A Taste of Napa Valley

The destination alone was enough to entice any foodie or oenophile. But in the heart of wine country, the second annual Flavor! Napa Valley festival delivered more than a mere taste of the region’s top chefs and vintners. Attendees experienced a veritable feast of demonstrations, tastings and dinners, featuring an impressive array of Napa Valley-based celebrity chefs, restaurants, vintners, sommeliers and artisan food producers. And the locale was no less notable; most of the events took place at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone—a legend in its own right.
The Food. Event founder Chef Michael Chiarello was joined by fellow Napa Valley chefs that would top any Who’s Who list. Festival-goers, for instance, could hear Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry, expound on the importance of selecting fresh produce or learn the art of making sushi alongside Chef Masaharu Morimoto. And when Chiarello wasn’t teaming up with Chef Christina Kaelberer to whip up Italian pasta and pastries, you might find him doing “battle” with CIA graduate Geoffrey Zakarian; their “Food Fight!” saw each chef loading his opponent’s basket with locally-sourced ingredients, then racing against the clock to create the best dish. Other distinguished CIA grads featured in the weekend’s lineup included Scott Conant, Johnny Iuzzini, Charlie Palmer as well as the much-celebrated Larry Forgione. Known as the “godfather of American cuisine,” Forgione was honored at the opening night dinner, where eight world-renowned chefs—including his sons Marc, Sean and Bryan—created a four-course dinner that could only be described as gastronomical nirvana.
The Wine. Among the wine experts sharing their expertise were Rajat Parr, wine director of the Mina Group, and Karen MacNeil, Chairman of Professional Wine Studies at the CIA and author of The Wine Bible. Likewise, Napa Valley’s own Andrea Robinson—the first female Master Sommelier in the United States—was on hand. Throughout the weekend, they shared their vast knowledge on everything from blind tasting to Napa’s emerging cult wines. And the “Appellation Trail” event gave attendees a well-rounded taste of what the valley’s all about; more than 100 wineries were pouring everything from Albariño to Zinfandel while some of Napa Valley’s best restaurants served up tasty tidbits.

The most devoted oenophiles, though, took part in “Legends of Napa Valley,” a two-day tasting of wines that have put Napa Valley on the map, reaching back to the post-Prohibition wines of the 1940s and going through to present-day superstars. Featured picks on the first day alone included the ’57 Louis Martini Pinot Noir, ’66 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, ’76 Joseph Phelps Insignia, ’78 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, ’79 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Estate
Cabernet Sauvignon, ’83 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the 2001 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs Late Disgorged bottling. On day two, this ultimate tasting experience included special tributes to legendary winegrower Andy Beckstoffer and winemaker Heidi Barrett, featuring wines from Bacio Divino Cellars, Carter Cellars, Schrader, Tor Kenward Family Wines and La Sirena as well as David Arthur Vineyards, Hundred Acre and a multitude of others. But this event was about more than just getting to taste some spectacular vintages; it was just as much about the opportunity to hear winemakers and vintners share their personal perspectives on their wines and their place in Napa Valley’s history.
The Atmosphere. While strolling through the Culinary Institute of America’s historic Greystone building in St. Helena—going from cooking demos to wine tastings to book signings by many of the renowned chefs—there were reminders all around that the building was formerly the storied Christian Brothers Winery. Considered the largest stone winery in the world when it was completed in 1889, the castle-like structure today has the reputation as one of the world’s most unique and inspiring campuses for culinary education, offering year-round programs for professionals as well as everyday enthusiasts. Somehow, it’s apropos that Flavor! Napa Valley’s setting was just as inspiring as its fare.

Editor’s Note: Flavor! Napa Valley 2013 is scheduled for November 20-24. For more information, go to flavornapavalley.com.