Friday, October 12, 2012

Napa's New World Record

An excited toaster clinks away under the watchful eye
of the black-clad Guinness Book adjudicator.
Photo by Charles O'Rear; used with permission.
As of last Sunday, October 7, 2012, Napa Valley holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for longest relay wine toast.  FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY-SEVEN (487) people from near and far lined up to clink glasses for the Napa Valley Wine Wave at Charles Krug Winery, shattering the 321-person record set last year in China in about 45 minutes. 

Unlike the more common group toast, where everyone raises their glasses together in a (mostly) singular clunk, a relay wine toast has rules and scripted moves for each participant.  The toast begins with one person at the end of the line pouring wine into the glass of the first toaster, who then turns to his right and toasts his neighbor (clink, followed by a sip), who then turns to his neighbor to the right and toasts him, and so on down the line of people until either someone messes up the CLINK-SIP-TURN routine (and you have to start all over again) or you run out of willing toasters. 

For ambitious record-challenging toasts like the Napa Valley Wine Wave, a Guinness Book of World Records adjudicator personally examines each toast to ensure its compliance with these standards.  Johanna Hessling did the quality control for us in that regard, but our fellow toast participants provided enough encouraging/threatening shouted reminders (e.g. "SIP! SIP!") that no one messed up even once.  It came close, though... and #236, I mean you.

Cool commemorative medal!
I was fortunate enough to be toasting from the #169 position, as an invited media guest.  Participant tickets to the event -- which included pre-toast wine tasting from a dozen premium St. Helena wineries, lunch items from two of wine country's best food trucks, live music, photo opps with a hot air balloon, passed hors d'oeuvres during the toast,  a cool commemorative medal for participating in the record-breaking toast, and a tax-deductible donation to several locally-oriented scholarship funds -- were $100 per person. 

Essentially, the Wine Wave toast was just this year's fundraiser theme for the St. Helena non-profits that have been raising money for local scholarships for decades. 

In the days leading up to the event, several bloggers openly wondered at or mocked the purpose behind the Napa Wine Wave, describing it as "goofy," or a "pointless exercise in hollow vanity."  My question for them: how is this event any "goofier" or less meaningful than any other fundraising party?  Fundraiser tickets are always more expensive than the cost of goods provided BECAUSE THAT'S HOW FUNDS ARE RAISED.  Gathering people together to toast and smile and drink wine together in an organized and purpose-oriented way is in no way less meaningful than gathering them together at a standard wine tasting, and letting them ignore each other and talk only to the group they came with.  And, a relay wine toast is no more ridiculous than the "Longest Sausage Chain" or "Most Toothpicks In A Beard."  It's quirky, sure, but it was also an appropriately themed excuse to bring people together and lift a glass of local wine in support of our community.

With the 487th toast complete, it was time
for speeches, certificates, smiles, and more wine.
This event drew an incredibly diverse group of people -- from folks in their 90s all the way down to the 5-year-old who toasted with water.  There were locals and visitors alike, corporate teams and friend group teams, industry folks and wine newbies... but everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.  What was not to like? Music, food, wine, silent auction items, speeches about the community and what this event means for it, and an original group activity to bring people together in a non-threatening and festive way. 

Haters can hate, and surely will continue to do so.  But I for one thought the Wine Wave was a positive and memorable fundraiser for Napa Valley, and I hope our community does it again next year.  Lord knows we're all training for it year-round already.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top Secret Oenotri Pizza Annex

Last weekend I had the great good fortune of wandering into pure Cru Wine Experience in Napa's West End.  This contemporary tasting room for  Mitch Cosentino's pure Cru wines opened in July in the Napa Square business complex on First Street, just across from the former AVIA Hotel (now Andaz)

"Purety" is a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend,
yours for only $22/bottle. Purety awesome.
With its comfortable leather seating, this place looks more like a wine bar than a traditional tasting room -- think leather armchairs, bar tables, tall barstools, and a flatscreen behind the bar.  The menu also lends itself to more of a wine lounge experience, letting you uncork any of the red and white pure Cru wines to drink there by the bottle (at retail cost!), and offering nearly all of them by the glass for $8-17.  Small $5 plates of mixed nuts, chocolate truffles, and my beloved Castelveltrano olives round out their offerings.  Since they're open from 11am-9pm Wednesday and Thursday, and from 11am-11pm on Friday and Saturday night, they're also an awesome option to consider once the rest of the tasting room world has shut down.

But as the title of this post may have given away, pure Cru also offers guests sitting in their comfortable leather chairs the sublime culinary stylings of Oenotri restaurant -- pure Cru's deservedly famous and perpetually packed Napa Square neighbor just fifteen steps away. 

That's right... you no longer have to reserve weeks in advance, or battle a barful of canny locals to sample the legendary pizzas, antipasti, and charcuterie from Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde.  Just score a seat at pure Cru during Oenotri's open hours, and you're good to go!  Obviously the restaurant's full menu is not available there -- and neither is any of their wine list  -- but you can enjoy enough of that Oenotri poetry to make a fabulous rustic Italian meal.  And, by another stroke of divine intervention, winemaker Mitch Cosentino happens to make several delicious Sangiovese-based blends under the pure Cru label that should pair outrageously with those pizzas and cured meats.

THIS IS HUGE, folks.  I'm completely obsessed with Oenotri's pizzas, but unless I can time it just right at the bar, I rarely manage to score one any time I want to.  But since pure Cru just opened recently, it pretty much always has seats available... at least for now.  This Oenotri collaboration is a new thing, and may put an end to that easy availability in a hurry.  Until it does, though, I plan to take full advantage of this top-secret Oenotri pizza annex, and I urge my loyal readers to do the same.