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HARSHA E.

CHACKO
SPIRITS

CALIFORNIAN

DREAM

The Napa Valley in California is blessed with the perfect climate and
its vineyards now create some of the worlds best wines

SK ANY WELLinformed wine drinker


about famous places in
the world for wine and
Californias Napa Valley
will be a top choice. This
region has a global reputation for producing
some of the best wines but what most people
dont know is that Napa Valley accounts for
less than 1 per cent of US-made wine.
Even so, there are over 400 wineries in
Napa Valley but Im going to focus on four
University of New Orleans (UNO) alumni
who have made their living in Napa Valley. As

a professor of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism


administration at UNO, Im proud all four
were my students.
Napa Valley is heaven for wine grapes
because the regions blessed with an ideal
climate, amazing soil, varied topography
and knowledgeable viticulturists. Napas also
lucky to have a temperate climate promoting
slow ripening of grapes on the vine during a
mostly rain-free March-to-September growing season. It boasts an unbeatable combo of
warm days and cool nights, allowing fruit to
ripen during sunny hours and rest arrested sugar development at night when

temperatures often fall by 20.


Its the gradual ripening that lets complex
components like tannins develop. The valley
has almost 50 per cent of the worlds soil
types created over millions of years. A single
vineyard can contain volcanic magma,
oceanic crust, and riverbed soils. These different soils allow grape growers to select the
grape variety such as cabernet sauvignon,
sauvignon blanc or chardonnay that will
prosper in a particular vineyard.
Located just 60 miles from San Francisco,
the narrow Napa Valley nestles between the
Mayacamas mountains in the west and the

FINE VINES
Napa Valley has a temperate climate that promotes the slow ripening of grapes on the vines during a mostly rain-free growing season

SPIRITS

PLATINUM

Vaca Range in the east. Its influenced by the


Pacific Ocean to the west and San Pablo Bay
to the south. The latter acts a source for the
daily fog which rolls in early morning as a
thick blanket. It dissipates by mid-morning
but helps maintain cool temperatures even
in summer. A variety of microclimates at
different elevations allow the grapevines to
develop differently. The French refer to this
happy combination of nature, climate, soil,
and topography as terroir.
Close proximity to San Francisco means
visiting this spectacular region can be
a day-trip. The majority of the valleys
wineries offer wine-tasting rooms where
visitors can sample the wines though for
personalised treatment, you should make
tasting appointments for which sometimes
theres a fee.
At the southern end is Napa, the countys
largest town with many accommodation
choices. Most importantly, it has a UPS Store
where one can buy wine cartons to ship
home wine. But on to my ex-students. Just
north of Napa is the William Hill winery,
owned by the famous Gallo Family. Thats
where I meet Dan Michael, director of Experience Marketing for Gallo Family Winery,
the worlds largest wine company.
Dan graduated from UNO in the late
1980s and, after stints in New Orleanss hospitality industry, headed with his wife and
daughter to Napa. Dans job is to highlight
Gallos upper-range products. Their loca-

tion, just off the Silverado Trail, gives Dan


a chance to show off amazing views of this
140-acre Napa Benchland estate and taste
the wine while standing among the grape
vines from whence it all began. The winery
is a few steps away and the grape-to-table
story of wine is better understood by meeting the winemaker who takes such care to
ensure William Hills wines represent
this terroir.
A few miles north on Silverado Trail, an
intersection at Soda Canyon Road leads to
higher elevations of the Atlas Peak region.
Up a rather scary winding road is the Antica
Napa Valley winery where one will hear

the unmistakable New Orleans-accented,


friendly greetings of Kim Wiss.
Antica is owned by the noble Marquese
Piero Antinori, who is the patriarch of a family that has been making wine in Italy since
1385! Kim graduated from UNO but more
recently trained as a chef, first at the Napa
Valley Cooking School and then at Buca Lapi,
a high-end restaurant in Florence, Italy. She
was the first woman chef trainee at Buca and
at Antica, she enraptures wine customers
with food pairings of Tuscan delights. The
1,200-acre estate at an elevation of 1,400ftabove-sea level provides spectacular valley
views. The climate and soil is so different

here compared to other parts of Napa, and


my favourite wines are the Sangiovese and
the Cabernet Sauvignon. A network of
mountain caves provides perfect conditions
for barrel-ageing wines.
Around the middle of Napa Valley is St.
Helena town and the place to find Barry
Wiss, assistant vice president of Trinchero
Family Estates, also among the top US wine
companies. Barry and wife Kim visited for a
holiday, fell in love with the place, quit their
jobs and started from scratch in Napa Valley.

Barry loves to tell the story of the owners,


the Trinchero brothers, who arrived in
Napa in 1947 with little more than the shirts
on their backs. They purchased the Sutter
Home Winery but kept its name because
they had no money left to buy a new sign.
They were the first winery to create the
White Zinfandel wine, a 1980s craze, and
now have a portfolio of over 30 brands.
Barrys job is to train and educate people
about wine and he has sponsored many
UNO students to improve their wine quali-

Traditionalists scoffed initially, but the Napa Valley has built its reputation
as a place where some of the finest wines are created
WINE WINNERS
(TOP LEFT) Wine
fermentation tanks at the
Trinchero Family Estates;
(TOP RIGHT) Willam Hill is
among the topmost brands
owned by the E. & J. Gallo
Winery, the worlds largest
wine company

SPIRITED GROWTH
(TOP) The 1,200 acres
of Antica Napa Valley
winery and estate provides
spectacular views of the
valley below; (RIGHT AND
FAR RIGHT) The variety of
soils in Napa allows grape
growers to select the grape
variety that will prosper in a
particular vineyard

30 / PLATINUM / JUNE 2016

fications by taking the Certified Specialist


in Wine (CSW) exam, a rigorous test of wine
knowledge (I know this because I studied for
months before the exam).
At the north-eastern end of Napa is Howell
Mountain wine region and the site of Ladera
Vineyards. Danny Saavedra graduated from
our UNO Master of Science program and
is senior sales manager at this small winery
700m above sea level, producing excellent
Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Founded in 1886, Laderas soil composition

is gravel and volcanic resulting in a terroir


thats the basis for unique wines. Danny has
a fantastic palate and its a pleasure tasting
wines with him in their underground barrelageing room.
As I think about these successful graduates, I realise there are common threads
running through their life stories. All were
willing to take risks and move out of their
comfort zone to explore new places and new
careers; they were all good college students
and all have thrived in the Napa Valley wine
business. P

Harsha E. Chacko is a professor of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration at the University of
New Orleans. A Certified Specialist of Wine, Dr Chacko has also worked in the hospitality industry in
India, Egypt, the Caribbean and the United States. Mail him at hchacko@cox.net.

31 / PLATINUM / JUNE 2016