Posts From September 2007

September 26, 2007

Oxbow School draws talented teens

Talented Teens Drawn To Napa Valley’s Oxbow School
Semester-Long Program Produces Skilled Thinkers & Artists

By any measure, a school that sends teenaged graduates to colleges like Harvard, Yale and M.I.T. is doing a good job educating the young.

But when the same program also sees alumni accepted to New York’s highly selective Cooper Union, while others pursue careers in science – then, you know something unusual is going on at Napa’s Oxbow School.

The Oxbow School is founded on the premise that - through rigorous studio art practice grounded in creative and intellectual inquiry - an individual's critical thinking abilities are profoundly enhanced.

“I don’t think you measure Oxbow’s success in terms of SAT scores or degrees,” said Oxbow head and founding director Stephen Thomas, a printmaker who has worked with artists as diverse as Wayne Thiebaud and John Cage.           
“I think you measure it by whether or not the students feel empowered to pursue their interests, whatever their career interests are in life.”

Since 1999, some 500 teenagers have experienced Oxbow’s one-of-a-kind semester program in the fine arts. A 16-week version of the traditional “junior year abroad,” Oxbow immerses high-school juniors and seniors in the practice of art and critical inquiry .

Students from California make up the largest group at Oxbow, but the school also draws young artists from as far away as Florida and Maine.

Living in campus suites along a bend in the Napa River, the students spend their days in the school’s well-appointed waterfront studios, working with accomplished artist-instructors. During the first twelve weeks of the semester they build their skills; the last month is devoted to a final project. Instead of graduation exercises, they personally present their completed works in a public exhibition.

Three meals a day, prepared from fresh, local ingredients by chefs who came to Oxbow from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant, introduce the young artists to the pleasures of a deliciously nutritious diet:

“Part of our philosophy is to introduce students to a healthy lifestyle on all levels,” Thomas explained.

That philosophy includes the life of the mind: Oxbow’s educational design is informed by the theory on multiple intelligences developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner. Like Gardner, Thomas believes that the future will belong to those who have not one type of intelligence, but five:

“‘The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking,’” Thomas said, quoting Gardner. “‘The synthesizing mind takes information from different sources.
Oxbow students develop a new sense of identity, self-worth and confidence that enables
them to take more active responsibility for their learning and lives.

The creating mind breaks new ground and raises new ideas. The respectful mind welcomes differences between people. The ethical mind ponders the nature and purpose of work.’

“This is exactly what this pedagogy and this community should be about,” Thomas concluded.

The Oxbow experience has been an enduring one for alumni like Rachel Mikulsky, who attended in the fall of 2004. Mikulsky returned to the school in June to speak at last year’s annual “Celebration of an Artful Life” gala.

“At Oxbow, they taught us to explore, to challenge what we know, and
to seek understanding of what we do not,” Mikulsky told guests at the dinner.

“The way Newton explored, theorized and experimented is no different from the way students are asked to explore, theorize and experiment while at Oxbow. Now, to me a true artist is an inventor and a true inventor is an artist,” continued Mikulsky, who attends the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland.

“So now, at twenty, I find myself … not in art school like I might have planned, but instead pursuing a degree in sustainable development and economics. I find that I feel more like an artist than I ever did.”

Oxbow School is taking applications through the end of this year for its spring semester, which begins Jan. 23. For more information, contact the school at 707-255-6000 or

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or

Posted by Pamela at 5:36 PM | Comments (0) | Share on Facebook | Art Education, Non-wine activities in Napa Valley, Oxbow School


September 25, 2007

Justin Meyer's Love of Port Lives On

Today’s worldwide craze for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon owes a lot to vintner Justin Meyer. The former Christian Brothers winemaker co-founded Silver Oak Cellars in 1972, crafting nothing but cabs – and the wine-drinking world beat a path to his door, making Silver Oak the valley’s first cult winery.

Meyer Family Vineyards in Yorkville Highlands attracts wine buyers who enjoy a picnic, especially for the fall harvest and spring wild flower show.  Picnic tables are provided, provisions are available nearby and the Meyers generously provide a bocce ball court for the sporting among their following.
Photos by Faith Echtermeyer

The same love for life that led Meyer out of religious orders and into the wider world of wine made him a popular Napa resident who earned new friends wherever he traveled.

