6 2011on October
at 8:24 am
There are a lot of moving parts at Far Niente—and from the vineyards to the cellar to the hospitality staff in the Great Hall, we are fortunate to have wonderful people behind each component.
If you’ve been to an event at Far Niente, you have experienced the graceful handiwork of our Director of Hospitality, Hillary McGonigle. She brings a wealth of experience with her from her time at The Ritz-Carlton and other well-known properties and has an eye for the details that make a party not just good but great!
We sat down with Hillary to find out just how she got started in the world of special events. Here’s what we discovered:
When did you start at Far Niente? June 26, 2006
How did you get into event management? I majored in economics in college, but was also social chairman at my sorority. As it turned out, throwing parties was a lot more fun! I began working at resorts and hotels in San Francisco (such as the InterContinental and Renaissance properties) then moved onto The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. I worked 24/7, holidays included!
What brought you to the wine business? When my daughter McKenna was born, I decided to begin a part-time wedding planning business in order to have more time with my family. After a couple of years, I took a position with a winery in Sonoma planning and executing all of their weddings. My husband, who is in the wine business, knows Tom Rodrigues [who designed the Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel, Dolce and EnRoute labels], and he knew that Far Niente was looking for a full-time hospitality director. Here I am!
What is the best part of your job? I am rewarded in seeing people happy. I love to create incredible experiences and life-long memories for people, whether it’s our Cabernet Release Day for club members, a dinner for 20 people or a momentous celebration like our 125th anniversary. And, of course, there’s no place like Far Niente to create these beautiful memories.
Tags: Hillary McGonigle
29 2011on September
at 9:19 am
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Besides being experts in vineyard care, our farming crew is particularly adept at handing out nicknames. Viticulturist Aaron Fishleder (a.k.a. “Paton”) explains.
It’s that time of year again: harvest is getting underway. Soon, the vineyard crew will be hectically filling bins of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for processing at the winery. While this is a busy and stressful time of year in the valley, it is also a time of great comradery and friendship.
The members of our vineyard crew spend so much time together that we’ve become a family. We know each other’s idiocrasies and aren’t afraid to have fun with them. (For instance, if you ever meet Rafa, feel free to ask him about his interest in alien abduction.) One of the results of this closeness is the nicknames the guys give one another.
I am not sure if there are any rules for assigning the names. Our Vineyard Manager, Brad Sorensen’s nickname, “Diego,” was given to him because the guys could not pronounce his real name. Oddly, “Diego” follows him wherever his goes.
I find that most of the crew’s nicknames are for given for life. Alfredo, who is one of our supervisors, has had the same nickname, “Burro” since the 1970s. I suppose a lifelong nickname is both a curse and a blessing. If you are lucky enough to be given a cool name, then you are set. All one can do is pity the poor person given a weird or funny name.
Take, for instance, another of our supervisors, Jose Luis, who originally started with our crew as an irrigator. At first he was given the name “Pipas” (Pipes). Jose Luis had that name for several years until one day he stepped on a nail and spent the next week limping on his sore foot. His nickname was quickly changed to “Pato,” which means “duck.” Too bad, Pato.
I, too, had the benefit of going through a name change. When we first started our farming crew in 2003 my nickname was “Patas Largas” (Long Legs). While I am a tall guy, this was not exactly a name that made me proud. After a few years, as the crew grew and we started farming more acres, my name changed. I am now known as “Paton” (Big Feet).
OK, so I can see how on the surface “Paton” does not seem any better than “Patas Largas,” but one needs to understand there is more to the name than making fun of my large feet. It is also a sign of respect. The word “patron” means boss. My guys told me they gave me my new nickname because it plays off of the fact that I am the boss. When I asked why my nickname could not just be “patron,” my foreman laughed and said, “You are already the boss. We can’t let your head get too big.”
I laughed. He was right. It could be so much worse for me. Ask Juvenal, aka “Bisonette,” (Little Bison) or Rafa aka “Pelón” (Baldy), who have two of the worst names on the crew. So Juvenal is as big as a large mammal. Is it a really good idea to risk making him angry? It’s not poor Rafa’s fault that he lost his hair when he was a young man. Wait a minute, do you think the aliens have something to do with the loss? A topic for my next blog.
22 2011on September
at 10:13 am
Winemakers up and down the Napa Valley are busily preparing for harvest. Not so for Dolce Winemaker Greg Allen! He’s full of anticipation for harvest, but the Dolce vineyards have a long, long, long way to go before reaching Botrytized perfection.
Dissipating nervous energy is my great challenge as we head into fall. If such energy could be supplied to the grid, then the world’s energy crisis would be resolved. I’m confident about the potential for superfluous energy, but I’m less sure about when exactly Dolce’s grapes will be ready for harvest. Over the course of the fall my desk becomes remarkably clean, my files updated, my catalogs reverse-alphabetically organized by vendor, my harvest supplies arranged by relative importance, elaborate plans for celebrating Dirk Hampson’s birthday with a water delivery robot firmly devised*, etc. I diverge …
The time to make a wonderful, dry wine from Dolce’s Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc comes in late September—and then passes. The leaves fall to the ground in October as the yellow jackets feast on Dolce’s super delicious fruit, and the full fungal ecology of Coombsville is firmly established in Dolce’s vineyards by November. By this time, my colleagues are both exhausted from the Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet crush and excited about planning their next vacations. And still I wonder when harvest will start.
