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Vineyard 511

From Hollywood to Vine with Vineyard {511}

Adventures in Wine, Food, Film and Travel

Irene Ojdana
April 24, 2017 | Irene Ojdana

Notre Dame Washington D.C. Symposium on National and Global Affairs

Every other year, Ed and I fly to Washington D.C. to attend Notre Dame University's symposium on government affairs. (Ed is an alum.) This year, less than 100 days into President Trump's inauguration, we attended briefings by politicians and officials on both sides of the aisle about what was going on in Washington: Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY and Senate Minority Leader); Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Marco Rubio (R-FL); Joe Donnelly (D-IN); and David Perdue (R-GA).  Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI.) was interviewed by Bob Costa, National Political Reporter, The Washington Post. We also heard from General H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor; Gary Cohn, Chairman of the National Economic Council; and Donald F. McGahn II, White House Counsel.

We heard views from the press in a panel discussion moderated by Mark Shields (PBS News Hour), which included Gerald Seib, Executive Washington Editor, The Wall Street Journal; Alexis Simendinger, White House Correspondent, Realclearpolitics; and Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post.

We were treated to a presentation from highly articulate and entertaining former Ambassador from Mexico Arturo Sarukhan. Of course, someone asked him about the wall.

Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan were both speakers at this symposium two years ago and proved even more interesting this year. On a personal note, Schumer related how he grew up not too far from where I did in Brooklyn and managed to get himself out of going to a very good college--Brooklyn College--my alma mater, by snagging a basketball scholarship at Harvard. If I were only taller :-)

Notre Dame Symposium - Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan - 2017

Briefings were held in wonderful Washington D.C. historic buildings: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, The Library of Congress, and the Decatur House--all beautifully preserved.

Notre Dame Symposium - Museum of Natural History and Library of Congress - 2017

While we were there, Ed and I also visited the new and fascinating African American Museum. We learned how slavery was established in Africa, as well as how every U.S. state at the time (not only those in the South) was dependent on slavery to support its economy :-(  We also visited the Newseum, a museum dedicated to journalism, and saw the special exhibit about how music, particularly rock 'n roll in the '60s, influenced journalism which, in turn, influenced politics.

All in all, we wish we didn't have to wait two more years to attend such a varied and interesting program and place. Who knows what Washington will be like then?

Time Posted: Apr 24, 2017 at 10:21 PM
Irene Ojdana
March 9, 2017 | Irene Ojdana

Premiere Napa Valley

Late in February, Ed and I poured our 2014 Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon barrel samples at the 21st Annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and futures auction at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. This was our second year at this event, which raises funds to support the vintners and charities in Napa Valley. Hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, a non-profit organization, this year it raised $4.2 million. Bidding is open to wine-trade professionals (retailers, restauranteurs, and wholesalers), and their attendance is a wonderful way for the more than 200 vintners who participated to enhance their relationship with them. The lots were mostly 2015 cabernet sauvignon. The live auction is characterized by very lively bidding of very lively amounts. An example is the highest amount which went for $200,000 for 5 cases of 2014 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon--or $3,333 per bottle! That's what I call bidding!

Twenty per cent of the lots were sold in an online auction, which raised almost $500,000 of the day's total sales. There was a greater emphasis this year on this part of the auction to enable trade bidders anywhere in the world to participate.This is where Ed and I donated our 5 cases, which were successfully bid on by John York, owner of the San Francisco '49ers. John sampled our wine while bonding with Ed as two alums from Notre Dame University. We welcome our newest friend and fan of Vineyard {511}!

Premiere Napa Valley 2017

Time Posted: Mar 9, 2017 at 10:17 AM
Irene Ojdana
February 17, 2017 | Irene Ojdana

Cabernet for Connoisseurs

On Saturday, February 12, Ed and I attended the 22nd Annual Cabernet Tasting, Dinner and Auction, at the St. Regis Hotel, to benefit the Family House in San Francisco. The Family House is a non-profit organization, founded in 1981, to provide much needed, free temporary housing for the families of seriously ill kids receiving treatment for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, at the University of California Benioff Children's Center. The low-income families must live at least 50 miles away and, because of this benefit, are able to provide physical comfort and emotional support for their children during a critical time of their young lives. The Family House serves over 3000 families a year.

