Napa Valley Life
WHITNEY

Whitney Diver McEvoy
Intriguing Community Leader
Photo by Bob McClennahan

Amanda

Amanda McCrossin
Intriguing Wine Aficionado

Nick Cann

Nick Cann
Intriguing Artist
Photo by Diana Jex Photography

Lauren Ackerman

Lauren Ackerman
Intriguing Vintner
Photo by Angie Ulitin

Alexandria Brown

Alexandria Brown
Intriguing Local Historian
Photo by Henrik Meng

Thomas Buck

Thomas Buck
Intriguing Wine Country Tour Operator

Dr Karen Relucio

Dr. Karen Relucio
Intriguing Health and Wellness Leader
Photo by Heather Ernst

Harris Nussbaum

Harris Nussbaum
Intriguing Educator/Mentor
Photo by Lowell Downey

Anna

Anna Brittain
Intriguing Community Environmentalist

Corey Edwards

Corey Edwards
Intriguing Unsung Hero
Photo by Lowell Downey

Al James

Al James
Intriguing Musician

Matt Stamp

Matt Stamp
Intriguing Restauranteur

Rodger Collinson

Rodger Collinson
Intriguing Community Supporter

Sam Peters

Sam Peters
Intriguing Marketer

Yannick Rousseau

Yannick Rousseau
Intriguing Winemaker
Photo by Lowell Downey

Ali and Ben Koenig

Ali & Ben Koenig
Intriguing Couple
Photo by Kaelyn and Darren Brazil

Chef Frank

Ken Frank
Intriguing Chef

Larry Hyde

Larry Hyde
Intriguing Grower

Cathy Buck

Cathy Buck
Intriguing Napa Entrepreneur
Photo by Janet Costner

George O'Meara

George O’Meara
Intriguing Small Winery Advocate
Photo by Dona Kopol Bonick

Chief Robert Plummer

Chief Robert Plummer
Intriguing Community Protector

19th Annual Intriguing Issue: Napa Valley Residents Worth Getting to Know

If you have a taste for exceptional people, you always end up meeting them everywhere

- Pierre Mac Orlan

WHITNEY DIVER MCEVOY, INTRIGUING COMMUNITY LEADER

When Whitney Diver McEvoy joined the Yountville Chamber of Commerce in 2016 as president and CEO, her first goal was to rebuild the Chamber into an organization that could truly make a difference in the community. “This began with listening and learning from our members, rebuilding our board of directors, hiring professional staff, creating a strategic plan, delivering a real value proposition for our members, and much more,” said Diver McEvoy. “It was hard; it took two years to get these elements right. But once we did, we were able to soar.” Today, the Yountville Chamber’s goals focus on ensuring an outstanding quality of life for residents and maintaining Yountville and the Napa Valley’s strength and vitality. Key has been Diver McEvoy’s leadership in the countywide ‘wear a mask’ campaign. “I am proud of how collaborative our business community and government agencies have been during this pandemic. In the Town of Yountville, cooperative efforts enabled us to come up with creative solutions such as the business transitional support program that allowed our tasting rooms, restaurants and retails to move operations outside back in April.” Diver McEvoy loves walking through town, stopping and chatting along the way with Yountville residents and business owners. “I’ve worked in large cities before, and that type of connectivity isn’t there. I believe in active communication with our members and the community and I work hard to be a trusted resource.  If we are doing it right, we are sitting at the intersection of helping businesses succeed and our community to thrive.” // yountvillechamber.com

 

AMANDA MCCROSSIN, INTRIGUING WINE AFICIONADO

Amanda McCrossin’s favorite quote is from Steve Martin: ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ “It’s simple and obvious, but it somehow works as a great mantra whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, or in need of a little direction,” said the wine connoisseur/sommelier known to her Instagram fans and YouTube subscribers as the ‘sommvivant.’ McCrossin found her wine country footing as head sommelier at PRESS; she arrived at the lauded St. Helena eatery in 2015 when its wine list had already made the James Beard shortlist a number of times for ‘outstanding wine program.’ “Night after night, we’d open these time capsules that gave us a glimpse into decades of Napa Valley long before any of us were even born,” said McCrossin, who has since ventured out on her own after nearly five years at her dream job. “Working at PRESS was truly the role of a lifetime, but my timing couldn’t have been better as the world found itself in need of everything I was already doing. I could never have imagined that the entire industry would pivot overnight to virtual platforms, but I was certainly ready for it when it did.” Her days and nights are now spent exploring and sharing her wine and restaurant discoveries with an enthusiastic audience that seeks insider information. Between juggling multiple projects and navigating an ever-changing landscape, her objective is not to fall off the runaway train she conducts. “I’m trying to hang on for dear life without smudging my makeup and forgetting to smile,” she laughed. “My role as a trusted agent and being a voice in the wine world is something I value tremendously, but I’m also acutely aware of the responsibility that inherently comes with that.” Said her friend Jeff Meisel, VP Brand Development, Long Meadow Ranch, and Stony Hill, “Amanda craves knowledge and as such researches the backstories that shape her understanding and opinion of every wine she tastes. She brings an infectious, positive energy to everything she does.” // amandamccrossin.com

