Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Francisco Social Diary

My delectable dessert at a luncheon at Oakville in the Napa Valley, hosted by Maria Manetti Farrow for a group of friends from Los Angeles who’d flown in for the occasion.
by Jeanne Lawrence


For years, I’ve enjoyed being a houseguest of Maria Manetti Farrow in Oakville, a prime location in the Napa Valley.

Maria spends half her time in San Francisco and the other half in her Tuscan-inspired estate called Villa Mille Rose, which means “a thousand roses,” though that’s a huge understatement!

Maria worked with a fellow Italian, Dante Bini, to recreate their native Tuscany in Napa. The estate contains a 7,500-square foot villa, a three-bedroom guesthouse, a caretaker house, a barn, and a wine cellar that can hold 4,000 bottles.
What better place to spend the summer than in Napa Valley, which is only a 90-minute car ride from San Francisco.
Villa Mille Rose Estate is ideally located halfway between the town of Napa and St. Helena. On its grounds are a 100-tree fruit orchard and five acres of Cabernet and Merlot grapes.
Also there are a two-acre “Gold Medal” olive orchard imported from Tuscany, mature gnarled oaks, cypress and formal boxwood trees, and wisteria-covered pergolas.
Guests at Villa Mille Rose were awakened to the sounds of Gregorian chants emanating from speakers in the vineyards.
We usually took long walks through the vineyards, and then dined in Maria’s enormous Tuscan kitchen, fragrant with aromas from a rotating spit in the open hearth.
Celebrated Chef Gary Danko and his crew catered a luncheon in the Tuscan kitchen with freshly picked fruits and vegetables from the garden and orchards.

During the summer Festival del Sole, Maria’s other houseguests included Sicilian tenor Francesco Demuro and his wife Vittoria. She also hosted a luncheon for a group of friends from Los Angeles who’d flown in for the occasion, which included realtor Linda May and her husband Jack Suzar, film producers Anne and Arnold Kopelson (he produced “Platoon” and “Fugitive”) and their dear friend Vicki Walters.
On the terrace with views of the vineyards and St. Helena Mountain, the tables were set with masses of roses from the 500 bushes on Maria’s estate.
We gathered in her Tuscan salon, designed for grand-scale entertaining with two wood-burning fireplaces and seating areas, one at each end.
Ginger Martin, Vicki Walters, Maria Manetti Farrow, Jan Shrem, Linda May, and Anne and Arnold Kopelson.
Arnold Kopelson, Academy-Award-winning producer of “Platoon,” hostess Maria Manetti Farrow, Jack Suzar, and Sonoma realtor Ginger Martin.
Ken Moonen, Anne Kopelson, and Vicki Walters.
Linda May, Jan Shrem, owner of Clos Pegas Winery, and Jeanne Lawrence.
The ingredients from lunch came from Maria’s organic fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, and homemade pasta.
After lunch, we gathered in the grand salon for coffee with Maria’s other houseguest, Italian tenor Francesco Demuro, who was rehearsing for the Festival del Sole.
As we chatted, to our delight, Francesco spontaneously began to sing arias from various Italian operas.
“I’ve rarely heard such power; it brought tears to my eyes,” said Arnold Kopelson.
“And he’s so handsome,” piped in Linda May. She said she could actually feel the vibrations from his singing. “I sing with passion,” Francesco explains, “because I believe in what I’m singing.” He and his wife Vittoria are the parents of four lovely children.
On another musical day, Festival Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber practiced the piano in Maria’s villa.

Regrettably, this may have been our last visit. Maria is ready for a change and wants to spend more time abroad, so she’s listed her 57-acre property for $35.750 million. She made her fortune as the US distributor of Gucci accessories.

Many of us are broken-hearted. We will miss not only her home, but also Maria’s largesse. She’s a generous and charming host whose houseguests over the past 26 years have included such international figures as Mariinsky Theatre Director Valery Gergiev, and opera stars Renée Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo.

No one can create an atmosphere like Maria, who has entertained tout le monde in the worlds of music, art, food, wine and, of course, fashion. We’ll savor the memories of the occasions she created over the years. Here are some photographs of past events.
Valery Gergiev (conductor of the Mariinsky in Russia), Piero Antinori (of the well-known Italian wine family), Maria Manetti Farrow, Plácido Domingo, and Margrit and Robert Mondavi.
Past memories of the time when we dined under the pergola. Piero Antinori, Margrit Mondavi, Maria Manetti Farrow, Robert Mondavi, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Conductor Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, practiced on Maria’s grand piano for the Festival several years ago.
Maria has many memories from sharing her home with her many friends from around the world.


When is it okay to start drinking before lunch? When you’re taking the Saturday morning two-hour wine-tasting course at the Culinary Institute of American (CIA) Greystone.

I’ve long wanted to try the course at this Napa Valley sister school to the Hyde Park, New York CIA, and this summer my daughter Stephanie and I went together.

This is a great place to study wine tasting, since once the course is over, you can visit the vineyards and meet the winemakers, vineyard owners, and other locals involved in the wine business. I would love to return someday and take the longer CIA’s Wine Immersion program.
Greystone, home of the Napa Valley CIA, was formerly the1888 Christian Brothers Winery and once the largest stone winery in the world.
Paul Dray was the instructor for “Tasting Like a Professional.” The class levels range from beginner to professional, and courses run from a day to a week.
In the wine course, my daughter Stephanie Lawrence and I learned how to taste wine, use the spitting bowls, and look for the clarity using the light boxes.