Family House

At this "Cabernet for Connoisseurs" event, we poured our 2012 Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon along with 58 other vintners, who also poured their Cabernet. Over 350 guests attended the event which included, along with the wine tasting, a delicious steak dinner and silent and live auctions to raise much needed funds for the ill children.

Family House - Cabernet for Connoisseurs 2017

Time Posted: Feb 17, 2017 at 4:45 PM
Irene Ojdana
February 1, 2017 | Irene Ojdana

Cruising the South Pacific Islands

Ed and I welcomed in 2017 aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship in the Society Islands in the South Pacific. We joined Jeff and Darice O'Neill of Ram's Gate Winery, who hosted a group of 21, which included their friends and family--all wine lovers. They generously provided their delicious wines for all of our receptions and dinners, plus a Ram's Gate Wine Seminar and Tasting for guests of the whole ship. We also shared some of our Vineyard {511} 2012 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon at one of the dinners. Everyone loved it!

During the cruise we visited the islands of Huahine, Taha'a, Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti. We toured the islands to learn about the culture of the islanders, had beach barbeques on private motus (small islands), snorkled to see lemon sharks and manterays, and had sunset cruises on a catamaran.

It was great to escape the (much needed) rain in California. 

Tahiti 2017

Time Posted: Feb 1, 2017 at 5:40 PM
Irene Ojdana
November 22, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Napa Valley Film Festival

Earlier this month, the 6th annual Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) kicked off a week of 120 prestigious screenings with celebrities, culinary demonstrations, wine tastings, winery dinners, industry panels, and parties in 13 venues up down the picturesque four villages of Napa Valley--Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Additionally, in fulfilling its mission as a non-profit organization, the Festival brought hundreds of Napa County students to the Lincoln Theater to screenings of documentaries to inspire them about the art of independent filmmaking.

On opening night, Lion, starring Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, the 2 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films) and starring Nicole Kidman, screened at the Napa's Uptown Theater. Based on Saroo Brierley's best selling memoir, Lion tells the story of an Indian (convincingly played by Patel), living in Australia with his adoptive parents (the mom being Nicole Kidman), who, as an adult, yearns to find his brother and biological mother, from whom he was separated at 5 years old in a train station in India; and Patel's character returns to India to do just that. In the Q and A following the film, Patel explained that he, himself, traveled back to India with Saroo, the Indian man he portrayed in the film, to meet the real biological mother. After the film, Ed and I chatted with Patel, a charming and gracious young actor at the Festival's opening night party at Michael Chiarello's Ottimo, which is somewhat like Eataly in New York City, with food, wine and coffee stations.

Dev Patel at Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

The next morning, Ed headed over to a major sponsor of NVFF, Meadowood, to participate on a panel for the Artists-in-Residence Master Classes. For the fifth consecutive year, the directors of the twenty films in the Narrative Features and Documentary Features Competitions stayed at the luxury Meadowood resort. (And were they thrilled about that!) Meadowood also sponsors the $10,000 in cash prizes presented at Saturday evening's Awards Ceremony to the filmmakers whose films are chosen by the NVFF jury as Best Narrative Feature (won by Heaven's Floor, directed by Lori Stoll), and to best documentary feature (won by Big Sonia, directed by Leah Worshawski).

While Ed was on the panel, I headed over to the oldest movie theater in the U.S., St. Helena's Cameo Theater, for a screening of Elle, starring French film star Isabelle Huppert and directed by provocative and controversial Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct). The film was disturbing, strange and so interesting that I couldn't stop thinking about it, and later that day a light bulb went on over my head and I finally thought I got it. Maybe.

On Thursday, I attended Variety's 10 to Taste at the Napa Riverfront, where innovative Bay Area student chefs showcased their fresh spin on dishes inspired by iconic film scenes. Their dishes were paired with 10 wines from Terlato Family Wineries. Just following,  restauranteur (Cafeteria in N.Y.C.) and T.V. star (The Food Network) Chef Tyler Florence headed up a panel, which also included actress Madelaine Zima, (Californication) to discuss the dishes and their experiences in the culinary world.

