Wine, Swine, and Caves in Napa Valley

Pig roasts, wine, and a trip to Napa Valley. A weekend really couldn’t get any sweeter than that, right? A few weeks ago, Steve spent a few days on the West Coast to attend the 2012 Pork Summit at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. The summit packs in three days of farm-to-fork education, wine pairings classes, butchering demos, and lots of cooking. Steve is already quite familiar with the butchering aspect, having hosted a hog butchering demo here in the studio, but there are always new recipes and techniques to learn from the incredible chefs at these events.

Of course, there was a lot of delicious food being cooked outside the classroom as well. On Saturday evening, National Pork Board hosted a pig roast at the picturesque Hourglass Vineyard in Napa. The weather was beautiful, the smell of slowly-cooking pork filled the air, and 18 chefs got down to business preparing the meal for the nearly 60 guests in attendance. It wasn’t just what was on the plate that made the night memorable, though; it was where the dinner was held: inside Hourglass Vineyard’s wine cave.

An empty wine cave is a nearly mystical space. Low, arched ceilings and the cool silence lend the cave a church-like atmosphere. There, quietly and slowly, the barrels age young wine until it is ready for bottling. The room transformed once all the guests filed in and began to eat and drink; then, the sounds of conversation and laughter bounced off the stone walls.

Most people think of caves as old, natural spaces carved by weather patterns over millions of years. But many of the nearly 200 wine caves in Napa, including Hourglass, were built by humans much more recently. In the late 1800s, Chinese immigrants who had come to work in the California mines were also put to work building wine caves in Sonoma and Napa. In the last few decades, engineers have begun to use huge roadheaders, milling heads, and other drills to carve into a rock face, or have used dynamite to clear large cavities in a mountainside. During the building of Hourglass’ relatively new cave, an extra box of dynamite was left over after the main cave was cleared, so the engineers and vineyard owners decided to blow out a small, adjacent room that they’ve furnished with couches and affectionately refer to as “The Man Room.”

After a fantastic meal in the main cave, Steve, Andrew, MaryBeth and CeCe were invited by the vineyard’s owner, Jeff Smith, for a special barrel tasting. Barrel tasting is a unique experience; young wines, still aging in their barrels, are opened, decanted, and sampled before they reach the bottling phase. Steve says the wines at Hourglass were fantastic, owing to the vineyard’s special terroir. The valley where the winery is located is shaped like an hourglass, with Hourglass’ six-acre plot located at the “pinch” of the glass. This creates some of the most intriguing soil in the whole valley, creating the signature taste of Hourglass wines.

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