 

 

NICK CANN, INTRIGUING ARTIST

A fifth-generation Californian originally from Palo Alto, Nick Cann has been drawing as long as he can remember. Schooled at San Jose State University, the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and the Art Center in Los Angeles, Cann has called Napa ‘home’ for more than 20 years. “My wife and I love Napa,” said Cann. “I have met fantastic artists here.” His vibrant, commissioned illustrations, the artistic inspirations which depict fantasy architecture and people, grace the walls of hotels, airports, department stores, and restaurants across America. Locally, his work can be found at Artists of the Valley gallery on 1st St. in downtown Napa. He also works with Erin Martin Design in St. Helena, and he is doing some commissions for the Bald Mountain development in Calistoga. His storied career includes work as a set illustrator for MGM studios. As a freelancer, he created spot illustrations for the London Times and album covers for Blossom Dearie. He’s created everything from television set designs, to wedding invitations, to marketing posters, and today, he finds great joy in illustrating children’s books written by his daughter. Ten years ago, a friend suggested he work with kids. “I laughed,” said Cann. “Me? Well, now it is a passion. I see so many gifted young artists. Working with young people was a great discovery.” Cann welcomes commissions of any type. “I plan on drawing as long as my eyes and hands will allow it!” // nickcann.com

 

LAUREN ACKERMAN, INTRIGUING VINTNER

Napa Valley vintner and community leader Lauren Ackerman never intended to enter the home restoration game. The creator of award-winning Ackerman Family Vineyards wines and recipient of the 2020 North Bay Women in Business Award became inexplicably drawn several years ago to a dilapidated historic home in downtown Napa. While simultaneously maintaining a non-profit career (she has served on the boards of Justin Sienna High School, Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, Blue Oak School, The Napa Valley Community Foundation, the Napa Valley Arts Council, The Institute of International Education, and NapaLearns) she painstakingly restored, beautifully furnished, and modernly equipped a downtown Napa Queen Anne Victorian that she shares with the public via a variety of events. Over five years, Ackerman created what is now called The Ackerman Heritage House at 608 Randolph Street. Originally built in 1888, the home suffered from severe neglect and deferred maintenance, but through the ramshackle disrepair, Ackerman was able to see its potential. In addition to overseeing the restoration of stained-glass windows, original hardware, wood doors, floors, and crown moldings, she authentically furnished and decorated the home by sourcing its Victorian-era contents from antique stores worldwide via e-Bay. To fully understand the time period and its social and material proclivities, Ackerman immersed herself in a six-week Oxford University course on the era. Each art piece and antique features a unique story, from the silver flatware and the china place settings to the 1880s era books that chronicle world discoveries and historical times.  She said, “Along the way, I came close to giving up about four times, the last time being when the earthquake hit in 2014, and it damaged the interior that I had just finished completing.  I am proud that it can be an example of Napa’s history and that people can experience what it might have been like more than 130 years ago in downtown Napa.”

 

ALEXANDRIA BROWN, INTRIGUING LOCAL HISTORIAN

Alexandria Brown has always loved history, not necessarily dates and wars and kingdoms, but rather people and cultures. After a year as a research librarian at the Napa County Historical Society, the Napa local, Masters of Library and Information Science, and author of Hidden History of Napa Valley and Lost Restaurants of Napa Valley and Their Recipes, went back to school for a second masters in US History, with a focus on Black history in California, specifically Black history in Napa County. “All the local history I knew was mostly about white men,” said Brown. “Finding hundreds of Black people who lived and thrived and built lives and businesses in Napa was what really gave me a love for local history.” Suddenly, the county in which she’d grown-up felt like home. “Even though the Black people living in Napa in the 19th and early 20th century weren’t my blood relations, I still felt a kinship for them,” said Brown, whose mother was the first Black female pilot employed by Bridgeford Flying Service at Napa County Airport. “Napa County, as it is today, would not exist without the contributions of BIPOC, women, immigrants, and all other marginalized communities. Our voices are often silenced, but we are as much a part of the foundation of this world-famous region as the white men whose names everyone knows. I want people to understand that the history they think they know isn’t the whole picture. Understanding our past and acknowledging the truth of it – the good parts and the bad – can help us shape a better future.” // bookjockeyalex.com

 

