A major highlight of my summer was experiencing Festival Napa Valley 2016, a 10-day celebration and of music, art, food, wine and dance that raises funds to enrich art and community programs. It’s the third season in a row I have covered this event, formerly known as Festival del Sole.
This year I had the opportunity to attend most of the events on the Festival Napa Valley calendar, which was such a special treat for me and my husband! I will be writing a few posts about this outstanding festival in the coming weeks. I would like to begin by sharing some unforgettable highlights from Festival Napa Valley’s Tribute to Margrit Mondavi that took place in late July.
As you may be aware, Margrit Mondavi passed away earlier this month on September 2nd, at the age of 91. Mrs. Mondavi was honored at this event for her longtime dedication to the arts, viticulture, education and the Napa County community – and beyond – for over four decades.
Wife of Robert Mondavi, who passed away in 2008, the two donated $35 million to University of California at Davis to create the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. In 1981, Margrit Mondavi launched the incredibly successful charity wine event, Napa Valley Wine Auction, currently known as Auction Napa Valley. This world-famous fundraising event has raised over $150 million for Napa County nonprofit organizations to date.
It’s an understatement to say Margrit and Robert Mondavi have left an indelible impression on Wine Country. They were instrumental in turning the area into the rich culinary, art and wine region it is today.
This tribute, underwritten by Mrs. Mondavi’s friends, philanthropists, art patrons and owners of Clos Pegase Winery, Jan Shrem and Maria Minetti Shrem, took place at Far Niente Winery in Oakville.
Far Niente a stunning winery nestled among trees and expansive vineyards at the base of the Mayacamas Mountain Range. This was our first visit to Far Niente. I have always been curious about this winery and was excited to see what awaited us at the end of their long, tree-lined driveway.
Built in 1885, the winery was abandoned at the start of the Prohibition, then purchased by Gil and Beth Nickel sixty years later in the late 1970s. A three-year restoration was complete in 1982, which was also the year winemaking returned to Far Niente. Far Niente produces fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.
Once you drive down the long driveway, you come upon a magnificent stone building with climbing ivy and red geraniums in window boxes. I felt as though I was in Europe.
Before we made our way down the stairs to the event area, we stopped for a few photos. It was a warm summer evening and I chose an off-the-shoulder lace top with lightweight linen blend pants and heeled sandals. I carried my Louis Vuitton clutch and chose not to wear any jewelry except my diamond stud earrings.
As we made our way to the stairs, we could see the tent were the event was taking place through a pair of very old olive trees.
We made our way down to the reception area where people were starting to gather.
The tribute dinner would take place over a stone bridge and next to a gazebo and tranquil pond. Such a lovely and charming setting!
I ventured inside the tent before it started to fill up with guests so I could have a look around. The first thing that caught my eye was the stage in the middle of the tent against the the far wall. This 12-foot wall of fresh pink roses, created by Melody Raye Flowers, used roses from Passion Roses. The room smelled amazing!
The time, effort and attention to detail this piece required had to have been substantial. And in summer’s heat, no less!
The table decor was elegant and feminine. I loved the silver, ivory and pink color choices and the chandeliers were a gorgeous addition.
There were beautiful pink rose center pieces throughout.
Some well-known guests were due to arrive soon such as Sophia Loren!
From the end of the tent you could see the stone building in all its stateliness.
Once outside on the patio, Bill and I got a glass of Far Niente Chardonnay, mingled with guests and waited excitedly for Margrit Mondavi and Sophia Loren’s arrival.
We also took in the gorgeous views around the property.
We got to see the stunning and alluring Ms. Loren arrive, wearing a long black sequin dress with pink flowers. She was with her son, Carlos Ponti Jr. and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Shrem. Mrs. Mondavi arrived shortly after guests were seated.
While we got acquainted with the other guests at our table, a slideshow was playing with video recordings of many of Margrit’s friends including Boz Scaggs, Jaques Pepin and Thomas Keller just to name a few, who all sent greetings and messages of gratitude. There were also photos of Margrit with her husband, Robert.
Once the guests were seated, Beth Nichols came out to greet the crowd. She soon introduced cookbook author, chef and TV personality Lidia Bastinich. Bill and I watch Lidia on PBS frequently and were so thrilled she was at the event. Lidia, along with her chef at New York’s Felidia, Fortunato Nicotra, created the menu for the evening.
What a culinary delight to enjoy this special dinner!
The wine was phenomenal, which was no surprise, and added to our already wonderful meal.
Not only was the dinner spectacular but so was the entertainment! Jazz saxophonist Dave Koz performed for guests.
Then double-Grammy nominated singer Monica Mancini took the stage to sing a couple of songs with Koz.
After the dinner and musical performances concluded, Margrit took over the spotlight and spoke to the crowd of about 300 guests. She thanked her friends for attending and recounted memories from her 40 years in Napa Valley.
I loved Margrit’s wry sense of humor and wit. At one point, she joked that she wished she had Sophia’s long legs.
After Margrit Mondavi spoke, the evening was about to conclude. But first, dessert. We walked outside onto the patio where there was an assortment of sweet bites and Dolce. Known as “Liquid Gold of Napa Valley”, Dolce is a late harvest wine and the perfect finish to the evening.
This magical scene greeted us as we walked to the valet for our car – fitting for such a magical night. There were so many pinch-me moments, I started to lose count!
Although I never had the chance to meet Margrit Mondavi in person, being in the same room with her, celebrating her countless impactful accomplishments and her contributions to the arts, the wine industry and our region was an honor and an experience I will always treasure.
Make it a rich day, friends!
Disclosure: I was asked to attend Festival Napa Valley and write about my experiences. All opinions expressed here are my own, as always.