The Tough Life Of A Wine Guy

Lyle Fujioka
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Friday - April 07, 2006 - MidWeek the weekend

As a wine merchant, I’ve often been teased about what is perceived as having the ideal job. This conclusion seems reasonable when one considers the “work” requires tasting hundreds of wines, dining at the finest restaurants and traveling to the great wine regions of the world.

But is this pasture that green?

The following is a chronological log of a recent trip to the Premier Napa Valley Auction. Premier Napa is a benefit sponsored by the Vintners’ Association and is held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. It entails a tasting of highly allocated five-, 10- and 20-case lots of one-of-a-kind Napa wine futures created exclusively for this event.

Wednesday: Arriving in San Francisco at 8:30 p.m., I’m picked up by two Italian wine importers for a dinner meeting at Supa, the city’s hot new Italian restaurant. The wines presented are exciting and the food is beyond gastronomical comprehension. We close this place and I check into the hotel after 1 a.m.

Thursday: Catch a cab at 10:30 a.m. to make an appointment at Green’s - San Francisco’s venerable vegetarian establishment. After a three-hour lunch meeting with its wine director, Chaylee Priete, I am enthralled with the synergy of freshness created by pairing clean vegetarian dishes with bright, crisp wines. Catching a cab from Fort Mason is an arduous horror story, but I eventually get to the Wine Club to visit a longtime friend who is the store’s buyer. Returning to the hotel, catching a catnap, I’m then off for an 8:30 dinner/tasting at megastar Chef Traci Jardin’s Jardinnairre. The night begins with a sampling of two dozen 2003 Bordeauxs. The wines are superlative and live up to the press hype. Another extraordinary meal follows, and once again, we close the restaurant. The hotel doorman welcomes me back after 1 a.m.

Friday: 7:30 a.m. breakfast meeting with yet another Italian wine importer. I have been admonished by local wine distributor/aka chauffeur extraordinaire Don Thompson and Halekulani’s wine director Randy Ching to be ready for a 9 a.m. departure. Exhausted, these guys have flown in on the overnighter. Arriving in Napa at 10:30 a.m., we immediately begin our long day of touring. As part of Premier Napa, participating wineries host preview tastings into the night. Highlights include a deluxe wine tasting at Girards with a follow-up event at The All Pritchard Hill Wineries. Cult wine Bond i.e. “cannot find wine” at the exclusive Meadow Wood Resorts is stunning, and the food spread rivals the wine. The new Cliff Lede Vineyards takes form and function to unparalleled architectural heights. Young and incredibly talented winemaker Michelle Edwards is poised to guide Cliff Lede to destined glory. With the valley burgeoning with industry people, the top restaurants are sold out as we end up for another late dinner at The Rutherford Grill. The calories are mounting ...

Saturday: Breakfast is a must to endure the debauchery ahead of us. Premier Napa commences at 9:30 a.m. With more than 1,000 attendees, speed, focus and a lot of wine spitting are required to navigate through the gauntlet of 181 wineries. Top three wines for our party were from Cliff Lede, Etude and Rocca. Lunch begins at noon with an amazing array of courses prepared by the CIA’s students and faculty. The double-fried French fries served in mini paper cones greeting you at the entrance were worth numerous visits. 1 p.m.: The auction bell rings. With five-case lots (60 bottles) ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 - the record bid is $85,000, this signature event has strayed from its original goal. The intent was to provide an opportunity for both stores and restaurants to offer special wines for their customers. At the rate these wines now go for, they become overpriced items not conducive for resale. I use this event strictly for previewing the next year’s releases and establishing relationships with new producers.

8 p.m.: We go across the street from the Rancho Caymus Inn to La Luna Mexican Market for its taqueria. A constant stream of migrant workers flows in and out. Our in-hotel-room feast of tacos, burritos and salads, accompanied by ice-cold beer and prosecco, will be forever memorable.

Epilog:Was this trip “cruising” or “stressing”? Well, I keep promising myself that I will someday visit the valley as a civilian.

Vacation, please!

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