Monday, February 28, 2011


Photographs by Kiyomi
Beer aficionados are fond of perpetuating the myth that Ben Franklin penned the words, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy". The saying has been popularized by beer makers and t-shirt companies alike. However, few people actually know what Ben really said. In response to a drinking song that was written about him in 1779, Ben Franklin wrote a letter to the song's composer, Andre Morellet (a French economist and personal friend). In it he said, "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines,to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." Spending time in Napa this last week gave me a more complete picture of what Ben Franklin was trying to convey.

When I drove into Napa, I wasn't expecting to see thunderstorms or visible snow blankets on the Mayacamas Mountains. But, this was the sight that greeted me upon my arrival. A magnificent rain dance was in full force. When the storm finally passed, I was able to see the effect it had on the various vineyards that grace the Napa Valley floor. It appeared that every single grape vine had been energized. In addition,the Silverado Trail pine trees were giving off a heady scent that is priceless - a perfect setting for this year's 2011 Vintner's Hall of Fame.

Through the Vintners Hall of Fame, the Culinary Institute of America (Greystone campus) celebrates the lives of men and women who have made significant contributions to the California Wine Industry. This year's inductees (and happy winemakers) include:

• Joel Peterson - the "Godfather of Zin"

• The late Richard Graff - a pioneer of California Pinot Noir
• The late August Sebastiani - first California vintner to make varietal wines affordable
• Professor Vernon Singleton - UC Davis expert of wine chemistry
• Bob Trinchero - pioneer of white zinfandel.

As a former graduate of the CIA, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be part of the the Vinter's celebration. I (along with several other chefs, winemakers, and CIA students) prepared a festive walk-around dinner for patrons. The evening was topped off with fabulous wine offerings, appearances of local celebrities, and bronze, sculpted plaques (that apparently take a year to make). You can see these bronze plaques when you visit Greystone. In fact, you can't miss them, the plaques are skillfully hung on 2,200 gallon redwood barrels. Proceeds help to fund scholarships for the Professional Wine Studies at Greystone.

The entire event is indeed a winemaker's "Oscars" night - just without all the fuss and pomp of Hollywood.

Cheers to each of the winners!