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

Rebirth and Rocky Roads

Feb2016_CvrFINALExcerpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

Despite all the loss, there’s always room for rebirth.

A few years back, on the heels of my European-spun honeymoon, I waxed on about the merits of Spanish and Italian wines and the varietals that define them. In that same piece, I bemoaned the existence of such low cost, high quality beauts in Napa Valley. While the thrifty sips of faraway lands seem to elude most Napa Valley restaurants, the allure of all things Italiano, does not. Even more so with the untimely and unlikely closing of St. Helena’s iconic Tra Vigne restaurant—gone with it, the creamy-dreamy butterscotch panna cotta, a disappearance that may very well crush all chances of satiating my sweet tooth ever again. Yet despite all the loss, there’s always room for rebirth.

A second coming

As if intuiting the bound-to-be outcry for authentic Italian food, the folks at Ca’ Momi opened another outpost, dubbed the Osteria, in downtown Napa, blocks away from its sister station at the Oxbow Public Market. The restaurant boasts a pizza certification stamp that feels almost as stringent as scoring a new AVA in the Napa Valley, garnering approval from the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN), international regulatory agencies that govern authenticity when it comes to pizza prepared Napoletana style. Click here for full article


Divided and United

Dec2015_CvrFINALFINAL2Excerpt from:North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

Solving our valley’s breed of family squabbles feels about as likely as having a stress-free holiday season.

This year in Napa Valley has been a rambunctious one. At its most downtrodden, 2015 bordered on contentious, with the war between vacation renters and residents on up to disputes over winery growth, water use, and the exploitation of our land. Yet, as I sit back with a glass of wine in the comfort of my new home (in a quiet residential area of Calistoga), I see a different side of country living—traces of the charm that drove me out of the city and to this valley I now call home. On the brink of 2016, I’m now wondering if there’s harmony to be had between what some see as the evil stepsister of tourism and the local fairy godmothers of Napa Valley.

The tale of wine city

Back in the 1970s, cattle roamed, orchards thrived, people were sparse and vineyards were few. But as time rolled along, open parcels and vineyard land became scarce and tourism grew. The cause: our wines. Decades later, a rivalry was born between two very different siblings, what I’ll dub the sisters of change and the brothers battling against it. Each city is filled with townies, who stand in favor of what this valley was and in opposition to what it’s become and (often) what it will be in the months and years that come. Click here for full article


Napa Valley Biz: Boom or Bust

ExcerNov2015_CvrFINALpt from: North Bay Biz magazine
By: Christina Julian

I’ll skip another riff on our petering music scene, but it’s impossible not to comment on City Winery’s decision to terminate its 10-year lease with the Opera House—further questioning our valley’s ability to sustain an industry beyond our food-and-grape-soaked roots. This isn’t necessarily a bad pigeonhole to be plugged into, and it certainly does nothing to dissuade people to dispute such a theory.

The most recent hornet to infiltrate our nest, City Winery owner and CEO Michael Dorf, orchestrated successful incarnations of his chain in New York, Chicago and Nashville, and had high hopes when it came to saving our grand ole Opera House, only to ditch the dream a year later. This after dumping $4 million into the space.

While it’s nice to entertain the prospect of economic diversity, want and reality are two different beasts. Some blame the failure on the multi-million dollar renovation and awkward seating redux, while others claim the subpar (in their opinion) restaurant as culprit. Click here for full article