Discover Festival Napa Valley: Wine Country's Hidden Gem

Discover Festival Napa Valley: Wine Country’s Hidden Gem

For your next trip to Northern California, you might want to consider Festival Napa Valley. The annual July event is, quite literally, a moveable feast. World-renowned winemakers team up with all-star chefs to produce heavenly dinners. Dance, art, spoken word and classical music permeate the valley. Over the course of the festival’s 10 days, 100 wineries participated in more than 60 events. It’s one of my favorite events in California.

While the festival just wrapped up, it’s never too early to plan for next year, and many of the prime events book early. Here’s a quick sampling of what you can expect.

Opening Night
Set at the lush Meadowwood Napa Valley resort, opening night featured a gourmet dinner followed by a stunning performance from soprano Danielle de Niese, a prodigy who debuted at the Met at 19, and her duet partner, baritone Paul Szot. Opera under the stars at the resort’s new Redwood Lawn.

The dinner was complemented with wines from Chateau Boswell, Domaine Carneros, PlumpJack, Realm Cellars and Williams Selyem.




The Gala
Festival Napa Valley shows its philanthropic side each and every year during the Arts for All Gala, and this year’s paddle-raising was particularly vigorous. Held at St. Helena’s Hall Winery, the gala raised almost $2.5 million. Also announced at the Gala was a $1,000,000 gift from Athena and Timothy Blackburn in support of the new Festival Napa Valley Music Academy, which will now be called The Blackburn Music Academy at Festival Napa Valley.

Later, guests were wowed by the entertainment, which featured performances from Michael Luwoye, Jordan Donica, and Isaiah Johnson from the Hamilton tour company.

“I work with fantastic board members to create something so special every year. We enjoy the wonderful events, but most of all, we are excited about the great contribution in art and music education we provide to Napa Valley schools to enrich our wonderful area,” said Board Member Antonio Castellucci.



Vintner's Luncheon at Darioush Winery

Even the lunches are big during Festival Napa Valley. One example was the Vintner’s Luncheon at Darioush winery where renowned pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet opened the festivities with a concert in the amphitheater. Guests enjoyed delicious food, including Darioush Proprietor, Shahpar Khaledi's favorite rice dish from her family’s recipe – Persian Rice with saffron, fresh fava beans and dill weed. Served with tahdiq – which she says is the most delicious part, it is the crisped rice from the bottom of the pot. The lunch was served family style under the pistache trees overlooking rolling vineyards. Of course, this magical day would not be complete without the crown jewel of the estate – Darius II, their limited production of Cabernet Sauvignon.


"Performing arts are life affirming, whether you are an artist yourself or an audience member. Darioush and I are very proud to be able help develop the next generation of artists through our work with Festival Napa Valley," said Khaledi.



Vintner's Luncheon at St. Supéry Estate Winery
Combining French château tradition with Napa Valley terroir, St. Supéry Estate Winery has a cachet that is hard to match. 

At this delicious farm-to-table luncheon served under a magnificent oak tree, guests were treated to a food and wine pairing backed by a beautiful view of the vineyards. Lunch included a tomato & mozzarella salad with fried eggplant, peaches and lemon vinaigrette paired with their Sauvignon Blanc. The second course was a chargrilled top sirloin cap and warm freekeh with figs, pine nuts and carmelized onions paired with their cabernet sauvignon. For dessert, a raspberry mascarpone parfait paired with their moscato.

“Festival Napa Valley provides extraordinary music and dance experiences, which, when paired with the fabulous cusine, wine and hospitality of the region, brings out the best in us,” said festival guest Alice Corning of Mill Valley CA. “I have deepening friendships and a sense of family here.”

Prior to lunch, all were invited to take an exclusive tour of the winery’s inspiring art collection, under the expert guidance of CEO Emma Swain.

“The Festival is magical every year with the culmination of world class artists, fine food and Napa Valley wine in an always glorious setting. It was a pleasure to host an afternoon luncheon,” said Swain.



The Napa Valley Neighborhood
It’s important to remember that, while all these fantastic events are going on, you are still in Napa Valley. There is so much to see and do outside of the festival throughout wine country. 

One of my favorite places to rest between dinners, luncheons and concerts is the Napa Valley Lodge. Situated in Yountville, close to many festival events, the Tuscan villa-styled hotel is surrounded by vineyards and gorgeous landscaping. It’s the perfect place to recuperate from having too much fun.



Bill Murray Performs Poems & Passages
Actor, comedian and SNL alum Bill Murray was accompanied by cellist Jan Vogler and a chamber trio as they performed “New Worlds”. Murray read passages from Walt Whitman, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A Moveable Feast. Vogler and friends provided background music with Bach, Ravel, Bernstein and others.

The audience was mesmerized by the combination. Murray may be best known as a funny man, but his serious side captures attention.

“Each year we try to have a surprise for our patrons and guests. Bill Murray’s performance was the highlight of the festival for me and is a great example of what we do well, bringing all sorts of artistic entertainment to our community that they have never seen before.” said Board Member Michael Polenske.




The Finale

This year Alpha Omega winery hosted the festival finale with an amazing barbeque luncheon, concert and fine selection of wines. The spread featured Cuban barbeque, St. Louis style dry rub ribs, halibut, jalapeno cornbread and other favorites. For dessert - cabernet-injected truffles, mini crème brulees and much more. “We poured some of our best wines, including our Estate Sauvignon Blanc (1155), Chardonnay Reserve and, from our library, the 2009 vintage of our flagship wine, ERA, a Bordeaux blend,” said vintner Robin Baggett. “Even on a warm day in Napa Valley, a Bordeaux blend pairs well with BBQ ribs.”

Festival Napa Valley is difficult to put into words – you kind of have to be there. The event simply surrounds you with fine food, wine, dance, music, art. Festival General Manager, Sonia Tolbert says they were very lucky to have some of Napa’s hottest new destinations hosting events this year, like Bill Harlan’s new winery, Promontory. "Other newcomers included The Ink House which has been reimagined by Castellucci Napa Valley, Bespoke Collection’s RiverHouse in downtown Napa, Chris Cosentino’s new Acacia House at Las Alcobas and the speakesy-esque Napa Valley Distillery,” said Tolbert.

At Festival Napa Valley - the best keeps getting better, and if you’re thinking about next year, tickets are already on sale.









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