Thursday, September 22, 2011

San Francisco Social Diary

Pride Mountain Vineyards sits on the crest of Spring Mountain, 2,000 feet above St. Helena.
by Jeanne Lawrence

NAPA VALLEY—In Part I of this story about the ten-day Napa Valley Festival del Sole, I reported on some of the food, music and classical wine events of the opening weekend. Here are some highlights from the remainder of the Festival.


The private concert by the RNO Camerata at Pride Mountain Vineyards — founded by Jim and Carolyn Pride — coincided with the winery’s 20th anniversary celebration.

“How could we not be happy with this music?” asked Tatiana Copeland, following Maxim Rubstov’s flirtatious performance of the Russian folk song “Dark Eyes.” A longtime Russian National Orchestra supporter, Tatiana is the grandniece of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Before the RNO Camerata concert, guests mingled in the romantic late-afternoon light.
The ruins of the original Summit Ranch winery, built in 1890 and destroyed by fire during Prohibition, made for a cinematic backdrop to the concert.
The appetizers—substantial enough to tide us over until dinner—were prepared by Nash Cognetti, chef/owner of Tra Vigne in St. Helena.
Pride’s Winemaker Sally Johnson; Chef Nash Cognetti of Tra Vigne; Pride Mountain Co-owner Suzanne Pride Bryan; and Mike Campbell, Pride’s hospitality chief.
The grandes dames of Napa Valley: Margrit Mondavi and Carolyn Pride.
Shahpar Khaledi and her husband Darioush, chairman of the Festival Board.
Olga Sadovskaya with Timothy and Athena Blackburn.
Jan Shrem, Colleen LeMasters, Sanford Theodore, and Maria Manetti Farrow.
Jeanne Lawrence, Gerret Copeland, and Kimberly Miller, and Michael Polenske.
Linda and Quent Cordair. Alexander Shustorovich, an IMG principal, and Ron Oehl.
Stuart Bryan, Fred Schrader, Carol Schrader, and Carolyn Pride.
Ortwin and Pat Krueger (former New Hampshire State Senator) with Russ and Kathy Spain.
Daniel Diaz with Lisa and John Grotts.
Vida Vazin, Gina Gallo, Jean-Charles Boisset, Nina Wemyss, Lynn Fritz, and Peggy Rawls.
Festival Director Rick Walter and Artistic Director Barrett Wissman had searched for a “ghost vineyard” as a concert venue. “Finding these ruins at Pride is a dream come true,” Rick said. RNO principal flute Maxim Rubstov dedicated a performance of Rachmaninoff's “Vocalise” for wind quintet to Athena Blackburn.
Musicians of the RNO Camerata seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we enjoyed them.
Being surrounded by the stone walls of a former winery enhanced the concert; we could sense the historic spirit of the Napa Valley.

In her welcome, Suzanne Pride Bryan, whose parents founded Pride Mountain Vineyards, toasted her parents’ vision. Gina Gallo, of another prominent winemaking family, toasted “all the pioneers who brought us here.”

Suzanne made the evening extra-special by introducing many of the local vintners, who each talked briefly about their wines. I think all of us felt as if we were being welcomed into the wine “family.”
Half of Pride Mountain’s 235 acres of vineyards lie in the Napa Valley and the other half in Sonoma.
Stuart Bryan, husband of Suzanne Pride Bryan, noted that the vineyard’s motto is “One ranch—two counties.” It straddles the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, two competing winemaking regions.

The centerpiece of the evening was the dinner itself, prepared by celebrated San Francisco chef Gary Danko. His honors include a James Beard Foundation “Best Chef – California” award.

