Film, Food and Wine at the Napa Valley Film Festival

Written by
Chef Michel Cornu in his chef’s cape and dazziling toque (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

Where else but in Napa Valley would a theater lobby be transformed into the House of Cab?

The celebration was the world premier of SOMM, a documentary about a group of talented tasters getting ready for the Master Sommelier exam and this was the opening night of the 2nd Annual Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF).At the pre-screening reception guest enjoyed the deep rich Cabernet Sauvignon from Chimney Rock Winery, one of the 15 wineries of the Stags Leap District that sponsored the House of Cab tastings.

I caution all my rookie indie filmmakers: Don’t let this festival spoil you. Most other film festivals don’t lay out this kind of gourmet delectables. This is definitely not your ‘plonk and peanuts’ film festival.

One of the Stags Leap District wines – Pine Ridge at the House of Cab (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Napa being America’s food and wine capital, fest-orgainzers Marc and Brenda Lhormer and the NVFF sponsors pull out all the stops. The five-day fest celebrates as many food events as film screenings. The opening Gala was held on the grounds of the Robert Mondavi Winery transformed into a vibrant night club under a cavernous tent. Local chefs laid out the best of Napa, from Andaz Hotel’s house-cured salmon and Brix restaurant’s and slow-cooked, cabernet-braised oxtaiil to Hurley’s Maine crab and rice paper rolls and crunchy fish balls from Silverado Resort.

A few of us were guided down to the spacious Mondavi cellar where we sipped  the well-aged 1995 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon. If the Godfather of Napa Valley, Bob Mondavi was alive today, he would be holding court right in the middle of this impressive barrel room and regaling us with his vintage stories.

Then there was the tented food pavilion set up amidst Raymond Winery’s vineyards sponsored by Gaggenau. Michel (Michou) Cornu, the winery’s executive chef did his daily French cuisine demos. I caught his apple Tart Tatin session and saw how lovingly and gently he coaxed the golden delicious apples to caramelize in the cast iron skillet. “Take your time to cook, don’t rush the process,” he advised. Drizzled with buttery caramel sauce (sans sugar), the tart was truly delicious and paired well with the apple/pear flavors of Raymond’s’ Chardonnay.

 Later that evening Michou whipped up a fabulous dinner, served in Raymond’s dazzling Crystal Room that looks more like a Parisian cabaret club than a cellar.The four course meal started with chestnut bisque with foie gras on toast paired with 2009 JCB #81 Chardonnay from Sonoma.The main course was buffalo cheek, bone marrow and veal sweetbreads served with Raymond’s 2008 Appellation Collection Cab. Since I don’t eat red meat, Michou made a special chicken course for me.A selection of Burgundian cheeses was washed down with the brilliant 2008 Generations Cab and the apple Tart Tatin was perfectly paired with Neige, a Canadian dessert wine made from green apples.Among the festival highlights was to see my longtime friend Mljenko “Mike” Grgich, winemaker and co-owner of Grgich Hills Winery present the Trailblazer Award to actor James Marsden. The 89-year old vintner presented a three-liter bottle of his ’05 Reserve Cab from the Yountville Collection. Although the wine is just seven years old, the vineyard, informed Grgich, was planted in 1929. “The wine will last 50 years,” said the legendary winemaker.
Mike Grgich with James Marsden (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Oh, and about the films: The best narrative feature went to Jenny Deller’s “Future Weather” and the best documentary was awarded to “Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton Himself,” made by the team of Tom Bean and Luke Polling. Besides cash awards winners in different categories received – what else? – magnums of pricey Napa wines.