
Major Benefactors Gerret and Tatiana Copeland with Darioush Khaledi.
New Yorkers Suzanne and Mark Johnson with Rick Walker.
Outdoors heaters created the warmth, and birch chandeliers imported from Belgium and rows of flickering candles created a glow—helped by a full moon.
Saturday—David Foster Plays at the Mondavi Winery

On Saturday evening, David Foster & Friends gave a charity concert at the winery named for and created by our late friend Bob Mondavi.  

Foster, a native of Canada has won 14 Grammys. He is not only a singer and songwriter, but also renowned for discovering new talent and producing some of the most successful artists in the world. 
The late Bob Mondavi and his wife Margrit Mondavi made their Mondavi Winery a cultural destination that attracted not only lovers of wine, but also of art and music.
Over 1,500 people came to hear his group perform along with pop star Charice, R&B singer Babyface, Ruben Studdard and The Canadian Tenors.
 
“Any one of them could be a headliner,” said Festival board member Michael Polenske, proprietor of Blackbird Vineyards and Ma(i)sonry, an art, design, and wine gallery.

Michael hosted an after-party at the gallery for those who had the energy to keep on going!
Bentley San Francisco, the Festival’s 2011 Automotive Sponsor, drew hordes of onlookers.
The Khaledis generously ensured that the Mondavi Fume Blanc and Pinot Noir flowed freely. Knowing that the evening would be long, their guests paced themselves!
At my table, Pepper and Michael Jackson of Palm Beach and Napa told me they planned to attend every Festival event.
Festival major benefactors Athena and Timothy Blackburn.
Colby Smith and Martha Bredon, a Festival senior consultant.
Dr. Gary Stein and Marsha Monro. “You can only entertain this way in Napa, where there are no bugs and no humidity,” she said.
The VIP dinner was served family-style. We passed huge bowls of a variety of salads, such as this duck confit with roasted sunchokes, platters of grilled salmon, and a cornbread cake for desert.
David Foster and The Canadian Tenors.
Groups of families and friends enjoyed a perfect evening: wonderful music on a balmy night —not chilly, because the fog never rolled down the hills.
Dr. Melina Jampolis and Benjamin Oberman. Jampolis of CNN’s Fit-TV presented a wellness program at Bardessono, a boutique hotel in Yountville.
Jeanne Lawrence, IMG Artists’ Charles Letourneau, executive producers of the Festival, and Maria Manetti Farrow.
Daru Kawalkowski and Michelle Cheatham.
Stephanie Lawrence was in the crowd that flocked to the family concert. Some lucky youngsters got manicures.
Many concertgoers brought their own chairs and blankets, and held a picnic on the lawn.
Singer Babyface. Pop Star Charice afterwards tweeted “I feel a lil sad leaving Napa. I’ve really had fun.”
The musical evening brought the crowd to their feet.
Sunday—Vintner’s Lunch at Kuleto Estate
  
We drove over to the Vintner’s Luncheon at Kuleto Estate, the creation of culinary entrepreneur Pat Kuleto. For over 30 years, he has helped developed over 170 restaurants, including the top-ranked Boulevard and Farallon in San Francisco.

Relaxed and content after the splendid meal and the wonderful concert, no one was in a hurry to leave. We stayed for a long while sipping wine in the peaceful countryside, just as we might have done had we been in Tuscany. 
Getting to the mountaintop Kuleto Estate was an adventure. After passing through the gates, we followed another two miles of narrow road.
Pat Kuleto transformed the 761-acre former cattle ranch into a rustic Tuscan-style country estate with a stone winery, vineyards, orchards, and gardens.
Kuleto, who still lives on the property, is the public face of the vineyard, though he sold the estate to Foley Family Wines several years ago.
The wine cellar looks as if it could be in Tuscany.
At a tasting in the caves, guests sampled wines such as Indian Ink and Frog’s Prince, a Bordeaux-style wine.
We sat at tables shaded by the old-growth live oaks, which remain green all year, and enjoyed a typical Tuscan lunch.
A perfect Italian meal: organic chicken roasted in the pizza oven, Tuscan bread salad, cannellini bean salad, braised greens, and fresh summer berries with zabaglione sauce.
Tatiana and Gerret Copeland with Matt Wood, VP of Foley Wines.
A group from LA including Grammy Awards executives.
More of the Grammy executives. Dorothy Jeffries, a Festival supporter since the first year.
Jan Shrem, Tatiana Copeland, Gerret Copeland, and Maria Manetti Farrow, all festival founders.
Holly Krassner with her husband Dan Dawson, owner of Back Room Wines, and Venus David with her husband Narsai David, the KCBS food expert.
Hannah Blumenstiel, Terrence Mulligan, Trina Martynowicz, Doug Mandell, and Garry McGuire.
Always prepared!
Concert at Lincoln Theater
 
Then we dashed off to hear a concert by the Russian National Orchestra (RNO) at the 1,200-seat Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

The conductor was Stéphane Denève, who has been Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s musical director since 2005.  
 