Afterwards, I headed over to the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, to hear Matthew McConaughey in an entertaining Q and A. We heard how McConaughey had taken two walkabouts by himself in the wilds. He looked great, as he had gained back all the weight he had lost for his award-winning performance in the Dallas Buyers Club. I was lucky to meet McConaughey when, after I introduced myself to him, he introduced himself to me with his first and last name. Really. I didn't know that :-)

Matthew McConaughey at Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

That evening, I went back to the Lincoln Theater for the Celebrity Tribute Awards, where Natalie Morales (Access Hollywood), interviewed filmmmaker Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels The Butler), Actor Kurt Russell (Overboard, Backdraft, Deepwater Horizon), Actor Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, Lord of the Rings, Captain Fantastic), Actor Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, Lion), Actors Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch, who were honored as up-and-coming stars. After the awards were presented (big bottles of wine), we had a photo shoot with the stars and a dinner there under a tent with a delicious meal catered by Meadowood. I sat at a table with Festival sponsor Peter Mondavi, Jr. and his wife Katie and drank some of their great Reserve Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon, and chatted with Viggo Mortensen.

Celebrity Tribute at Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

Viggo Mortensen at Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

On Friday night, Ed and I attended a screening of Mortensen's Captain Fantastic, which was fantastic! Then we headed over to Meadowood for a wonderful dinner in a tent on the croquet court, where we sat next to Kurt Russell. I was hoping his partner actress Goldie Hawn would have been there, but their son Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street) was also at our table.

Kurt Russel at Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

Saturday night we attended the Festival Gala at the Lincoln Theater and tasted some of Bob Hurley's decadent wild boar over polenta and Model Bakery's duck confit appetizers. Yummy.

Sunday night--closing night--we went to a screening of Miss Sloan, starring fabulous actress Jessica Chastain, who plays a political lobbyist in Washington D.C. and, as the director John Madden (Shakespear in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) said in the Q and A, this was a great female role, not a housewife, mother or sister. Just a strong woman. Although we had chosen to see Miss Sloan, the other film screening at the same time was Pisco Punch. After our screening, we headed to the Festival Wrap Party on the Napa Riverfront, where we sampled the delicious pisco punch. And sampled it again.

Ed and I are founding patrons of and are on the Board of Directors of the Festival, so have the opportunity to experience the best it has to offer. But many other Patrons shared our favorite screenings and events. We urge you become Patrons too. Tickets are already on sale for 2017. Save the date: November 8-12, 2017.

See you at the movies!

Time Posted: Nov 22, 2016 at 4:04 PM
Irene Ojdana
October 15, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest Party

As the leaves were slowly changing from green to orange in Napa Valley, our good friends gathered in our outdoor entertainment area Sunday to celebrate our 2016 Harvest and to toast the release of our new and delicious Vineyard {511} 2015 Carneros Chardonnay. It was such a hit, we couldn't pour enough of it! It will be available to our wine club members and at wine dinners.

Vineyard {511} Harvest Party 2016

In addition to the newly-released Chardonnay and our award-winning 2012 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, we also poured a pre-release of our 2013. We were lucky to have our winemaker Rob Lloyd and his wife Bonnie in attendance. Rob remarked how great the 2013 was tasting, which he hadn't sampled for awhile. Unfortunately, he had to leave early to get back Jessup Cellars to press our grapes, but which is also very fortunate for us as he uses a truly unique process for it.

The Chardonnay paired nicely with our appetizers, which included deviled eggs with crispy prosciutto and asparagus wrapped with fra mani ham, and the Cabernet Sauvignon paired wonderfully with the whole roasted pig, slow roasted marinated chicken thighs and yummy desserts of Chocolate It's It ice cream bars and strawberries and cream.

For entertainment, Tim Ryan, national sportscaster for CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, talked baseball and football, as well as his new book, On Someone Else's Nickel: A Life in Television, Sports, and Travel. And to top it all off, we raffled off two magnums of our Vineyard {511} 2013 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. The lucky winners were our designer Christian McDaniel and good tennis buddy Martha Bothwell.

We are looking forward to another year and another great vintage.

Time Posted: Oct 15, 2016 at 1:32 PM
Irene Ojdana
October 3, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Calistoga's Third Annual Harvest Table

What do you feed 800 dinner guests? Luckily, 13 of Calistoga's restaurants shared the burden during Calistoga's 3rd Annual Harvest Table. This unique event saw white-linen-tablecloth-covered tables, decorated with lovely sunflowers, stretch all the way down Lincoln Avenue, which was closed to traffic. Some of the restaurants that participated were the Calistoga Inn, Brannan's, Johnny's, Checkers and the Culinary Institute of America. Volunteers manned wine stations selling wine provided by wineries from the Calistoga AVA.

