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One of the special treats at the Napa Valley Wine Auction is the private dinners and lunches for guests at wineries and the home of winery owners. Each attendee, actually each couple -- the tickets are $2500 per couple — lists three choices for dinner Thursday night, and three for lunch Friday.
The events are extremely varied, from dancing and even exercise to elegant meals, but all feature fine wine and food, the latter often provided by celebrity chefs.
The events differ considerably in size. Some are big affairs with as many as 72 guests, others are intimate meals for only a few.
A big event has its own appeal and is more likely to attract people of special interest, but having attended many Wine Auction events, I now always choose small affairs. This gives you a chance to meet and talk to everyone there, and some are sure to be interesting. It also allows more time to visit with the hosts, who are most surely interesting people.
My first choice for a dinner was with Kathryn and Craig Hall, owners of both Kathryn Hall Wines and Hall Wines. I was fortunate to get this choice for I had met and written about these delightful refugees from Dallas, and I knew that they were as different as possible from pretentious, nouveau riche vintners who have recently settled in Napa Valley.
The Halls have a lovely house above Auberge du Soleil on a terrible road. They kindly sent a car for my date and me, a great gesture especially after the dinner when it's late and we'd had wine to drink. It's also an expensive extravagance, but much appreciated.
The dress was New York elegant, though I skipped the tux for a black suit. My date responded to the challenge, however, even adding a hat a la Audrey Hepburn in tribute to the activities later in the evening. She was afraid she'd be alone, but Kathy Hall also wore a hat, though both admitted they were a nuisance.
The Halls' house is a showplace in itself, but especially with its impressive collection of modern art, both paintings and sculpture. My date for that evening was a artist and designer in herself, and she noted how nice is was to find people with both money and taste.
The home isn't really visible from the valley floor but from the yard outside, there are incredible views of Napa Valley — a view enhanced by an almost-full moon.
We first enjoyed Schramsberg sparkling wine with elegant nibbles as we talked to the other guests including winemaker Mike Reynolds and his wife, who is expecting her third child and was unable to enjoy the event as much as the rest of us. Altogether, there were ten couples, some local and some from far away, including Zahid Sardar, the respected architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle , and his wife.
The Halls have become major players in Napa Valley, first buying the famed Sacrashe Vineyard property where they built their home. They make Kathryn Hall Cabernet from this favored mountaintop vineyard, and are close to completing a small winery and cave for this wine.
In addition, the Halls have purchases many acres of vineyards in Napa and Alexander Valleys. They also bought the old St. Helena Co-op, more recently part of Golden State Vintners, and its Edgewood tasting room in St. Helena. They make their Hall wines at this location.
They aren't newcomers to wine, however.
Kathryn Hall's family owned a large vineyard in Mendocino County, and she managed that property though her career included a law degree, acting as a city attorney in Berkeley and heading human relations at Safeway.
She also ran for mayor in Dallas; that's where she met Craig, an enlightened investor who has helped re-develop many properties bypassed by progress as well as other socially responsible projects.
Her political work led to an appointment as Ambassador to Austria under President Bill Clinton, where her German and French language ability were a plus.
Craig, whose Hall Financial Group has many interests, financed two recent hotels in Napa, the River Terrace Inn and Hilton Garden Inn. He's also written a number of insightful books about investing, the latest Timing the Real Estate Market.
Though the Halls are clearly wealthy and important, they are very warm and human, and appear as interested and concerned about their guests and the world at large as much as themselves and their property.
But back to the dinner.
The table was set on the terrace, and while it was slightly chilly, the Halls thoughtfully provided additional warps for the women who had put elegance above practicality.
We first enjoyed chilled vichyssoise made by chef Rachael Poer with 2002 Hall T Bar T Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard in Alexander Valley bought from Iron Horse's Forest Tanzer. Then came a delicious salad of smoked duck breast on baby lettuce with a warm onion and bacon vinaigrette accompanied by 2001 Hall Napa Valley Merlot.
The main course was tournedos of beef with a Madeira and truffle sauce plus jumbo prawns, baby carrots and duchesse potatoes. For this course, they brought out the good stuff, the 2001 and 2002 Kathryn Hall Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Though made before winemaker Mike Reynolds joined the winery, there are fine wines but I'll bet that future releases will be spectacular.
We then retired to the tennis court, which had been turned into an outdoor movie theater to enjoy the classic Truman Capote film, “Breakfast at Tiffany.” Accompanying it were petit fours decorated as turquoise Tiffany boxes, chocolate-dipped strawberries and cassis-chocolate truffles. They were paired with late harvest 1998 Dolce wine – and for the brave, Germain-Robin Fine Alambic Brandy.
After the movie, we stumbled into the Black Tie Taxi provided for the ride back to Napa.
It was a great evening, one I know we'll all long remember. And then it was to bed to prepare for another grueling day – a picnic at Élan Vineyards high up in the Vaca Range, and the gala Bubble Ball.