The tasting stimulated our taste buds, and when someone mentioned the fantastic grilled artichoke at the Rutherford Grill nearby, Stephanie and I agreed to head there for lunch after class.

Afterwards, we walked to the back, where the Beaulieu Vineyards had a tasting room open to the public.

The next week, Stephanie took the one-week Boot Camp course. Her classmates included professionals, wannabes, and amateur foodies of all age and backgrounds. The course runs from 7 to 4 daily, starting early to allow time to prepare lunch for yourself and fellow classmates.

Stephanie said the course was a solid, “really intense” introduction to basic kitchen techniques and organization that covered subjects like knife skills. “I think it would be great to prepare any recent college grads (like me) for cooking in a first apartment kitchen,” she said.
The official graduation photograph of the Boot Camp students.
Greystone overlooks the vineyards across highway 29.
The Boot Camp was held in a meticulously restored former manager’s house on the property.
The historic buildings have been modernized but the original bones and stained glass windows have been left intact.
Chuck Williams, of Williams-Sonoma, funded the restoration of this old stone building and donated this display of prototype kitchenware from his private collection.
The Boot Camp cooking classes had 14 students from all walks of life.
CIA teacher/chef Sandy Dominguez.
Jeanne Lawrence with daughter Stephanie Lawrence.
Stephanie Lawrence and her diploma from the CIA After class, I took a tour of the CIA’s main building.
There was one of the largest collections of antique corkscrews in the world.
CIA Greystone sells kitchenware, cookbooks, and other food paraphernalia in its boutique.
A view of one of the many kitchens, where the more intense and professional course take place.

After Stephanie picked up her certificate, we went over to the restaurant on the Greystone campus. The professional students work there for practice.

Stephanie had already eaten the lunch she’d prepared, but I dined on the perfect meal: “Today’s Temptations,” small bites prepared by the chef that change daily. I wish I could eat like all the time!
Greystone Restaurant on the grounds of the CIA campus.
You can dine outside overlooking the vineyards or inside ...
In Berkeley in the summer of 2011, I hosted a birthday dinner for Maria Manetti Farrow. For a lady who bottles her own wine, produces her own olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and hosts celebrated chefs, I needed a very special venue.
The choice was easy: Chez Panisse, which Alice Waters created as a casual place to serve friends fresh, tasty cuisine like the food she’d enjoyed in France. It quickly became and has remained one of America’s top places to dine.

This year it celebrated its 40th anniversary—an extraordinarily long run in the restaurant business.
The view from the Bay Bridge traveling from San Francisco to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, a 20-minute drive in light traffic. 
Serendipitously, Alice was in the kitchen the night of my party. She came to our table to pay respects to one of the birthday guests, Margrit Mondavi, the wife of the late Robert Mondavi—a couple who were considered the “ambassadors” for the Napa Valley and California wines.  (When I saw these two together, I knew I had to record the occasion for NYSD).
Alice is credited for inspiring what’s now called California cuisine, which uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. With nine books to her credit, she’s a food activist who’s also a prime mover in the Slow Food Movement. 
I questioned why California cuisine began in Berkeley. I was told that one factor was the large concentration of various suppliers—fishermen, farmers, and wineries—in the Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma regions. The other was that the university town had a well-traveled, sophisticated populace who were adventurous eaters.
Chez Panisse is in an Arts and Crafts house on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. When I pick up friends coming to SF at the Oakland Airport, we always dine here.
Chez Panisse gets its food supply from a network of local farmers, ranchers and dairies that are dedicated to sustainable agriculture.
For birthday girl Maria Manetti Farrow, artist Margrit Mondavi hand-made this card.
Margrit Mondavi and Alice Waters, two major figures in the food and wine world. Margrit congratulated Alice on her portrait being hung at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.
The largest table at Chez Panisse seats eight. You can call no more than a month in advance, so I placed a call at 9 a.m. on the permitted day to snag my reservation! 
Margrit Mondavi and Pam Kramlich.
Alice Waters, Chef David Tanis, and Jeanne Lawrence. Chez Panisse celebrated its 40th anniversary with a series of food and wine events to fund Alice’s current passion, the “Edible Schoolyard,” an organic garden and kitchen project for youth.
I saw Hanna and Jim Petersen, celebrating their anniversary at the chef’s table in the kitchen of Chez Panisse and decided to put a similar experience on my “bucket list.”
In the restaurant, we dined on Chino Ranch green beans and shell beans vinaigrette, Local King salmon a la plancha, and Spit roasted Becker Lane Farm pork loin with roasted chanterelle mushrooms, sweet corn, and baby turnips.
In the casual café upstairs, you can order a la carte, even a pizza. In the downstairs more formal restaurant, there is a single, prix fixe menu that changes daily depending on what’s in season. 
Maria Manetti Farrow and Jan Shrem, founder of Clos Pegase Winery.
Jim Uyeda, Margrit Mondavi, and Ken Moonen heading home.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence

*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.