Patrons had signed up in advance in a mad rush for each restaurant reservation, which sold out almost immediately. Ed and I scored tickets for Checkers for a delicious Italian meal, featuring lasagna and New York cheesecake. (I remember that from my Brooklyn days.) For every ticket sold, the Calistoga Chamber set aside a portion of the proceeds to benefit Calistoga Cares Food Pantry. This year the donation was about $4000.

Last year, the diners had to eat inside the restaurants, as the entire stretch of Lincoln Avenue had to be open to allow fire trucks to drive through to fight the devasting Lake County fires. This year, we had the boulevard all to ourselves, all 800 of us.

Calistoga Annual Harvest Table 2016

Time Posted: Oct 3, 2016 at 5:56 PM
Irene Ojdana
October 3, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest

Our Vineyard {511} Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District vineyard was harvested on the early morning of September 26--two weeks earlier in the year than it was last year, when we thought we had had an early harvest. Both summers were warm, and we ended up harvesting at a 26 brix. Our vineyard management company, John Deer Farms, arrived at the vineyard at 5 am and worked away feverishly, but carefully, until around 9:30 am. Then we went back to the house and had a nap. They went on to another vineyard--no nap for them. They work tirelessly, and we really depend on them to do the great job that they do.

Vineyard {511} Harvest 2016

Time Posted: Oct 3, 2016 at 5:39 PM
Irene Ojdana
September 30, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Labor Day Wine Tasting and Croquet

What to do with nine visiting relatives over Labor Day? Besides cooling off in our swimming pool, two of the best activities Ed and I planned for them was a tour, tasting and lunch at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, in Napa, and croquet and dinner on the croquet lawn at Meadowood Resort, in St. Helena.

Robert Sinskey provided a wonderful experience, which included touring its vegetable garden, cave (where we viewed its fermenting tanks and oak aging barrels), and where we had a fabulous lunch, named "A Perfect Circle," paired with Sinskey wines. My favorites of the "Perfect Circle" were: in the"Beginning," the everything lavash, smoked salmon, garden cucumbers, and creme fraiche, paired with a 2013 Carneros/Sonoma Pinot Blanc; in the "Middle," Gnocchi, Duck Confit Chanterelles, Romano Beans, and Parmesan, paired with a 2013 Carneros/Napa Valley Pinot Noir; and in the "End," a Hudson Ranch pork, with early girl tomatoes and Huckleberries, paired with a 2010 Marcien, Proprietary Red from Carneros/Napa Valley. We finished the lunch off with a  great late harvest wine and sweets.

Robert Sinskey - The Perfect Circle

Croquet at Meadowood was a totally different experience--outdoors (no cave!)-- that included a friendly family competition. We started out with tips on how to play the game from croquet pro Mike McDonnell and some of Vineyard {511} soon-to-be-released 2015 Carneros Chardonnay. We broke up into teams and soon we were all playing like pros, helped along by our Chardonnay. Not bragging, of course, but have to say, my team, consisting of Ed and me and our Chardonnay, were the champs of both our games.

Croquet at Meadowood

Our dinner that followed on the croquet glen overlooking the croquet lawn included delicious grilled veggies, salmon and roast beef, paired so nicely with our Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. Chocolate cookies too.

Oh boy, now how will we follow that up next year???

Time Posted: Sep 30, 2016 at 9:29 AM
Irene Ojdana
September 14, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Revisiting St. Petersburg, Russia; and Helsinki, Finland

After our long weekend in Iceland, Ed and I headed to St. Petersburg, Russia, where we had been on our honeymoon 18 years ago. Then, we only spent a couple of days there as a shore exursion on a Baltic country cruise. This time we spent 6 days and found an entirely different city. The first time around, no one smiled and remnants of the worst of the Soviet Union were all around. This time we found a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, with lots of people on the street, hurrying to shop or eat at fine restaurants. And there was advertising all around.

After a late arrival at our Four Seasons Lion Palace Hotel, we had dinner at Percoso, its great Italian restaurant. A highlight of the meal was an inventive, delicious and decadent dessert called my grandmother's teacup, with ice cream and chocolate floating out of a teacup. When we at at the Cococo at the W Hotel on our last night in St. Petersburg, we also had a similar, creative dessert called my grandmother's flower pot. Russians (like me) like their desserts!

