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Entertaining Auction Napa Valley Style

Wineries pull out all the stops when they host their exclusive dinners as part of Auction Napa Valley. Here, three top vintners share their secrets for having a flawless dinner party, no matter where you live.

Guests at the garden's long communal table, with a classical guitarist providing live music; Diners enjoy some of Darioush's most special wines; Chef Sarah Scott's southern Italian-inspired cuisine

A Warm Welcome

Darioush, located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, has hosted special vintners' dinners many times. And at each one, the goal is the same: for guests to enjoy a warm, intimate gathering.

Last year, Darioush welcomed 24 guests at its Vintner-Hosted Dinner on the eve of Auction Napa Valley. The hosts poured some of their most sought-after wines and served up a four-course dinner inspired by southern Italian cuisine. "We want guests to feel at ease ... and feel the warmth of that welcome," says Jessica Hague, vice president of retail sales and marketing.

Most events at Darioush feature live music, and special touches often include beautifully bound menus and keepsake items, such as estate olive oil. "We have a less-is-more mentality when entertaining," Hague says. "For example, we use beautiful white table linens and attractive lighting, chosen for their simplicity and subtlety. At the same time, we like our events to have a sense of drama, and our setting naturally provides that."

The Aqualillies synchronized swimming group; The winery's barrel room; A selection of Marciano Estate wines; The appetizing menu created by Josiah Citrin from Melisse Santa Monica.

Expect the Unexpected

Marciano Estate's distinct sense of place is integral to the events hosted at the historic winery on the western edge of St. Helena. That distinctiveness is due in no small part to the aesthetic vision of Maurice Marciano, the proprietor of the estate and co-founder of the Guess apparel brand.

For most occasions at Marciano, guests are seated at one long table "so that everyone gets involved in the conversation," says Andrew Shaheen, director of sales and marketing. Attention is paid to every detail, from the selection of flowers to the sometimes surprising choice of live entertainment.

Last year, guests at a dinner hosted as part of Auction Napa Valley were treated to an unexpected performance by the Aqualillies synchronized swimming group in the estate's pool. "Fun is a central component of everything we do," Shaheen notes.

The Mondavis' beautifully appointed dining table; Gazpacho shots at Aloft Wine dinner; A view of the estate; The menu prepared by acclaimed chef Casey Thompson.

Home is Where the Heart Is

Not surprisingly, given their roots in Napa Valley, Janice and Marc Mondavi of Aloft Wine try to make guests feel immediately at home at their Howell Mountain vineyard. "My approach is to make people feel comfortable, and one way I do that is by serving meals family style," Janice says. "It helps create interaction and camaraderie."

At her larger events, Janice likes to have a mix of tables of different sizes, and she places different but harmonious floral arrangements on each one. Of course, the third-generation Mondavis make wine the central focus when they entertain, along with a complementary menu that is often based on tried-and-true family recipes.

At the end of her dinner parties, Janice likes to present guests with a unique memento. "One special gift of ours is a bottle opener made from 1940s barrel staves," she says. "People enjoy learning about our family's winemaking history, and this is one way we can share it with them."


Expert Advice

Plan ahead

Set the table, decorate your space and prep everything you can before the big day.

Keep it simple

An out-of-this-world dinner party doesn't have to be overwhelming. Plenty of warm lighting, beautiful glassware, fresh flowers and crisp neutral linens can elevate any occasion.

Put out the welcome mat

Skip the formalities and make your guests feel right at home, setting them up with a drink and conversation partner when they arrive.

Sound advice

A thoughtfully curated playlist or live music adds to the festive ambiance.

Wine, then dine

Break out your favorite vintages or a selection of pours that have special meaning to you; share those connections with your guests, verbally or through an annotated wine list.

Encourage interaction

If you have the space, arrange your guests at one long table for a convivial family-style meal.

Make it personal

Bid your guests farewell with a small memento of the evening, something that reflects the theme of the gathering or your own history.