“We can’t go anywhere without people telling me stories about my father,” said Meyer’s son Matt.  “So many people have such nice things to say about him, wherever I go.”

Along with the cabs that put Oakville on the map, Meyer had another passion, one with roots reaching back to his days as a Christian Brother at the order’s St. Helena winery: making port.

Birth of a brand
Meyer was well-known to love a glass of port with a good cigar; but nobody – least of all his own family – expected him to announce, one day in 1987, that he’d bought a batch of barreled tawny port from his old order. The Meyer Family brand made its debut when Meyer began selling his port at Silver Oak a few years later.

Unlike vintage ports, Meyer Family is made in the solera style more commonly associated with sherry: New zinfandel from old vines is blended in each year for the five to six years it spends in barrels.

Meyer Family Cellars port and syrah.
Photos by John McJunkin

Once the port is bottled, another three years will pass before it is released for sale. The result of this patient aging is a silky and fragrant port with warm-spice aromas and a long, concentrated finish.

Family continues the tradition
Justin Meyer died in 2002, a few years after establishing the Meyer Family Cellars winery in the Yorkville Highlands district of Mendocino County’s rural Anderson Valley. His son Matt and daughter-in-law Karen Meyer now live and raise their young daughter Sidney above the winery, where the couple works together on nearly every aspect of the business.

Karen and Sidney Meyer on left. Matt and Sidney at her first filtering on right.
Photos by Faith Echtermeye

The Meyers now make a cool-climate syrah, an Oakville cab and, of course, the port that started it all. Each year they bottle just 20 percent of the port, aged to Justin Meyer’s specifications to produce a smooth, rich elixir that pairs companionably with everything from cheese and nuts to the good cigars he loved.

Meyer Family Cellars is open to the public for tasting, picnics and bocce at 19750 Highway 128 in Yorkville Highlands; call 707-895-2341 for current hours. ###

Map to the winery

Images of the Meyer Family Cellars

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or

Posted by Pamela at 4:52 PM | Comments (1) | Share on Facebook | Napa Valley Wines


September 13, 2007

Harvest check list for Quintessa

Sauvignon Blanc harvested, fermenting nicely
Silverdale South Merlot night harvest in progress
September 22 Equinox fast approaching

Was this Michael Sipiora's check list upon waking in the pre-dawn today?  

It might have been.  Last week’s high temperatures have everyone on the move here in the wine country.   As a biodynamic and organic farmer at Napa Valley's Quintessa Estate, he has a few additional considerations in mind.

The vines ready for harvest at Quintessa on August 31, 2007.

Sipiora is viticulturist for Quintessa Vineyards in Rutherford (Napa Valley), a piece of vineyard land that is in itself somewhat remarkable.  In 1989 co-proprietor Valeria Huneeus identified these 280 acres as the last great undeveloped property in the Napa Valley. On land never before farmed, she saw a great wine estate with rolling hills, myriad microclimates and a vast diversity of complex soil types. Now, 18 years later, Quintessa is home to a respected wine estate.  Valeria has been its vineyard master (or mistress?), laying out and planting the vineyard blocks and determining with certitude that Quintessa would be chemical free.

From L to R, these wooden boxes provide shelter for the bees at Quintessa. Stinging Nettle and Chamomile grow in their biodynamic gardens and are made into tea.

Today Michael Sipiora is the devoted steward of this property.  He lives in a world of Stinging Nettle tea, algae extracts, kelp meal,  and humic acids.  He thinks about vemicompost from the Sonoma Valley Worm Farm to add organic matter and micro-organisms to the soil. And yucca, aloe, algae and quartz to protect his vines from extreme heat, among other things.

Thinned as much as 3 tons per acre before the ripening process really kicked in.

Applied biodynamic 501 preparation on fruit days, a solution with quarts that is applied to foliage to stimulate the ripening process.  This application was made when the moon was in Leo.  Leo is associated with fruiting.  According to biodynamic theory, the processes in the plant are heightened during this period.
Applied stinging nettle tea with algae extracts, kelm meal and humic acids to combat leafhoppers in some blocks.

