The First Annual Napa Valley Film Festival

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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.

Camarones con Cebollitas y Ajo prepared by Amelia Ceja at the Bosch Culinary Stage.
Say the words food, wine and film, and I’m there. So when our friends Brenda and Marc Lhormer, founders of the Napa Valley Film Festival asked my husband Kirk to be on the jury, I naturally accompanied him.

The four-day festival held in November blended visual arts with culinary arts. Over 100 films were screened in four villages (or appellations) from Napa and Yountville to St. Helena and Calistoga. I’ve attended a good number of international film festivals, but this one turned out to be really amazing. How often do you get to dine on foie gras, braised wild boar, artisanal cheeses and truffle popcorn at a film festival? And prepared by such top toques as Michael Chiarello (Bottega), Bob Hurley (Hurley’s), Robert Curry (Auberge du Soleil) and Perry Hoffman (Domain Chandon).

Amelia Ceja in her tasting room n Carneros.

Local vintners and wineries such as Chappelet, Raymond, Acacia, Peju, Mumm, Michael Mondavi, Terlato, Staglin, Hess, Alpha Omega, Chimney Rock and Round Pond poured their wines and generously opened their pricey estates, cellars and tasting salons for receptions and VIP dinners. While some screenings were held in regular theaters, others unspooled in creative venues like Calistoga’s glider port hangar, in a barrel room, a school and the Yountville community center, venues where wine could be served during screenings.

Besides films, there were other activities such as daily food demonstrations at the Bosch Culinary Stage set up on the patio of the Oxbow Public Market. One of the sessions I attended was conducted by Amelia Ceja (first Mexican-American woman vintner) of Ceja Vineyards in Carneros. Assisted by her daughter Dalia she whipped up delicious spicy prawns paired with a crisp and minerally 2008 Ceja Chardonnay. After the cooking session she invited us to her tasting room. Amelia, who’s a skilled chef advised on pairing Mexican food with wine. “Whether its red or white, pick a wine preferably from a cool region, with good acidity and low alcohol.”  We tasted the 2008 flinty Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma Coast, the deliciously seductive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, the 2007 Burgundian style Pinot Noir from Carneros and  the 2008 Vino de Casa, an unusual blend of Pinot and Syrah exuding aromas of rich dark fruits.

The lineup of indie films was delightful. The jury prize for best narrative film was picked up by Nicholas Ozeki for “Mamitas” ( a story set in East Los Angeles) and the best documentary prize went to “Kumare.” All the winners went home not with trophies or plaques but with magnums of prized Napa wines.

There were a few wine-themed films in the fest, among them, the 1995, “A Walk in the Clouds,” the 2008 “Bottle Shock” (produced by the Lhormers) and the current “El Camino del Vino,”  a doc following Uruguayan-born sommelier Charlie Arturaola in search for his palate.

With non-stop food and wine for four days, no one went hungry, with a few extra pounds may be. And some fest-goers promised to go on a food modification plan once they got home.