19 2012on March
at 1:04 pm
People often share the story of their first taste of Far Niente wine with us. My first time was many years ago during a formal tasting at the private club where I worked in Anaheim that had Far Niente Chardonnay on the wine list. I remember how the flavor was so distinctive that it stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
I also remember the first time I visited the winery. I had recently moved to Napa to oversee the special events at another winery in Oakville and had the opportunity to visit Far Niente on a trade tour. In those days, the winery was not open to the public. My tour included a group of artists: a landscape architect, a florist/interior designer and a painter—all big food and wine lovers. I am an old nurseryman myself so you can imagine our excitement when we first approached the ornate iron gates. As we drove through the dappled shade of the woodland garden at the entryway, we realized that we weren’t in Kansas anymore—or, I should say, in the flora from the parts of California we were familiar with. We passed dogwoods, azaleas and rhododendrons; redwoods, forsythia and ferns, oh my!
When we drove by the old stone retaining wall crowned with ancient-looking olive trees, the beautiful chateau loomed overhead. You can see the winery from the highway, but nothing can compare to seeing the details and textures of the walls made up of fieldstones and bricks that seem randomly, almost whimsically placed, supporting the slate roof edged with verdigris copper flashing. After parking, we slowly walked up the flagstone path under the canopy of the massive, old oak trees. I remember stopping to pick up an unusual acorn from the stairs. The pointed body of the acorn was black and the cap was a light tan. None of us had seen a Black Oak acorn before, so we filled our pockets with nature’s souvenirs.
At the top of the steps, we met our guide, Katherine, who welcomed us warmly and we headed up the hill to the highest point on the property to begin our tour. We strolled down into the caves, visiting the wine library, and eventually working our way up to the Carriage House to view the vintage automobile collection. In my youth, I had restored a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible with a slant six under the hood, but nothing compared to the 1961 red and white Corvette that I fell in love with at first sight. The only way Katherine was going to pry us from the cars would be the promise of wine yet to come.
We walked back up the path, taking in the fragrance of the unusual “Southern garden” plantings and entered the winery’s Great Hall where the heavy oak table was set with an array of glasses pre-poured with 2 vintages each of Far Niente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. As we sat down to our tasting, the breathtaking view off the balcony almost distracted us from the flavor nuances in the wines. After we all discussed what culinary creations would best pair with the aromas and essences in the wines, she brought out the golden nectar called Dolce. Soon we were beside ourselves with dessert ideas for dinner that evening so we ordered a bottle to go. As it happened, we were celebrating a big birthday, and what better way to cap off the night than with a glass of Dolce!
Years later, I was hired to help launch a visitor program for Far Niente when they decided, after so many years of requests, to offer the public to visit by appointment. I am privileged to sit at the entry of our Great Hall and greet those lucky individuals who come to experience our wine estate and unsurpassed hospitality. As I approach my eighth anniversary with Far Niente, I will always remember my first time visiting the winery, and I smile as I watch our new visitors stroll up the path, pausing to pick up an acorn, or stopping to smell the sweet perfume of the Osmanthus bushes.
8 2012on March
at 2:14 pm
Winemaking takes a lot of equipment – pumps, presses, tanks – the list goes on. But perhaps the most important piece of equipment that we have is our barbeque. That’s right, our barbeque. Nothing brings our production team together like a hot and salty piece of carne asada straight from the grill.
Once a month on a Friday, our crew gathers together for a potluck lunch of carne asada with all the fixins’. Everybody contributes to the community meal. We have beans and rice with homemade salsa and grilled peppers. There’s queso, onion and cilantro to sprinkle on top, chips and guacamole for snacking and giant chocolate chip cookies to finish the meal. And, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: the thinly sliced and perfectly seasoned pieces of asada that we pull apart and eat with hot tortillas.
As we all sit around our lunch table, stuffing ourselves silly and cracking jokes, I can’t help but be grateful to be a part of this team. The simple act of sitting down to share a meal brings our crew together and makes it stronger. Because when the going gets tough (and it sometimes does), it’s a lot easier to work through it together as a team. Who knew a barbeque could do that much?!
28 2012on February
at 4:38 pm
Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel have enjoyed a long, supportive relationship with the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Beth reports on her recent experience at New York Fashion Week, when she hosted the winning bidder of our wineries’ auction lot – which supported the Foundation – plus five friends, for a sneak-peak at what’s ahead in fall fashion.
So we were off on a magic carpet to the Big Apple for an amazing time called “New York Fashion Week.” The trip came about through an auction lot that Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel donated to the V Foundation Wine Celebration, which we have supported for many years. We wanted to donate a lot attractive to the ladies, since there are always plenty of auction lots that have to do with big sporting events. (ESPN is also a huge supporter of V Foundation.) The marvelous artist/vintner/bon vivant Kelly Finn raised her paddle and won the lot and the privilege of taking five people with her to enjoy the sensational week. It was filled with beautiful clothing, stunning models, creative designers, wonderful restaurants, fashion industry celebrities and crazy, quirky people-watching at every show.