Used this same tea in the drip irrigation system to rejuvenate the soils, add nutrients, plant hormones and help the elements in the soil to bind.  This proved particularly beneficial on the rocky hillsides where organic matter is at a minimum.


Summer Equinox.  With the help of the cows who reside permanently in the Quintessa vineyard, Michael will prepare horn manure and bury it in a small ceremony.

Tess, one of the Quintessa's two cows, provides manure for the compost pile and brings serenity to the property.

After 17 years of grape farming, Quintessa has embarked on a re-planting schedule for some of its 26 different vineyard blocks. At the north end of the property, Michael is preparing the Limelight block for replanting.   His objective is to change the rootstock, clone, row orientation and spacing. Last year mustard, rapes, and many kinds of grasses and cover crops were planted.  In the spring the soil was tilled.  Biodynamic compost, rock phosphate and lime were added to introduce magnesium and raise the ph.  Now the land lies fallow for a year (no fumigation!) to reduce nematode populations. In Quintessa's continuing search for quality, Silverdale North will be ripped out at the end of harvest and added to the replant schedule.

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.0
The Winery at Quintessa      

In 2002, Valeria and Agustin Huneeus' dream of the Quintessential Wine Estate, one vineyard that produces one singular estate wine, was realized with the opening of the winery at Quintessa. Walker Warner Architects of San Francisco designed the winery to reflect Agustin and Valeria Huneeus' desire for an inconspicuous structure that would blend into the contours of the property. The graceful crescent-shaped design was carefully considered for its environmental sensitivity and fits snugly into an eastern-facing hillside, disrupting little in the way of the aesthetics or natural beauty of the property. A facade of indigenous stone and natural landscaping of native plants and oak trees creates a subtle presence amidst the diverse terrain.

Winemaking Facilities 

Quintessa is truly a "winemaker's winery." The design facilitates a gravity-flow process and a state-of-the-art winery specifically tailored with fermenters and tanks sized to match the diverse blocks in the Quintessa vineyard. Additionally, the winery at Quintessa is outfitted with the latest in winemaking technology. French oak and stainless steel fermenters stand tall along the winery's front wall, providing the winemaking team with a choice of characteristics adding complexity and subtlety to the blend. Two Vaslin-Bucher JLB automated basket presses, designed to retain the benefits of gentle basket pressing while incorporating new efficiency and precision, are situated at the center of the tank room to receive the grape must following fermentation and maceration. At the heart of the winery and overlooking the tanks and presses below, sits the glass-enclosed blending room and adjoining modern lab where the winemaking progress is painstakingly monitored daily.

Behind the press hall lies the main entrance to Quintessa's caves, 1,200 linear feet (17,000 square feet) of caves and tunnels carved into the volcanic ash hillside directly behind the winery. Here the wine is left to age in French oak barrels in ideal cellaring conditions for 16-20 months before bottling. Quintessa's caves can be entered through one of four porticos from the winery and have a capacity to store up to 3000 barrels.

Address: 1601 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, CA 94574
  P.O. Box 505, Rutherford, CA 94573
Telephone: 707-967-1601
Tasting appointment: Visitors are welcome by appointment only. Tasting fee is $35 a person. Tours are offered at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.
Architecture: Walker and Warner Architects
Proprietors: Agustin and Valeria Huneeus
Acreage: 280 acres of which 170 acres are planted
Consulting Winemaker: Aaron Pott
Director of Vineyards and Winemaking: Charles Thomas
Viticulturist Michael Sipiora
Varietals planted: Classic Bordeaux grape varieties in 26 vineyard blocks as follows: Cabernet Sauvignon (129 acres), Merlot (26 acres), Cabernet Franc (7 acres), Petit Verdot (4 acres), and Carmenere (4 acres)
Sales Inquiry: Jim Sweeney, Managing Director
Marketing Inquiry: Gwen McGill, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
Hospitality Inquiry: Lora McCarthy, Director of Hospitality

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or

Posted by Pamela at 9:31 AM | Comments (0) | Share on Facebook | Biodynamic Farming, Napa Valley Wines, Organic, Quintessa