Then, the next morning, we were off to bed to rest up for a special early entry in the Hermitage museum, one hour before it was open to the public. The visit took us back to another world: a time when Catherine the Great commissioned whole buildings to house an ever-growing collection of the world's finest art. The former Winter Palace now spans just about every artistic period from Greek and Roman collecitons to Matisse. This museum holds the largest collection of art in the world. Among so many wonderful works of art, I loved the only Michaelangelo in the museum -- a sculpture of a crouching man and Naiad -- and a lovely oil on canvas of a long-haired nude woman swimming gracefully in the ocean, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1896).

St. Petersburg, Russia, Hermitage Museum

Outside the Hermitage, we were surprised to see men and women in blue sailors' outfits, waving blue flags and balloons, in honor of Russia's Air Force Day.

That afternoon, after a visit to St. Isaac's Cathedral, with its malachite and lapis lazuli columns, we ended our day with a visit to the brand new Russian Vodka Museum, located in the historical building of the Horse Guard Regiment Headquarters and Stables. There Ed did vodka shots with some of the veterans of the Russian Air Force celebrating Russia's Air Force Day. Ed certainly had to have a careful tasting of many different brands of vodka in order to celebrate the Russian holiday properly!

St. Petersburg, Russia, Vodka Museum

The next day, we drove out to the Russian countryside Catherine Palace, one of the city's most elegant and beautiful palaces. It was originally designed in the 1750s in the Rococo style by the famous architect Rastrelli (also designed many of St. Petersburg's grandest buildings, such as the Winter Palace). Catherine the Great remodeled it in the Neo-Classical style and, after her death. it remained largely unchanged for over a century until the Second World War, when the Nazi army, retreating after the unsuccessful siege of Leningrad (no called St. Petesburg again) destroyed the palace almost completely. After the war , the magnificent palace and its interiors were thorought and painstakingly rebuilt, but renovations at some part still continue.

While at Catherine Palace, we visited the fabulous Amber Room and amber workshops, where craftsmen rebuilt the wonderful amber panels lost in World War 11. The artisan explained how each panel was painstakingly recreated.

On our way back into the city, we took a boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg, canals which were modeled after the charming canals of Amsterdam, as Peter the Great was a big fan of Amsterdam, as we are.

That evening we met up with our friends from California who were visiting St. Petersburg at the same time as we were. This great coincidence led to a terrific meal with them at Mamaliga, high above the city, with a great view all around, and an open kitchen.

The next day, Ed and I had equal time for the Russian Orthodox religion and the Jewish religion. We visited the Church on Spilled Blood  (named that way as it stands on the spot that Emperor Alexander 11 was assassinated in 1881), and visited St. Petersburg's beautiful and newly restored Grand Choral Synagogue, one of the largest in Europe. The church is the only one in the world covered completely inside and out by mosaices of tiles and precious and semi-precious stones. The synagogue, in the Moorish style, is still the center of Jewish life in the city.

On our last full day in St. Petersburg, we headed out to Peter the Great's summer palace, Peterof, to see the palaces' countless fountains and gardens. Peterhof Palace is often called the Russian Versailles due to the prominence of the fountains and gardens. The baroque palace, which overlooks them, is ornate, and we couldn't help think that all the over-the-top gold decorated rooms of Peterof, Catherine Palace and the Hermitage, was why there was a Russian Revolution. In addition to a very interesting visit underneath the fountains to learn of their remarkable engineering and history, we had a lovely lunch in the gardens.

St. Petersburg, Russia, Peterof Palace

We finished off this terrific day at Cococo, the restaurant at the W Hotel, where the fun looking room was decorated with chandeliers topped off with -- get this--chicken feathers, instead of candles. How about that?

On the way to the airport on our last day, we visited the War Memorial dedicated to the Russian soldiers who died in World War 11 and the struggles endured by the people of the city during the war--a somewhat sad way to end our visit. However, we did get to visit a boutique food shop, which featured colorful chocolate shoes. Wear them or eat them?

St. Petersburg, Russia, Chocolate Shoes

On our way home, we had a one-day stop over in Helsinki, Finland--a short, but sweet visit. Some of the highlights of our visit included a visit to a temple dedicated to meditation, a church in a cave, a restaurant with a wonderful sunset view of the Helsinki harbor, and a visit to the farmer's market for a snack of homemade waffles. Yum. We took a pass on the reindeer hot dog!

Helsinki, Finland, Hot Dogs

Time Posted: Sep 14, 2016 at 10:26 PM