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Holiday Hosting How-To: Party Pointers From Napa Winemakers

The holiday season is about to hit full swing. This special time of year is synonymous with many things, including gatherings with family and friends.

Each year, holiday hosts face the challenge of setting their seasonal soirees apart from all the other parties guests attend between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Such a challenge is nothing three of Napa Valley’s top winemakers haven’t faced before. Each year, Chimney Rock Winery’s Elizabeth Vianna, Markham Vineyard’s Kimberlee Nicholls and Rutherford Hill’s Marisa Taylor play host to family and friends and each have their own unique take on holiday hosting.


Break free from first-time jitters

It’s common to feel pressure when hosting a holiday get-together for the first time. Many families have traditions that date back several decades, so being tasked with carrying on those traditions can sometimes be daunting. But Taylor, a wine country native and veteran host, notes that honoring family traditions while simultaneously creating a festive and fun atmosphere is nothing to be afraid of.

”People are sometimes intimidated by holiday entertaining,” said Taylor, whose Rutherford Hill Merlot has long been a benchmark for Napa Valley varietals. “But the truth is, just a few small touches can create an ambiance that elevates the whole experience. I think it even makes the food and wine taste better.”

Taylor incorporates family history with her own unique hosting touches by bringing out vintage family photos and heirlooms that guests can pass around her stylishly decorated dinner table.


Let new traditions take root

Another way for hosts to set their holiday parties apart from the masses is to try something new at the dinner table. Each year, Vianna, who presides over the production of the popular Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignons, hosts a special kind of dinner for friends who help her get through the often exhausting harvest season. Dubbed “Friendsgiving,” the celebration takes place at the end of autumn harvest season and includes friends, family and colleagues who contributed to another successful harvest. Vianna even encourages “Friendsgiving” guests to bring a postcard from somewhere around the world to use as a dinner table place card. This simple, yet creative idea inspires interesting conversation at Vianna’s holiday table, and hosts can incorporate their own creative touches to make their parties more memorable and enjoyable. For example, each year, Nicholls, whose award-winning varietals at Markham include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, assembles a graceful tablescape using marble and wood serving trays, vintage tablecloths and a tiered cake stand to create an elegant display guests won’t soon forget.


The more the merrier

Family always make the holiday dinner guest list, but Nicholls notes that holiday hosting is about opening our homes to people, whether those people share our last names or not. Inviting some fresh faces can stimulate engaging conversation and lift the spirits of someone who might not be able to make it home for the holidays.


“I’ve been known to invite people I meet at Markham winery who might not have anywhere else to go for the holidays,” said Nicholls. “Somehow there’s always enough food.”