Our series of events started with the Red Dress Gala, which featured 18 designers with their dazzling red gowns modeled by 18 celebrity models. (Chaka Khan, Christie Brinkley, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Nettles and Michael Phelps’ mom, to name a few.) Other amazing shows we attended included Monique Lhuillier, with her sensational, chic designs; Carmen Marc Valvo, with his gorgeous, flowy gowns and the always-brilliant Carolina Herrera, with her elegant creations. Along with seeing these established, big-name designers, we were privileged to have a private showing at the atelier of up-and-coming fine jewelry designer, Monique Pean. Her pieces are made from materials which are ethically mined and eco-sensitive such as Peruvian opalina and fossilized walrus ivory – they are beautiful and unusual.
With Monique Pean and her beautiful designs
It was a treat for me to take us ladies to dinner where we enjoyed our Napa Cabernets at many delightful places, including the elegant and airy Four Seasons Restaurant. My late husband, Gil, and I started going there in the early 70s and we have always received such wonderful hospitality while dining there. It felt like the continuation of a beautiful friendship to be received in such a way again with these lovely, new friends.
(View Beth’s photo album from the week here.)
Were you at Far Niente Cabernet Release Day? Candlelit caves and beautiful vintages around almost every corner. . . Cheese, charcuterie and delicious bites flowing from the kitchen. . . It was a day to remember, for sure. But if you weren’t able to join us, don’t despair—we’ve saved some of our newly released Cabernet just for you.
A bounty of cheeses and charcuterie awaited guests beneath the chandelier in the Round Room.
Guests started off with a pour of the 2010 Far Niente Chardonnay and then entered the caves to find 1999, 2005 and 2007 Cave Collection Cabernets. The new release was the centerpiece, of course, poured in the striking, chandelier-lit Round Room. Winemaker Nicole Marchesi also provided a preview of next year’s vintage with barrel samples of the 2010 Cabernet.
2007 Dolce and an array of sweets in the Chardonnay Cellar were too tempting to pass up.
The soon-to-be released 2007 Dolce poured by Winemaker Greg Allen topped off the experience before guests had the opportunity to meet Proprietress Beth Nickel and President & CEO Larry Maguire—who also signed bottles.
This was an extra special day for our wine club members who are the first to know about this—and all of our events—every year. Glorious weather, an incredible venue (if we do say so ourselves) and a great group of friends, new and old—we couldn’t have asked for more.
For more pictures from this memorable event, visit our Facebook album.
6 2012on February
at 9:06 am
Greg Allen is more than Dolce Winemaker, he also manages our solar arrays. Here he shares his enthusiasm for a very successful project.
Larry's recent mention of our infinitesimal, unbelievably insignificant yet wholly remarkable energy bill from PG&E has got me all charged up! (big pun intended) We are celebrating our fifth year of farming electrons from both our grid-connected solar-electric arrays at Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Our novel, floating arrays have performed magnificently with little need for maintenance other than an annual scrubbing to remove pollen and dust. We have real-time monitoring of all aspects of our system: we can see how much is being generated, how much is being used by the winery, what’s going to or coming from the utility company to balance the continuity equation, and, importantly, we can keep track of our performance over time.
Representing three-quarters of a megawatt of generation potential when the sun is in just the right spot, these systems have satisfied our primary goal every year since we first flipped the switch: 100% of our electricity is provided for completely and sufficiently.
To put it that simply, however, is as potentially misleading as is a single numerical score assigned to a wine as if to collapse its myriad complexities and openly interpretable qualities into one convenient, if nonlinear, index. What? I mean to say: it will take more words than I’m allotted to explain the various charges on a utility bill and how net-metered renewable energy generation is accounted for, let alone the greater regulatory issues related to it. Suffice it to say, our energy bill is assessed on an annual basis and it represents the net sum of energy charges and energy credits.
It’s true that our solar photovoltaic systems offset 100% of our electricity charges on an annual basis, with the exception of a small fee for the privilege of having a meter (that’s what Larry was referring to). However, we generate only about 90% of the energy we need to run our business, meaning that we still need to import about 10% of our energy. So why didn’t we build a bigger system to satisfy our noble goal? Because size (the number of solar panels) of our system was limited by the California Public Utilities Commission to zero our charges, not our usage… and that is a subject of a another blog.
Tags: Greg Allen
A behind-the-scenes peek at Far Niente and the fine Cabernet and Chardonnay we produce here in Oakville.
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