This week we kicked off the first of several weeks of “Harvest Boot Camp” at Amici Cellars. We welcomed friends from around the country that want to get a true insider’s view of how a Napa Valley harvest works–and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard to get that view! The first week of Harvest Boot Camp was a busy one: the crew’s days were filled with early morning harvests in the vineyards, sorting stems and leaves from grapes at the sorting table, building barrels, touring vineyards, cleaning winery equipment — and, of course, plenty of fun times with good food and wine to celebrate their hard work. On Friday we sent our first crew off to the airport, with purple-stained fingers, tired and happy after five days of hard work, and (hopefully) full of great stories to tell their co-workers back home. Now to greet the next crew!
What do you get when you take 10 different wines, and add 1 gourmet food truck and 60 friends from around the country? You get one fun night. We welcomed our friends from Total Wine & More at the winery on Wednesday night for our annual chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and taste through Amici’s current and upcoming releases together. Famous burger purveyor Gott’s Roadside sent their mobile catering truck and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening of gourmet burgers and ahi tacos, wine (and margaritas — no man lives on wine alone!). It was the kind of beautiful, warm evening beneath the Palisades mountain range that makes everyone want to move to Calistoga and never leave. A warm thank you to Total Wine & More for making time for us during their whirlwind tour of Napa & Sonoma this week–hosting this group has become an annual highlight for Amici and an evening that we truly enjoy!
For more photos of the evening, view the photo album.
August is the perfect month for backyard parties, and a wine country-themed party is always a winner, no matter where you live. We recently threw a fantastic “wine country style barbeque” for a friend’s birthday – at a location two hours from Napa Valley. Here are a few tips for adding a touch of wine country to your party, wherever it is:
It was our pleasure to host Uchi Restaurant Group of Texas at our winery guesthouse last weekend. Renowned Napa Valley chef Morgan Robinson of Smoke Open Fire prepared a fantastic meal outside under the oak trees and everyone had a wonderful evening.
Chef Tyson Cole has brought his Uchi Restaurants (Uchi in Austin and Houston, Uchiko in Austin) to national prominence serving fresh, inventive and beautiful dishes at his Japanese restaurants.
A great example of Chef Cole’s fresh and creative cooking, courtesy of Chef Cole and the Wall Street Journal, is his recipe for Asparagus Three Ways with Fried Capers. It’s not always easy to find a wine pairing for asparagus, but with the addition of briny capers and creamy eggs yolks, this dish makes a lovely pairing with the 2012 Amici Sauvignon Blanc.
Auction Napa Valley 2013 will long be held as a benchmark year for the event with its staggering $16.9 million in funds raised, more than 60% greater than the previous high water mark. It was a year to remember, to be sure. But amidst all the glamour of the auction, amidst its happily frenzied bidding on lots featuring sports cars, exotic trips, and some of the finest wine and food imaginable, it’s sometimes easy to forget why we all gather for this 4-day bacchanalia on the first weekend of June every year. We do it to support the neediest in our community.
The Napa Valley may be world-famous as the source of some wonderful wines, but we in the valley have to remind ourselves often that none of our success would be possible without the thousands of underprivileged workers that live and work here. With land going for up to $300,000 per acre, the Napa Valley is not exactly the most affordable agricultural community in which these workers find themselves. These hard workers that support the wine economy perform a variety of important tasks: they’re cellar workers, restaurant dishwashers, hotel cleaning staff and migrant farmworkers that prune and harvest the vineyards.
The migrant farmworkers in particular perform important tasks under what can be harsh living conditions. While 75% of the grapes in California are picked by machine, in Napa Valley roughly 75% are picked by hand. This means that come harvest, thousands of workers are needed to get those grapes immediately from the vineyards to the crushpad. Experts estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 migrant farmworkers live in Napa Valley, many seasonally. A lack of beds, particularly in decades past, has meant that migrant farmworkers were often living in makeshift camps in the woods, under bridges, in cars, or bunking six or more men to a bedroom.
Thankfully, life for migrant farmworkers in Napa has improved dramatically from years past and is far better than most agricultural communities. Through the work of Napa Valley Housing Authority and other important organizations, for about $12 a day many of these workers can have a shower and a hot meal when they return from the vineyards, and sleep in a clean bed in a shared room.
In 2002 vineyard owners voted to assess themselves $10 per acre to create a program which helps house and feed migrant fieldworkers. Those tax revenues along with donations contribute to provide a wide safety net for these workers, including not just housing and food, but healthcare and job placement. While in other farming communities migrant fieldworkers are sadly exploited, paid little and charged exorbitant living expenses, in Napa hourly wages for fieldworkers are an average of 9% higher than the rest of California.
