Note: this is from October, it’s taken that long for me to get this new blog up and running.
Oct 5, 2008: I went to Martini House last night for a late supper and I can’t imagine a better place to enjoy and evening of friendship and wine. Pat Kuleto’s redo of the home of 1920s-opera-singer-turned-bootlegger, Walter Martini, is full of warm colors and craftsman lighting. The patio, garlanded with of tiny lights, beckons night after night, until finally you say, hey, tonight we’re going to Martini House.
On our table was a card with a welcoming quote from Napoleon Bonapate, “In victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it,” and a few drink suggestions. What a way to get things started! I took the bait and started with a glass of Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut. Not the best pairing for the beautiful mushroom soup I ordered but that was my bad, not chef Todd Humphries’.
I’m a sucker for Schramsberg and not only for The Story. Jack and Jamie Davies raised three boys in the rugged wilderness of Diamond Mountain while resurrecting the abandoned winery of Jacob Schram. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about visiting Schram’s cellar while he was honeymooning in a derelict cabin near the winery. For me, “Honeymoon” and “cabin” don’t pair any better than my Schramsberg Mirabelle and cream of mushroom soup but that’s OK, there’s more to wine and love than perfect pairing.
The other reason Schramsberg’s sparkling wine will always tempt me is Hugh Davies, the youngest of the three boys, who was born a month after the family moved to the property and is now the winery’s CEO. I met him at Copia after reading about him in Conway’s The Far Side of Eden and he was something of a celebrity to me. But like many of the Napa vitirati he turned out to be warm, humble and a teensy bit geeky. You gotta love a guy who says he wins a lot of awards for American sparkling wine because there just aren’t that many American sparkling wines. He did a trick of whacking a bottleneck off with a sword but what I remember most was the 20-year-old Blanc de Blanc he shared to compare with a more recent vintage. Toasty, nutty, honey bubbles. In your nose. In your mouth. Mmm. Reminds me why people get all het up about wine.
Which brings me back to Martini House. One of the best things about going to a restaurant is to be surrounded by other happy people who are celebrating friendship at their table just like you are at yours. Maybe it was the latish hour but we struck out in the surrounded by happy people department. Our table was next to two parties who didn’t belong in as warm a place as Martini House. I'll call them Business Dinner Hell and Serious Wine Quartet and neither party was having any fun. At the business dinner table, the polite trio listening to their senior partner’s monolog were so obviously wishing they could confess their sins and at least make it into purgatory that my stomach churned with empathy. But perhaps even more tragic, because these folks had more control over their dinner destiny, was the Serious Wine Quartet. The men held their glasses carefully by the stems, sniffed and made mental tasting notes while the women looked like they would prefer to be under a quilt with paperback of chick lit. Wine is fascinating, yes. I do get that. But let’s not forget that wine’s most powerful quality is the cozy hum that builds like a chemical reaction when you mix wine and food with friends. Cheers!