Our group was grateful to the Festival for providing buses to drive us up Spring Mountain Road and its five miles of winding roads to the top where the winery is located. We were even more grateful that they drove us down, after an evening of eating and drinking.
“Our bisected vineyard gives us a split personality,” joked Stuart Bryan.
We took in the aromas of wine and oak as we walked through the impressive caves that are 1/3 mile long and built into the mountainside.  
For the multi-course California-style dinner, Gary Danko used seasonal and locally-sourced food.
Vintner Jean-Charles Boisset, Maria Manetti Farrow, Chef Gary Danko, and Jeanne Lawrence. (It was Maria who convinced Gary to participate in the Festival.)
Dinner was held on the winery’s terrace, overlooking the vineyards.
Like the food, the flower arrangements were seasonal and locally sourced.
Asparagus salad with dungeness crab, avocado, corn and mustard tarragon vinaigrette was paired with with 2009 Pride Mountain Vineyards Viognier. Roast quail stuffed with wild mushrooms, foie gras, and bing cherries, served with a 2006 and 2008 Merlot, was just a prelude to the main course of roast bison loin.
In a nod to the Pride family’s Scottish roots, a lone bagpiper played as we seated ourselves for dinner. Some of my male tablemates confessed to getting goose bumps and being moved to tears.
We got up from the table to watch the majestic sunset in the west behind the vineyards.
The sun setting over the Pride Mountain vineyards was spectacular.
As waiters serve the red wine, Stuart Bryan urged us to give it a swirl and “Swallow your Pride.”
So of course we did!
Margrit Mondavi, Robert Mondavi’s widow, made a toast.
“California wine is my new religion,” joked Dr. Pierre Duplessis, my dinner partner, visiting from Canada.
For its 20th anniversary celebration, the Prides were generous with their wine. These are just some of the bottleswe polished off.
Concert at Castello di Amorosa

An evening concert at the Castello di Amorosa featured violinist Sarah Chang and the Russian National Orchestra.

Chang, a former prodigy, made her NY Philharmonic debut at 8. Her exuberant, swaying performance of West Side Story Suite for violin and orchestra was lovely to listen to and fun to watch.

Another prodigy — he asked his non-musical family for a piano when he was just five — Israeli Omer Meir Wellber, now 29, conducted the RNO in his U.S. debut. He’s a protégée of Daniel Barenboim, principal conductor of La Scala in Milan.
The Castello di Amorosa, a 13th century Tuscan-style castle and winery, was built by Dario Sattui. A fourth-generation vintner, he also owns V. Sattui Winery.
Erin Dempsey and husband Joshua Dempsey represented the luxury resort Calistoga Ranch, one of the Festival’s official sponsors and host of many of the performing artists.
The castle, which has 107 rooms, a moat, a drawbridge, and a church, has a commanding view. To build it took more than 8,000 tons of local stone and 850,000 imported European bricks.
The castle’s Great Hall is covered with frescoes and has a 22-foot coffered ceiling.
Interior Designer Steven Volpe, Asa Denève and Maestro Stephen Denève, and Stephanie Lawrence.
Maria Manetti Farrow, Jan Shrem (owner of Clos Pegase Winery), Christian and Cherise Moueix (owners of Pétrus and Dominus Winery), Jeanne Lawrence, and Steven Volpe.
In the castle courtyard, the RNO performed selections from Beethoven and Prokofiev.
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber, the newly appointed music director of Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts in Valencia, Spain, also conducts for the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra. Violinist Sarah Chang.
The audience cheered the young and glamorous performer Sarah Chang and conductor Omer Meir Wellber.
During intermission, patrons were invited to a wine tasting on the turreted terrace.
Dr. Jason Bazilian with his wife Dr. Wendy Bazilian, a diet/fitness expert who was the featured speaker at the wellness program at the Solage Calistoga. Festival Board Member Michael Polenske of Blackbird Vineyards, and Kimberly Miller.
Joshua Dempsey, Gary Danko, Jeanne Lawrence, and Greg Lopez.
The Castello at sunset, at the end of the performance.

At Raymond Vineyards on Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena, Jean-Charles Boisset and Gino Gallo hosted a memorable evening. The couple has brought panache and pizzazz from France—and a bit of Vegas glitz — to the Napa Valley. At the sight of all the shine and glitter, one awed guest simply muttered, “Surreal!”

Chef Michael Cornu outdid himself with a European-style menu and European-style late service. We were still dining well past midnight and enjoying every last minute of it. Certainly I was!