It’s satisfying to be part of a community that recognizes the importance of the often unheard group that supports our economy. As a whole, the community of vineyard owners and winemakers in Napa understands and appreciates that we couldn’t be successful without these workers. Every year the proceeds from Auction Napa Valley go to programs that support this community of workers and their families, helping with everything from housing and food to medical care and after school programs. With all of its glitz and glamour the auction is certainly a fun time, but every year it’s the end result that makes it worth it.
The e-auction for the Napa Valley Wine Auction kicks off today! Check out our lot #304: a weekend for 6 in the Amici guesthouse, wine tastings, private lunch and loads of excellent wine to take home. Guaranteed it’ll be a great time for some lucky bidder!
Last weekend we had the chance to host what has become tradition for Amici, the 3rd annual Amici/Las Lomitas Education Foundation fundraiser. As anyone who lives in California knows, our public schools in this state need all the help they can get these days, and this fundraiser has been a great way to raise funds for the public school district in Menlo Park and Atherton area. Parents and wine lovers at the event were the first to get to try all three 2011 single vineyard barrel samples side by side. Also in the line-up was the pre-release 2010 Amici Reserve Napa Valley Cab , as well as all of our new spring releases. It was a great line-up of wines, a fun evening and, best of all, with 25% of all proceeds going straight to the school foundation, thousand of dollars were raised for public school programs. Sounds like a win-win-win to us!
Last week we had the pleasure in taking part in an exploratory “terroir” tasting of Cabernets from six of the 16 appellations in the Napa Valley. While the concept of terroir comes to us from France, arguably there is no better place to explore it and taste it in the glass than here in the Napa Valley.
Terroir is an imprecise concept of how the geography, geology and climate of a specific grape-growing location can affect the resulting wine. The relatively tiny Napa Valley, just 1/8 the size of Bordeaux and only 30 miles long by 5 miles wide, offers winegrowers a dizzying array of elements that create vastly different terroir from one appellation, and even one vineyard, to the next.
Our tiny valley has 100 different soil variations and fully half of the world’s soil orders. With five mountains surrounding the valley and volcanic knolls throughout, as well as the Pacific Ocean sitting 30 miles to the west, the valley contains micro-climates of valley and hillside vineyards facing all different directions, some cooled by ocean fog sneaking in, some much warmer. Vineyard soils can be alluvial, volcanic, clay, loam or other. Add the winemaker’s influence into that mix, and what you have is a concoction of almost infinite variables influencing a wine’s terroir.
Tasting Cabernet Sauvignons from various Napa appellations side by side is an entertaining, always-educational exercise that I highly recommend for anyone interested in wine. The six wines we tasted last week, every one of them an exceptional and delicious wine, spanned a wide variety of flavors and profiles: some showed red perfumey fruit, others deeper black fruits, some tannins were gripping and powerful, others were velvety.
At Amici in addition to our Napa Valley blends, we love to create vineyard-specific wines that allow people to explore in-depth the characteristics of the sub-appellations of Napa Valley. From Spring Mountain to Rutherford Bench to Oakville, we have an exciting array of vineyard-specific wines in the bottle and in the barrel now. Each one has its own distinct personality, an expression of its terroir, waiting to be expressed when the cork is pulled.
Special thanks to those involved in this tasting: it was organized by the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma (CANVAS), led by the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and hosted at the beautiful Alpha Omega Winery.
Those of you who follow this blog know that for several months we’ve been hard at work finishing up the event space at our guest house, and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. We’re calling it “Palisades View,” and now that it’s done we’re happy to spread the word about what a stunning location this is for wine country events. Surrounded by breathtaking views of the Palisades Mountain range, and studded with mature oak and olive trees, Palisades View is truly a one-of-a-kind space. We took some recent photos from the last week or two and dropped them into a video slideshow to show guests what they can expect when they visit.
Click below for a video slideshow:
This week 55 managers from Total Wine & More stores from around the country made their annual pilgrimage to Napa and Sonoma to meet winery principals, tour vineyards and taste new releases. For several years it’s been our pleasure to host the group for an afternoon of tasting Amici wines, and we always enjoy our time with this consistently fun and gracious group of people. This year, when we heard that Total Wine & More was giving us a coveted slot on Wednesday night to host the group for dinner, we were delighted.
The temperature in Calistoga topped out at 96 degrees on Wednesday afternoon, so as the buses groaned up our steep driveway and the store managers filed out, they couldn’t wait to get inside the cool winery, where we tasted and discussed current and upcoming releases. We finished off our tastings with a side-by-side exploration of barrel and stainless fermented Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet which everyone found fun and educational.
The party really started when we walked down from the winery to the guest house grounds and were greeted by course after course of magnificent food from Chef Lars Kronmark (Senior Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America) and Chef John Fink (chef-owner of The Whole Beast). The Palisades Mountain range lit up in fiery oranges and purples at sunset, and the balmy evening was so pleasant that no one wanted the gathering to end. We said our goodbyes to our friends new and old as they got on their buses en route to their hotel, and are hoping for a repeat of this great night next year.