November 8, 2016

Napa Valley Steakhouse Summit

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News

A self-professed “wine geek”, Hy’s Whistler Sommelier Claudie Simard recently had an ultimate bucket list adventure…4 days “geeking out” at the Napa Valley Steakhouse Summit.

As an invited guest, Claudie had the honor of joining 21 other industry professionals from around the United States, Canada, and London, England. The Napa Valley Steakhouse Summit is a multi-day immersion program designed for sommeliers and wine buyers who work in the steakhouse sector. They are passionate about wine education and seek to have a more fully rounded look at this unique and iconic wine growing region. As Claudie says, “the Summit wasn’t about selling wines from Napa, it was about educating us about the history of Napa, the people, the unique geological formation, the soil, the ideal grape growing climate…and the human touch behind the wine”.

Although she has extensive education and experience, what really resonated with Claudie on this visit in particular was the “family” nature of winemaking in Napa Valley. She found a great sense of community and sharing of knowledge, and above all, the passion to make great wine. Some winemakers may focus on science, some on technology, some on finance, but there is an underlying love and passion in every bottle.

Claudie discovered that 95% of Napa Valley wineries are family owned, and many are handed down from one generation to the next. In fact, she had the chance to meet and break bread with several next-generation winemakers, representing such iconic names as Pahlmeyer, Peju and Mondavi. Another standout highlight was a visit to Freemark Abbey, where a beef seminar focused on understanding various cuts of meat and how their flavors react with the components in wine. She came away even better qualified (and excited) to match her wine list and her expertise with her steakhouse guests’ menu preferences and choices.

Deep diving into the geology, topography and climate in the Valley was fascinating for all attendees. The relatively small area, and the terroir, is remarkably diverse. And long before “green” and “sustainability” were in vogue, Napa Valley was at the forefront of environmental leadership, establishing the country’s first agricultural preserve in 1968. Claudie had the chance to discover some of the green practices being implemented at Napa Valley wineries, and the criteria for eligibility for Napa Green Land and Winery Certification. Napa Valley Vintners hopes its entire membership is “Napa Green” by 2020.

Having had the opportunity to learn so much about the history of the Napa Valley vineyards and what makes them special, Claudie says she now “tastes with her brain”. More than just opening and simply enjoying a bottle of wine (there’s time for that too!), she can’t help but think of the terroir, and the drive and vision of an entire community.

“It was intense, but highly gratifying, to be surrounded by people who have a passion for quality winemaking, and a love and respect for the land”.