Soprano Nino Machaidze performed with Italian baritone Guido Loconsolo—who I hear are an offstage couple as well. The performance was enchanting, especially their playful version of Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore.”
We drove through the wonderful old trees to reach Yountville’s Lincoln Theater, on the grounds of the Veterans Center, site of the RNO’s concert.
The Russian National Orchestra’s (RNO) was in residence again this year, made possible by major grants by long-time supporters, Tatiana and Gerret Copeland, and Athena and Timothy Blackburn, along with Gordon Getty.

Naturally, the RNO included a piece by the great Sergei Rachmaninoff, who also happens to be Tatiana Copeland’s great-uncle. Their powerful rendition of Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 drew a standing ovation.
There were several free concerts featuring the US Army and RNO brass quintets together to pay tribute to WWII veterans.
Stéphane Denève conducted the Russian National Orchestra.
Cellist and Festival founder Nina Kotova with her child Balthazar and brother Oliver Poole. Festival Supporter Elizabeth Swanson and New York’s Stephanie Lawrence.
Serge and Tatiana Sorokko with Maria Manetti Farrow and Jan Shrem.
Andrew and Patrick Walker (sons of Rick Walker) have volunteered each year.
Jeanne Lawrence, Athena and Timothy Blackburn, and Sergei Troxel and Stephanie Lawrence recalled being together at the Blackburn’s’ wedding in South of France ten years ago.
Catherine Schmidt and Barbara Henry.
Michael Savage (formerly of the SF and Napa Valley Opera, and the Lincoln Theater), artist manager Robert Friedman, and Robert Cole (former Director of Cal Performances/ UC Berkeley).
Meadowood Resort Gala and Auction
 
After the concert, we went off to the luxurious Meadowood Napa Valley Resort in St. Helena for an auction and dinner under the stars.

“There’s no event like this,” said Danny Hooper, the evening’s auctioneer and entertainer. “David Foster sells out the MGM Grand night after night, but tonight you can just chat with him at his table.”

"What started as an experiment has turned into one of the nation's leading summer festivals," said Rick Walker, in drawing the evening to a close. "I'm not sure any of us imagined Festival del Sole would be such an immediate success."
The evening’s event was held at the luxury Meadowood Resort, surrounded by vineyards. Here you have a choice of golf, tennis, swimming, spa, and fine dining available.
The men were asked to wear white dinner jackets and the women to wear white gowns, so as recreate the atmosphere of Golden Era Hollywood.
Festival del Sole’s Director Rick Walker. Festival founder and Artistic Director Barrett Wissman.
The Canadian Tenors.
Vintners Duane and Susan Hoff of Fantesca Estate and Winery competed against Michael Polenske, proprietor of Blackbird Vineyards, and Kimberly Miller.
Sheri Siegel, Alton Irby III, and glamorous Daru Kawalkowski, who also dressed the part in her Princess Diaries cameo. Ortwin Krueger and Patricia Krueger, the former New Hampshire State Senator.
More supporters.
Serge and Tatiana Sorokko, Suzanne and Mark Johnson, and Alexander Shustorovich.
Founders Barrett Wissman and Nina Kotova with Soprano Nino Machaidze and Baritone Guido Loconsolo. Greg and Petra Martin invited musicians such as Joyce Yang to practice at the concert grand in their home.
Venus and Narsai David with Lisa and John Grotts.
Tatiana Copeland and Gerret Copeland flank Stéphane Denève and Asa Denève. Four years ago, the Denèves were married at the Copelands’ Bouchaine Vineyards.
Singer Donna Summer sat at David Foster’s table.
Columnist Carolyne Zinko and Katherine Bigelow. Olga Sadovskaya and Sergei Troxel with his mother Athena Blackburn.
David Foster with Yolanda Hadid and family.
Pepper and Michael Jackson.
One of the sponsor tables.
John McCallister, Elizabeth Swanson, and Caroline McCallister.
Karen Walker, Martha Bredon, and Susan Hutchinson.
Stephanie Lawrence and Margrit Mondavi.
Dr. Melina Jampolis and Benjamin Oberman.
Chuck Wagner, of the Caymus Vineyards family, and Nicolle Cothran.
Stephanie and Jeanne Lawrence.
Dining alfresco in perfect weather.
David Foster and Danny Hooper, the auctioneer, who kept the audience laughing and raised over $300,000 for the David Foster Foundation (which supports children needing organ transplants) and the Festival.
The most coveted auction item were tickets to the 54th Annual Grammy Awards in 2012.
Jan Shrem, who sponsored the Festival’s Vocal Arts Series, was given a birthday serenade by Foster and The Canadian Tenors. Stephanie Lawrence and Donna Summers.
Maria Manetti Farrow and Jan Shrem plunked down $80,000 together and snared those tickets!
David Foster also accompanied soprano Angel Blue in a thrilling performance.
David Foster, Donna Summers, Barrett Wissman, Nina Kotova, and Angel Blue celebrate.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence, Moanalani Jeffrey, and John Bonick.

*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.