Earlier this month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Napa Valley Film Festival. An up-and-coming festival that has grown exponentially since launching a few years ago, it now features hundreds of films that are shown in theaters from Downtown Napa to Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. But of course, one doesn't put together a film festival in the Napa Valley for just the movies and celebrities; some of my favorite events included those with plenty of local wine and others celebrating the local culinary scene. From Wednesday to Sunday, I attended a few film screenings, but my favorite film was easily "Lion." A definite award season contender starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, and Rooney Mara that told a heart-wrenching (and true) tale of an Indian boy who is separated from his family as a child and tries to find his way back as an adult. So good! I also had the chance to attend celebrity panels (another favorite was the Q&A with Gilmore Girls creators Amy Sherman Palladino and Dan Palladino), culinary demonstrations, wine tastings, catered breakfasts, and winery dinners. It was an action packed few days, but still provided enough downtime for me to relax and enjoy my beautiful surroundings.
I was fortunate to stay in a beautiful, new, modern house on Italics vineyard with a few other lovely writers and bloggers. The kitchen was stocked with dairy products from Clover, coffee, and obviously, plenty of wine. Complete with a game room, a gym, an office, at least 5 bedrooms and baths, and a pool, it was a seriously impressive house (can I just live there, please?). It was truly an honor to stay on such a beautiful, expansive property in an area (Coombsville) of the Valley that's still underrated in terms of its winemaking potential. Italics is a new winery in Coombsville from Steve Reynolds and the Martin family. Running on solar power and piping in reclaimed water, the vineyard is an exemplary model of modernity and how new wineries can adapt to stricter eco policies. We were lucky enough to enjoy a little wine tasting in their gorgeous new wine cave. Designed according to the tenants of feng shui, the round, dark cave is modern, a bit rustic, and ridiculously cool. Though the wine is certainly a higher price point than my typical, drink-with-dinner bottles, its quality was evident in every sip (especially in the 2012 Italics Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which was my favorite). From the quality of the wine to the luxe branding to the beautiful, forward-thinking vineyard, it's clear that Italics is undoubtedly the Valley's winery-to-watch.
Though there were so many, one of the highlights of the trip was having Chef Kari Karch, Executive Chef from Kenmore, cook breakfast for us...in our own kitchen. It might be one ofthe greatest pleasures in life to wake up and walk downstairs to find a professional chef laying out sausage, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, potato pancakes, and waffles topped with bananas foster on your dining room table. Everything was incredibly delicious.
Thankfully, breakfast wasn't the only time we got to see Chef Kari at work; we checked out the Culinary Stage at the Downtown Napa riverfront for a few fun culinary demos. The first was Variety's 10 to Taste, a little sampling of bites cooked by Napa's best up-and-coming chefs, and a subsequent panel featuring celebrity judges and culinary experts who shed some light on the dishes we tasted as well as the festival as a whole. Discussing the connection between food and film, the panelists were enlightening and engaging. My favorite of the culinary demos, however, was the Sliders & Stella Artois event with Chef Kari. In what seemed like a few short minutes, she whipped up Japanese-style fried chicken with yuzu marmalade and gochujang cucumber sandwiched between two flaky biscuits, which paired excellently with the bottles of Stella Artois that were being passed around. It was easily one of the best fried chicken sandwiches (perfectly crispy with just a bit of sweetness from the marmalade and heat from the gochujang) I've had, and the biscuits were also insanely good.
At this point, you might be wondering if we actually watched any films at this Film Festival, or if we just ate. Though we saw some great movies (I'll get to that later), yes, we mostly ate (and drank wine). Easily one of the most memorable foodie experiences of the trip, we enjoyed a beautiful dinner with Favia Winegrowers, also located in Coombsville. A four course meal accompanied by wine pairings from Favia's small, focused line-up of wines, we indulged in satisfying bites like a Little Gem Salad with smoked trout, avocado, and tarragon buttermilk dressing. My favorite course was definitely the Fall Squash Soup with duck confit accompanied by their 2013 Rompecabezas Red, a dusty, rich, and complex blend Though the winery is still mostly under construction, the veteran vintners Annie Favia and Andy Erickson clearly know what they're doing, creating "soulful" wines that highlight grapes from some of the best vineyards around the Napa Valley. The setting itself was beautiful, and did I mention that I got to sit at the same table as Gilmore Girls creators Amy Sherman Palladino and Dan Palladino?
One of the more educational events that weekend was the Bottega del Vino Wine Glass seminar. I know...what even IS a wine glass seminar? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The lovely folks from Bottega del Vino Crystal, makers of hand-crafted and beautiful yet sturdy wine glasses (we literally banged the glass on the table and it didn't even crack), poured the same wine in two different glasses and had us sip from each, explaining the differences in taste. I learned that differently shaped glasses (like those with that turned out lip at the top) cause the wine to hit the palette differently (more spread out vs. more concentrated in certain areas), which can mute or heighten the flavor of certain wines depending on the glass. It really was fascinating,