On Thursday night 03/13/08, international womens charity organization Spark and the Napa Valley Vintners lit up the Rotunda and accompanying floors of San Francisco City Hall and provided quite a night of charity, wine and beats. “Nightlife Napa Valley,” hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners to benefit Spark was a huge and sold-out success.
Click for a larger view.Spark was started in 2004 by Founder and Founding President, Maya Garcia. Along with fellow co-founders Nealan Afsari, Rohini Gupta, Karen Hennessey, Fiona Hsu, Mona Motwani and my long-time friend Kathleen Kelly, Garcia set out to start empowering and celebrating young women around the world who are trying to change their local communities for the better. Their work covers four areas of support: Community Building, Education, Advocacy and Grant-Making. In just a few short years, Spark has had a tremendous number of global successes, starting with providing desperately needed support to a burgeoning support group by and for Rwandan genocide widows, to most recently beginning grant support for the local OASIS for Girls that holistically supports young immigrant and low income girls with no-cost resources and programs that span the arts to job and leadership training in the SOMA district of San Francisco.
Napa Valley Vintners is the non-profit trade association that has taken on the important task of protecting and promoting the wine, land and wineries of the Napa Valley Appellation. Their mission is multi-fold: protect the terroir and integrity of Napa Valley wines and wineries, promote the wine region around the world and educate the wine drinking populace about the incredible wines that list the Napa Valley and its sub-appellations as their place of origin.
I arrived at City Hall a little early that night, perhaps a bit anxious to get the promise of such a wonderful evening started as early as possible. I walked over from Civic Center BART and hopped up the front steps and quickly made my way through the metal detectors at the entrance.
Once inside and finished checking in, I was immediately taken in by the substantial beauty of the building. I found this rather surprising, seeing as how I had already briefed myself on the many outstanding wines that I was about to enjoy and I rarely turn down the chance to get started tasting good wine. Regardless, my initial attention for the first few minutes was spent merely walking around the main hall and viewing the architecture. City Hall recently finished a full renovation in 1999 for both safety and historical restoration and preservation and the Hall looks incredible.
After getting my self-tour completed, while also getting a good mental image of where all of the wineries were located on the two floors, I began looking around for a good start to my evening of tasting. Generally, when I go to an event or I’m at a party that has a wide variety of wine open and available, I like to start drinking the same way that Beth and I like to start a meal…with bubbly! I was in luck, one of my favorite producers of domestic sparkling wine was in attendance and not messing around with their choices of wines to pour that night. Schramsberg was pouring four different versions of their sparklers and all were from their reserve labels. I started a little backwards, depending on your perspective, with the 2004 Brut RosÃ© and then tried their flagship 2000 J. Schram. Both were outstanding and very different from each other, with more crisp fruity aromas and flavors in the RosÃ© and creamier more mature flavors in the J. Schram, yet the higher quality was seen in its ability to retain a nice crisp finish alongside those bolder flavors.
It was around this time that I ran into some more old friends from my High School days at Vintage in Napa. Jen and Emily and sister Megan were out to support Spark and Kathleen and it was rather comforting to get a chance to catch up with such great people and friends. We walked around while getting caught up and commented on the wide range of patrons at the Hall that night. They were old and young and dressed nicely, with many women in evening dresses, but it still looked like an upscale West Coast affair, with that ability to be semi-formal yet still retain a casual edge. We did think that Spark had managed to tap into a large portion of the more beautiful residents of San Francisco, however!
After a bit I split off to taste some more, but before doing so I made a direct line to the DJ booth where DJ Label had been dropping some solid tunes so far during the evening. He was playing one of my favorite tracks that I like to still spin now and then, Blueboy’s “Remember Me“. After a bit of conversation about the acoustics and assurances that he had enough free wine, I headed out to taste from some other wineries that were pouring upstairs.
Madonna Estate is one of the few public wineries left in Napa that I had previously missed all other prior opportunities to visit. It’s a bit ironic, seeing as how they’re only a couple miles from where I grew up, residing at the corner of 122 and Old Sonoma Road in the Carneros appellation (Napa County). They are one of the few remaining long time family-owned and operated wineries still left in Napa, with many large and small family producers having already been sold to larger corporations over the last decade. I had a great conversation with Susan and Brette Bartolucci about the history of the family and their wines. They poured a number of wines that night and I really enjoyed their 2006 Pinot Grigio. It was the best Pinot Grig that I’ve had in years, in fact. It’s quite difficult to make a wine from that varietal and get so much flavor and yet keep it nicely balanced and tasting straight from the vineyard.
Two other big highlights were the great extended conversations that I had with Bart O’Brien of O’Brien Estate and Debi Cali of Baldacci Family Vineyards. I’ve recently “discovered” these two established producers over the last year and it was wonderful to be able to talk with people from their wineries. I first had O’Brien’s 2004 Seduction at Artisan Wine Lounge and CafÃ© in Walnut Creek, and was blown away by its depth and balance. Lena really know how to pick them at Artisan!
Baldacci is a winery that I first encountered at the wonderful Napa Valley Wine Library 2007 annual tasting last summer. Despite never having stumbled upon their wines in the past, they ended up being the favorite Stags Leap District wine that Jeffro and I tasted that evening. I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to Debi about the winery, their wines and her views on the wine industry and the Valley. She’s got a great perspective on fine wine and a well of experience that belies her youthful exterior. We really agreed on many things about wine that night, including how their 2004 IV Sons and Stags Leap Vineyard Cabs are currently completely underpriced and taste phenomenal. They’ve quickly become one of my new favorite wineries. I can’t wait to visit them when I soon make it back up to visit the family in Napa.
By the end of the night I still had no interest in leaving…the beats were still bumpin’ and the wine was still flowing, but security told us that it was time to go! I managed to say hi to Bayard of Bottlenotes and was still relishing the taste of the three stunning Cabs that Andre of La Jota brought as a horizontal that night. I’d heard of that winery for many years but that was first opportunity to find out just how great they were channeling their Howell Mountain fruit. Unfortunately, a truly inspirational night had ended and I could only thank Kathleen, Spark, DJ Label, the Napa Valley Vintners and Jason and Kim from WineLog.net for humanizing, wine-soaked evening.
Please peruse the reviews of all of the wines I tasted that night that are listed below. I’ve tagged the wines with “Spark2008TasteSF” if you would like to list all of these wines in your own WineLog. Enjoy!