My Golden Door Spa nutritionist Dr. Wendy Bazilian never said a word as she watched me eat a meal that included foie gras, escargot wrapped in pastry, steak with bordelaise sauce, and chocolate cake. And she just laughed at the sight of all the wine glasses stacked in front of my plate. I didn’t regret a morsel.
Darioush Khaledi and Conductor Stéphane Denève arrive after the concert at Raymond Vineyards.
Gordon and Ann Getty with host Jean-Charles Boisset.
Karen and Rick Walker, Director of Festival del Sole, and long-time supporter Dorothy Jeffries.
Rita and Antonio Castellucci. Athena and Timothy Blackburn.
Stephanie Lawrence, Jeanne Lawrence, Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, Cellist Nina Kotova, and major supporter Jan Shrem.
Catherine Schmidt with Neil and Karen Aldoroty. Robbie Schmidt and Michael Madden.
Attitude adjustment was required when we went directly from a classical music concert in a castle courtyard into the James Bond-inspired “Goldfinger” Room where a Lady Gaga rocked on screen.
One of the many private tasting rooms at Raymond Vineyards.
Boisset collects Baccarat and the giant Baccarat chandelier is the only one of the showstoppers in the Crystal Cellar, where the wine is aging (in stainless steel vats) but the showgirls aren’t.
Over 100 of us sat at the mirrored infinity table to be thoroughly indulged with fine food and wine.
In May 2011, Jean-Charles Boisset acquired Buena Vista Carneros. Founded in 1857, it’s one of the oldest Napa Valley vineyards. Our multi-course dinner was perfectly paired with the wines of which Jean-Charles is understandably proud.
Escargots Pithiviers, Chervil Sauce.
Prime Beef Tenderloin, Veal Filet and Sweetbread Crépinette, Garden Vegetables, Bordelaise Bone Marrow Cabernet Sauce.
Opera Cake, Chocolate Popcorn, Vanilla Bean Sauce.
At Raymond Vineyards we enjoyed a mini concert with trumpets, clarinets, pianists and opera singers.
Gordon Getty volunteered to sing, too.
Overhead projections of movie classics like Fellini’s “8-1/2” added to the festive atmosphere.
Conductor/Pianist Omer accompanied Tenor Francesco Demuro in a spontaneous serenade for Maria Manetti Farrow. When they performed her favorite “Parlami d’amore mariu, Torna a Sorrento,” she was on Cloud Nine.
Cellist Nina Kotova, Festival Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, and hosts Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset.
Doesn’t everyone look remarkably bright and cheery, considering that this photo was taken past midnight and we’d all partied for hours?
I called this “the night of 1001 wine glasses.” (I wonder if they’re still being washed!)

Late afternoon, we attended the second annual Dance Gala, Stars of American and Russian Ballet, which featured principal dancers from some of the world’s great companies and was sponsored by Festival Benefactor Dede Wilsey.

The after-performance dinner was at Quintessa, founded 1989. On the Silverado Trail in the Rutherford Appellation, the winery was the vision of its founders, Valeria and Agustin Huneeus.
I greatly admire the crescent-shaped award-winning design of the winery. Built of local tufa stone, it seems to merge with the landscape without detracting from the area’s natural beauty.
The presence of the RNO had drawn many Russian-speaking guests. At my table, Alexander Shustorovich, a principal of IMG Artists, introduced his father Evgeny and mother Maria Shustorovich, who is on the advisory board of the Metropolitan Opera. He’d brought them from New York and—sentimental me—this made me like him immediately.

