Each and every year, the excitement and genuine feeling of gratitude around the bounty that is Harvest Weekend Celebration seems to multiply. And this, our 13th, was no different. In fact, this year’s harvest solidified the sentiment that the celebration gets better and better as time marches on.
This year was especially joyful because the growing year and grape quality were much healthier and more abundant than the prior drought-stricken year. Last year’s sentiment was a feeling of relief and gratitude; this year, however, was full of joy and gratitude. Even pastor Mac’s blessing of the vines centered around the perspective of tapping into gratitude and building community.
Per tradition, grape picking on both Friday and Saturday mornings kicked off the weekend. There’s nothing like waking up before sunrise, bundling up for the dawn farm work, and getting our hands a little dirty to connect us to the process. It’s this interaction and manual labor that puts things into perspective and gives us insight into what really goes into the wines we enjoy. The state of the grapes this year said it all: Plump and abundant.
We woke up to a beautiful morning with an ever-so-slight chill over breakfast and a lot of excitement over the new addition of a doughnut truck, Johnny Doughnuts. They were serving gigantic doughnuts, including doughnut holes, chocolate covered with sprinkles (that seemed bigger than your ordinary doughnut), caramel apple fritters, and the signature crodoughs (think: a brilliant marriage of croissant and doughnut) with custard filling. Also espresso. The traditional buffet of granola, berries, melon and pineapple, scones and muffins, and eggs and bacon rounded out the offerings.
As usual, the Friday morning group was more intimate and low key than Saturday. Marco gave the introduction, and assured us that there were lots of grapes this year. They set aside 50 rows of Cabernet 337 for harvest, which ended up coming in at 5 tons. The professional harvest for The Reserve started in August and finished the Monday following Harvest Weekend and yielded 250 tons. As Estate Manager Mark Griffin reminded us, “It’s romantic for a few hours, but it’s work.” Compared to last year, the clusters were tight, the grapes were big and tasty and the tannins were exceptional, per Winemaker Marco Gressi.
But Harvest Weekend is more than getting our hands on grapes. It’s really about coming together to catch up with longtime friends and mingle with new Members, who, after the weekend are longtime friends-to-be. Members came from all over, with a hefty east coast and Canada representation. Perfect weather. Still really warm high 80s as the night started then cooler.
The Welcome Dinner was held in the Pavilion and officially kicked off the subsequent events that make up Harvest Weekend. Two Bentleys and a rare Bentley SUV transported Members from their rooms to The Reserve in style. Highlights of the reception at the Pavilion that beautiful, uncharacteristically warm night include: string lights draped throughout, fresh wood-fired pizzas, children playing on rocking chairs, adults sitting under the massive oak tree, clear skies.
The Vinous maps, which set out to map Wine Country in an entirely new way that gives a sense of the terroir, were the educational element of the night. Each map—Rutherford, Pritchard Hill, Stags Leap, Oakville—was displayed on each corner of the patio to showcase the work of Vinous Founder Antonio Galloni, who is spearheading this project and one of his contributors Kelli White, author of Napa Valley Then and Now. Fun fact: About half of the world’s soil types are found in Napa Valley, with mountains on both sides and the bench—and these maps unlock that geography and diversity and what that means. Taking mapping to another dimension by showcasing contours of the hills and mountains as well as property lines.
The casual seating and buffet-style dinner encouraged Members to mix and mingle, which ultimately meant that new friendships were forged that night over magnums of The Reserve’s 2008 Red Wine—as well as fried chicken, mashed potatoes and spinach salad, with Bouchon brownies and gigantic berries and fresh whipped cream for dessert.
Lola Lennox, Annie Lennox’s daughter, sang three songs as an impromptu preview to Saturday night’s performance. She sang familiar covers with the guitarist, David Ronconi, whom she had just met. So, truly impromptu, which made it an extra treat.
The Children’s Harvest event is quickly becoming the highest attended event of the weekend—and that’s including a record-setting Gala attendance this year.
With the petting zoo (with Elvis the goat), exotic reptiles, birds and mammals, face painting and tattoos, not to mention the garden harvest where figs, apples, herbs of all kinds, carrots and kale were in full force. All kinds of sandwiches as well as hot dogs were set out for lunch. And the truck representation continued with the Garden Creamery Ice Cream truck giving Johnny Doughnuts from morning harvest a run for its money. A decidedly grown-up offering in the barn was charcuterie from David Katz from Panevino and a dozen versions of heirloom tomatoes from the garden.
As the sun was starting to set, Members returned to The Reserve for the final event of the festive weekend. Caviar and small bites greeted us, as well as Champagne and wine as we mingled on the patio.
Come evening, the tent, which we watched being prepped was set and open—brimming with gorgeous fall-inspired floral centerpieces, and numerous pumpkins of all shapes and colors also reminded us that it was harvest time. The stage was set with a grand piano, ready for Lola Lennox to perform. The turnout this year was impressive, and it ended up being the biggest arrangement of tables under the tent to date.
The three-course dinner started with Dungeness Crab Salad paired with The Napa Valley Reserve White Wine 2014. Duck confit with summer squash, vadouvan, spinach and vegetables from The Reserve’s garden paired with The Napa Valley Reserve 2007 en magnum followed the salad course. Finally, the cheese course of Mahon cheese and date compote was paired with The Napa Valley Reserve 2002.
As our tradition, The Reserve Managing Director Philip Norfleet led the toast and round of thank-yous. We toasted the crew who put all of this together, Chef Alejandro Ayala and his team who received a standing ovation, Sarah O’Rourke and her team, as well as Carol Norfleet, and, of course, Partners Bill and Deborah Harlan and Stan and Ann Kroenke. He recognized that Members came from as far as Japan as well as Oklahoma, Texas and Florida. Then, thanks to arrangements made by Member Simon Fuller (creator of American Idol), Lola Lennox performed to a rapt audience with pianist Michael Orland, followed by desserts served in the Hospitality Barn as dancing commenced in the tent.
All in all, it was another successful weekend of friends and family gathering around to celebrate and show gratitude for a bountiful harvest. So much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to in the year ahead…