Over the course of the growing season there are several developmental markers in the vineyard that we winemakers look for with increasing anxiousness and celebrate as they occur: the beginning (bud break), the potential (flowering, set), the uniformity of fruit (veraison) and the readiness for harvest (ripeness). With Dolce, “readiness for harvest” means the all-encompassing, regally rotten, slightly alarming state of Dolce’s fruit smitten with Botrytis followed by warm and windy weather to promote the shriveling and concentration … then and only then can we begin harvesting Dolce’s fruit.
And when we begin, a veritable army of seasoned pickers dutifully selects berry-by-berry for the fruit which can only make Dolce. When we begin, such berries must present the right kind of mold, the right level of shriveling and the notable absence of yellow-jacket damage. It’s not pretty. It’s not fast. We collect about ten pounds per person per hour, a wholly unremarkable rate when compared to that of Chardonnay (usually 350 pounds/person/hour).
When we begin … when will we begin?
*There is a long-standing tradition in the cellar: whoever is the lucky birthday person gets doused (in ever creative ways) with water.
14 2011on September
at 1:46 pm
It’s not an easy business, but it’s the business we love! Far Niente President and CEO Larry Maguire stops by to talk about just one of the challenges in winemaking: Mother Nature.
Are all businesses this complicated? Consider Mother Nature. Once a year, in the fall, we get our shot at making a great wine. Typically by today’s date we’d be up to our neck in grapes. Not this year. A cool spring and summer have pushed the grapes behind their “typical” harvest schedule. We are likely two weeks away from Chardonnay and three weeks or more for Cabernet. That, of course, creates a bit of stress but we keep our heads and ask, “How can that be? Aren’t we in the middle of global warming? Shouldn’t we be harvesting grapes sooner, not later?”
Well, actually we are in the midst of global climate change, and so far that has meant more cool, foggy Napa mornings, not fewer. It also seems to have brought some colder winter mornings, and this year, a rainy season that sprinkled up until the end of June.
A few years back, friends joked that we should pack our bags and our Cabernet vines and move to Oregon. By everyone’s guess Oregon would get warmer, just right for Cabernet, and Napa’s grapes would be wilting on the vine. Au contraire! Oregon’s grape country doesn’t appear warmer; they are experiencing a similar cool grape-growing seasons but with significantly more rain than Napa. It’s a good thing we didn’t rush up there on a land grab!
The weather moguls have blamed Napa Valley and Oregon’s spring rains on La Niña. This of course is the same thing they have blamed for this year’s severe flooding in the upper Midwest. As you most likely have guessed, the National Weather Service has stated that the La Niña effect has been responsible for the increased hurricane activity in the east this year. Is this all part of climate change? Perhaps it is, but it certainly hasn’t meant unfriendly grape growing temperatures in Napa Valley. We’ve seen nothing lately like the stifling heat of the summer of 1998, and guess what, the highest temperature recorded in the town of Napa was 113˚, but that was 50 years ago in June of 1961.
The Napa Valley Vintners have been proactive in research about the actual measurable effects of global climate change on grape growing. The preliminary results from 12000 data points indicate that there has been a 1 – 2˚ difference in nighttime temperatures between January and August, but there has been no statistically significant change in the important daytime growing temperatures. Nature’s air conditioning continues to roll into Napa Valley most summer mornings. For now, the only significant development from the warmer evening temperatures is that we’ve been dining outside more often. (Only semi-kidding here).
We are in the vintage wine business because we recognize that every year has its own distinct personality. Some vintages are riper and others more lean. Some years provide bumper crops and other years, like this year and last, will be short on volume. We embrace that and look forward to the challenges that each year brings. We celebrate the differences. We appreciate that the final evaluation will be made by you when the cork is pulled and not by the matrix calculations of climatologists. Yes, it’s a complicated business with so many elements outside of our control, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Landscape Designer Daniel Townsend is passionate about flowers. He and his team keep Far Niente robed in an array of colors—but doing so requires a lot of planning ahead. And patience.
Just some of the color we look forward to enjoying this spring!
It’s hard enough to live in the present; try living in the future! Fall is right around the corner in the Napa Valley, and this means it’s time for planting bulbs. We won’t see the fruits of our labor for five-to-six months and, meanwhile, we eagerly anticipate the show. Over the past eight years we have planted thousands of bulbs consisting of tulips, daffodils/narcissus, hyacinth, scilla, naked ladies and many others. Many of the bulbs we treat as annuals and must replace each year, and others continue giving each year, multiplying over and over.
Once the bulbs are planted, in go the wildflowers. We have wildflowers in several locations around the Far Niente property, and in the spring, you will definitely see alyssum and carpet of snow along the steps leading to the Great Hall entrance. These complement several varieties of rhododendron, camellia, and many flowering trees including pink and white dogwood along the walkway and throughout the property.
You can expect the flowering to begin as early as mid-February with the red emperors first to show, followed by assorted daffodils, mid to late tulips through May into June. Along with the thousands of azaleas that bloom in the late spring and early summer, the grounds are truly an explosion of color.
As we look to the future, we know that months of fantastic colors await us. Delaying gratification doesn’t come easy, testing our patience through the winter months, but it’s so worth it. I’ve seen it firsthand—the smiles and warmth the gardens bring to the faces of those who come to Far Niente. Come in and bring your smiles …
Tags: Daniel Townsend
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