Dancer Maxim Beloserkovsky declined any wine. His doctor says it dries out one’s ligaments.
Barrett Wissman carried the cello he’d generously bought for his wife, Nina. It was once owned by the late, renowned Jacqueline du Pré.
Guests gathered on the lawn overlooking a pond, surrounded by acres of vineyards, amid flickering lights of paper lanterns—a magical setting.
Margrit Mondavi with Craig and Kathryn Hall, of Hall Napa Valley. Kathryn was former ambassador to Austria.
Ann Getty and Maria Manetti Farrow.
Gordon Getty, Norman Mains, and Ginna Beharry.
Stephanie Lawrence, Jeanne Lawrence, Maria Manetti Farrow, Francesco Mazzei, and Dr. Janice Zakin and John Zakin.
Bradley and Brady Stewart.
Gary and Sandra Schnitzer (R) with friends
Dancers Vitor Luiz and Lorena Feijoo, and Dede Wilsey, in whose honor the Dance Series is named.
Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, patron Jan Shrem, and Alexander Shustorovich, an IMG principal.
Dede Wilsey and dancer Maxim Beloserkovsky. Serge and Tatiana Sorokko.
Tables were lined up like rows of vineyards in the garden, where guests enjoyed summer’s first cool evening.
Chef Richard Visconte created a perfect summer menu. Salmon ceviche with spiced quinoa served with Quintessa Sauvignon Blanc was followed by grilled lamb sirloin with rosemary sauce.
Dessert was a chocolate pyramid.
We were feted by music before dinner.
Nina Kotova, Svetlana Vladimirova, and Agustin Huneeus gave the pre-dinner performance.
Joan Gamble, George Fullerton, and Stephene McKeen.
Shahpar and Darioush Khaledi.
Garry and Nathalie McGuire.
The evening was festive, the dinner and wines superb, and the setting magical.

Sunday was the last night of the Festival, and on stage at Lincoln Theater Festival executive producer Charles Letourneau said the moment was bittersweet: Though sad the Festival was drawing to a close, he was happy to announce that this year’s attendance had increased 30 percent.

To begin the final performance, Omer Meir Wellber conducted the RNO and pianist Joyce Yang in Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.” At intermission Gerret Copeland held aloft a glass of wine from his Bouchaine winery, and exclaimed “Yang has power in those hands.”

The program continued with performances by Georgian soprano Aleksandra Kurzak and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro, who made his Festival debut in 2010.
Pianist Joyce Yang performed at the final night of the Festival del Sole. Joyce was accompanied by the RNO that was conducted by Omer Meir Wellber.
The evening enjoyed a surprise ending. In celebration of their agent Gianluca Macheda’s birthday, Omer and Francesco, along with Aleksandra, gave us a more fun, personal, and lively performance.
The audience thrilled by the by some of their favorite arias, and the combination of great talent and great music, gave the performers five standing ovations.
“What a hoot,” said Margaret Mondavi, “the ambassadress of the Napa Valley.” The audience enjoyed this added surprise performance at the end.
Francesco Demuro, Omer Meir Wellber, Aleksandra Kurzak, Barrett Wissman and Nina Kotova celebrate the success of the closing performance.

The final dinner and gala was at Cardinale, a winery I’d often seen from Highway 29 and had always hoped to visit.

We concurred that the 10-day Festival del Sole was perfection: The events were elegant and flawlessly organized, the music and food world-class, the weather cooperative and the Napa Valley scenery idyllic.
The closing dinner was hosted by Cardinale, thanks to winemaker Chris Carpenter.
The Festival venues, each its particular charm, give ticket-holders unprecedented introductions to the best of the wineries, the vintner/owners, and their wines.

The infectious warmth and hospitality of the Napa Valley create an intimate, relaxed atmosphere in which guests and performers mingled easily. The final evening felt like a family affair—everyone was bonding, switching chairs, eating off one another’s plates, laughing and chatting.

I’ve already inked in next year’s Festival on my calendar. And so should you.
Bentley, a Festival sponsor, provided cars for pickups at the San Francisco Airport and transport to Napa for many of the performers. That’s what I call luxurious service!
A limited-production Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend was served on the deck overlooking the vineyards.
Stephanie Lawrence, Maria Manetti Farrow, and Festival Director Rick Walker.
Members of the Napa Valley Youth Symphony performed chamber music for the VIPs.
Stephanie Lawrence, Ron Fenolio, Pam and Dick Kramlich, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Farrow. Claire Stull and Jose Nazar.
Athena Blackburn, soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, and Timothy Blackburn.
Jeanne Lawrence and Stephanie Lawrence.
Margrit Mondavi with Maria and Evgeny Shustorovich.
Gianluca Macheda, Festival Artistic Director Barrett Wissman, his wife cellist Nina Kotova, and tenor Francesco Demuro.
Omer Meir Wellber, Stephanie Lawrence, and Franceso and Vittoria Demuro. Gianluca Macheda, the agent for Demuro and Kurzak, celebrated his birthday.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence, Moanalani Jeffrey, John Bonick, and Charles Rivas.

*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.