Swing Big


Excerpt from: NorthBay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

John Travolta: “This is a very important festival. It’s taken very seriously and it has a lot of integrity. It also educates students and contributes back. It’s not a self-serving festival. A lot of great movies have been launched here.

When Brenda and Marc Lhormer, co-founders and directors of the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF), first publicly announced their plans to produce a full-scale film festival in Wine Country, a couple of things were clear: They had grandiose dreams and enough energy to make it happen. Not even a faltering economy would stop the couple (partners in work and life) from accomplishing what some dubbed “mission impossible”. For the Lhormers, the notion was anything but.

“The film festival expanded the horizon of Napa to include the energy and talent of film. Marc and Brenda brought Hollywood and its world of creativity to Wine Country, and we’ve embraced them for all these reasons,” says Raymond Vineyard proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset. Click here for full article

Managing Growth


Excerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

By the time this pub goes to print one of our country’s bigger brouhahas will be put to rest, and a new king or queen of our United States castle will be poised to take the helm. The state debate over whether to legalize smoking pot will also be settled. These decisions will feel like vindication for some and nothing short of the apocalypse for others.

For our part, right here in Napa County, townies and wine industry leaders flung their share of dung when it came to defending what is and isn’t considered fair treatment of our grape-strewn land. Picketers all but stoned the ginormous Hall Winery bunny (more formally known as Little Bunny Foo Foo) in protest of the Walt Ranch project that could rob the hillside of 14,000 trees and 1.4 billion gallons of water.

More than 6,300 citizens waged an uprising via a signed petition against this project and others of its ilk by supporting the proposed Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative, only to have the measure booted off the November ballot—this despite driving the issue all the way to the California Supreme Court, where the request for an “emergency” ruling was dismissed, thus denying able-bodied voters the opportunity (and right) to vote on this hot button issue. The fact that wine industry powerhouses Napa Valley Vintners, Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County banded together in a stand against the measure all but ensures the carnage around this controversy will persist in 2017. While our national election may be over, the local battle over growth has only just begun. Click here for full article

Dared to Be Different

Dec2016_SpecCvrFExcerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

Prior to taking the parental plunge, I worked as a project manager, where adhering to rigid schedules and turbocharged time management were the only way to succeed. Three years into raising my twins, I’m realizing very little has changed. Much like my toddlers, I thrive on routines, especially when it comes to wine—a point my husband likes to make public at fancy winemaker dinners. So when he dared me to step away from my Holy Grail of sips, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, I took the bait.

The eccentric start

We arrive at Farmstead to enjoy a token night away from our chaotic nest, and I’m unsure if it’s the scorching hot temps or my husband’s silly dare, but I forego my favored Longmeadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc for Wind Gap’s Trousseau Gris (Russian River Valley). Its pinkish-brown-puke hue reminds me of one too many nights spent at home with my gag-reflex-frenzied toddlers, but I carry on. The wine was desert-dry, fitting given the flaming temps and drought-like conditions. I like dry whites but this was too much. I blog surfed as I sipped to see if I was alone in my thinking; apparently I was, because the wine received several high marks including one comment that read, “Very fine and expressive with a bright personality.” I’ve never known wines to have personalities, but then again I hate Pinot Noirs, so what do I know. Click here for full article

Wines Are Like Supermodels

June2016_CvrExcerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

Jay McInerney enchanted us with his comparison of Chablis to Kate Moss and of Monterey County Chardonnay to Pamela Anderson.

When I swapped city life for rural Napa Valley six years ago, one of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of techno-wine-geek-speak. A mere step into a tasting room or twirl into a dinner party triggers more descriptors than a used car salesman slings when the boss presses him to close the deal: nose this, body that, fruit forward here, minerality there. At times, you’d think we were helping commandeer world peace with the detail and intensity of tasting notes.

This point solidified at this year’s Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood. Our creative keynote speaker, Jay McInerney, wine columnist for Town and Country, talked about using literary tools, like metaphor and simile, when writing about wine. He enchanted us with examples, like his comparison of Chablis to Kate Moss and of Monterey County Chardonnay to Pamela Anderson. As ridiculous at it sounds, I understood exactly what he meant. While I applaud his panache for words and playful use of literary tactics (most of which I plan to exploit in my own writing), it also hints at a core problem with wine tasting notes. Like any good supermodel, they can be a little too full of themselves. Click here for full article

The Growth Bender

May2016_CvrFINALFINALExcerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

As is often the case with any addiction, I have to ask myself if this latest binge is really worth it considering the hangover that’s sure to follow.

Every month as I sit down to write this column, I inevitably scrap the story I intended to write when another news bite about the Napa Valley growth controversy storms into my inbox. My commitment to this coverage borders on an addiction. I can’t seem to stop myself from commenting. As is often the case with any addiction, I have to ask myself if this latest binge is really worth it considering the hangover that’s sure to follow—a la traffic and tourist stampede. For some, absolutely; to others, whose plight I follow this month, hell no.

This month’s breaking bulletin came when a clearing crew got busy at the 11-acre parcel by First St. and the Silverado Trail in downtown Napa that will become another high-end hotel and resort that could open as early as 2019. It’s a move that came at the hand of developer Palm Hill Inc. as part of a deal that was brokered back in 2008 but just re-entered the limelight.

Like any addict, I’ll justify my obsession and then blame somebody else: my 2-year-old twins. Before they arrived on the scene, I was unphased by winery growth. But as snagging last minute seats at favored restaurants becomes harder, and my ability to slip in and out of the grocery store with ease wanes, I’ve begun to bend towards the side of being more annoyed than enamored by what I’ll dub the “growth epidemic.” Click here for full article

Feast it Forward


Article excerpt from: NorthBay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

When Feast it Forward (FiF) founder Katie Hamilton Shaffer walked into the Menlo Park offices of Sunset magazine in 2002 armed with only a binder of dreams and a mission, nobody could’ve predicted that, 13 years later, she’d make good on her goal to create a feel-good, do-good, wine and food online network. “I had dyed red hair and had just finished playing soccer. I came in with this big book and said I wanted to be Martha Stewart. [Then-editor Katie Tamony] probably thought I was a nut job.”Dreams-Idea_LEAD

Apparently, not so much. Last fall, Shaffer inked a deal with Sunset and, in 2013, snagged an award from Stewart herself as part of the mogul’s American Made contest. “As soon as I met her, I knew she was going to actualize a dream, that she could achieve whatever she set her mind to,” says Tamony. “Within five minutes of talking to her, she struck me as someone who was going to make it happen. It was electric.” Click here for full article


Do One Thing Right

April2016_CvrFFF1Excerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

What is an “upscale sports bar”? I’m certain there’s an oxymoron in there somewhere.

Last month I commented on the large number of retailers and restaurants leaving established space in St. Helena in favor of a new home in Calistoga. No sooner did that column go to print than I learned of another up-valley blow. Calistoga’s JoLe, home to a coconut cream pie I dubbed the best dessert in the valley, closed in January despite packed houses and critical raves. The sign tacked up at the restaurant wielded the knife deeper, as it revealed what would become of that space and its neighbor, Barolo.

New owners Michael Dunsford (Calistoga Inn) and his chef, Nicolas Montanez, plan to convert the spaces into an American food, family-style restaurant/raw bar/sashimi/upscale sports bar/whatever else can be smashed into a collective space. It’s hard to imagine the food will be as notable as JoLe, given the new proprietors can’t seem to make up their mind as to what type of restaurant theme to go for. Click here for full article