Be honest – is it your dream to buy a vineyard in the Napa valley and make great wine? If you’ve visited the region, you already know it’s an ideal life. People – especially winemakers and winery owners – are very friendly, and even more important, they go out of their way to support local charities. So if you love Napa and hope to move here one day, you’ll be pleased to learn that the Napa Valley Vintners' (NVV) 29th annual Auction Napa Valley (ANV) held this past weekend raised more than $5.7 million for local health care, youth, and housing non-profit programs.
Of course, raising money for charity is what the auction is all about, yet bidders will find many fun, edifying, and educational events to attend in the three days leading up to the auction. One of my favorite events of the year is attending the auction-related hospitality events in which bidders receive invitations from the wineries of their choice for an intimate “themed” dinner. At this event, guests can meet the winemaker and the owners, and have the opportunity to taste library wines.
We had the good fortune to be invited by Conn Creek winery for a themed dinner on June 5 called “Midsummer Night’s Feast.” The evening began with an elaborate reception in the garden, where guests could taste the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (only 150 cases made) and sample hors d’oeuvres including foie gras, steak tartare, tuna, and more.
Welcoming guests to Conn Creek was Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Chateau Ste. Michele Wine Estates, the company that has acquired Conn Creek and many other small boutique wineries around the globe. Founded in 1973, Conn Creek established itself as one of Napa Valley's premier Cabernet houses with the release of its 1974 Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Named for the winery's location next to Conn Creek near the Rutherford Crossroad, Conn Creek has earned top scores by crafting a focused portfolio of limited production Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons – uniquely sourced from each of Napa's 14 sub-appellations – and other Bordeaux-style red wines including Anthology, blended from the best appellation grapes of each vintage.
In the course of the evening I learned that Mr. Baseler considers each of the wineries in his collection a priceless pearl in a string of pearls, each one unique. From the way he spoke about Conn Creek and wine in general, I sensed a protective, almost curatorial approach to the wineries in the collection.
Winemaker Mike McGrath was present to speak about the wines we would have during the multi-course dinner prepared by New Orleans-born chef Jan Birnbaum of San Francisco's Epic Roadhouse. The wines included the 2006 Cabernet Franc (with the Stone Fruit Salad (the wine paired excellently with the blackberry and black pepper truffle vinaigrette), and the 2005 Anthology and 2004 Rutherford AVA “Hozhoni Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, which we would have with the main course of grilled lamb loin t-bone.
According to winemaker McGrath, the 2005 Anthology is expressive and complex, opening with an alluring aroma of ripe black plum, warm berry pie, and caramel. Supple and elegantly structured, the flavors build on the black fruit and silky spice core.
Dinner was held in Conn ‘s new, unique AVA Room, where fans of Conn Creek can book an appointment-only tasting, blending and bottling experience and taste the various appellations of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in one stop, from Carneros to Calistoga and Spring Mountain to Howell Mountain.
The dream of creating the Conn Creek Napa Valley AVA room began when the winery was searching for grapes for its flagship Anthology wine. That led to the basis for the Conn Creek Napa Valley AVA Program. The next step was to showcase the wines in one room, providing consumers a rare opportunity to learn, taste, and blend wines from many distinctive regions that make up Napa Valley.
During dinner, it was such an incredible experience to talk to winemaker McGrath and hear the story of the grapes, as well as the diversity of Conn Creek terroir. Next year will be the 30th year of Auction Napa Valley (ANV), so check your calendars and begin to make plans to attend.