THOMAS BUCK, INTRIGUING WINE COUNTRY TOUR OPERATOR

With a team of wine-savvy chauffeur tour guides, Beau Wine Tours is consistently rated as one of the premier luxury tour operators in the region. It helps that proprietor Thomas Buck has been an avid collector of California cult wines for more than 20 years, as well as a vintner himself. His Sire label sources top-tier Cabernet fruit from some of the Valley’s most coveted vine-yard sites. He is also a Certified Wine Educator. His under-standing of the industry and his close friendships with many vintners provide an inside track for his customers. Buck had planned to pursue a teaching career, but a part-time job as a tour and limousine operator during his years in Sonoma State University’s teacher credential program set him on his current path. The tour company focused on wine tours, and he was hooked. He fell in love with wine and desired to share that love with others. He found a full-time chauffeur position with a company out of Marin County, ultimately becoming operations manager, then sales and marketing director, and finally partner. In 2003, he became sole proprietor and rebranded to the now sophisticated and luxurious Beau Wine Tours with headquarters that straddle the Napa/Sonoma county line in Carneros. “When we created Beau Wine Tours, it was out of the desire to see something more intimate and more tailored to each client and visitor’s needs,” said Buck, whose fleet includes a full bus as well as luxury sedans, SUVs, and sprinter vans and coaches. “No single tour is ever the same.” // beauwinetours.com

 

KAREN RELUCIO, INTRIGUING HEALTH AND WELLNESS LEADER

In addition to running a division with 17 programs spanning communicable disease control and prevention, chronic disease prevention, emergency preparedness, and initiatives to serve families and children, Dr. Karen Relucio became a household name in 2020 while leading Napa’s COVID-19 pandemic response.  As Napa County Health Officer and Public Health Director, she and her department coordinate testing, perform case and outbreak investigations and contact tracing, analyze and publish COVID-19 data, provide supportive housing for cases and contacts in congregate settings, plan for medical surge and mass vaccinations, and field questions from various sectors as each figure out how to safely reopen. No wonder she has little downtime to partake in the local hikes she so enjoys. “The most rewarding aspect of this effort is working with a great team within the County through the Emergency Operations Center and my Public Health team as well as the support of my boss and County leadership, and collaborating with many healthcare partners, the schools, community partners, volunteers, business sectors and other local and state health officers as we face many challenges during this pandemic,” said the Tufts and Stanford trained physician.  “The most frustrating or difficult aspect has been witnessing an all too common assault of public health leaders and colleagues across the state and country. These leaders possess a wealth of knowledge within their communities and statewide that is hard to replicate. Public health officials are typically people who work diligently behind the scenes who have been suddenly thrust into the spotlight due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many smart, dedicated, and hard-working people who truly want to protect the community.” Dr. Relucio said that it’s important to remember that the community, and the world, will get through this. She’s hopeful that a vaccine will soon be available, helping to change the pandemic’s trajectory. Until that time, she advocates the importance of compassion for others and yourself.  “And practice the three W’s to stay safe – Wash your hands, Wear a mask, and Watch your distance. Your actions affect the people around you.”   

 

HARRIS NUSSBAUM, INTRIGUING EDUCATOR/MENTOR

After a more than a five-decade career in education and an equally long commitment to community service, Harris Nussbaum has earned nearly every local, state, and national award possible. The octogenarian, married for 47 years to wife Johanna, has received commendations from two California governors, he is a three-time Kiwanis Service to Youth Award winner; he’s been nominated and honored numerous times as Napa County and Napa Unified School District Teacher of the Year, and he was recognized by the Gandhi Institute and Peace Table for his contributions to peace and nonviolence. He even has a bench dedicated in his honor from the students at Vintage High School. The list of his accomplishments and involvements covers three pages. Janna Waldinger, student services manager at If Given a Chance, cannot say enough about the somewhat shy Nussbaum who collaborates with IGAC in identifying high school students faced with formidable social, family, medical, and economic challenges. “Through his work as an advisor at New Technology High School, Harris changed the lives of hundreds of our students,” said Waldinger. “Harris was recognized by our organization as the advisor who advocated for and nominated the most students to our foundation.” Said the selfless Nussbaum, a Charleston, South Carolina native who moved to Napa in 1955, “I love people, and I have loved teaching for the past 38 years and developing programs that help both the community and students. I estimate that I’ve taught 30,000 students. Helping them find the key to personal growth has been a delight. To give is to receive.”

 

ANNA BRITTAIN, INTRIGUING COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENTALIST

Napa County native Anna Brittain never envisioned returning to the region after leaving for Williams College in Massachusetts. “My goal was to be a journalist and/or work internationally on climate action,” said Brittain. A graduate of St. Helena High School, she ultimately earned a Master of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and worked in sustainability roles nationally and internationally before ‘coming home’ to ultimately become executive director of the Napa Green program. In her position, she helps to ensure that the Napa County wine industry continues to grow its leadership in sustainability and climate action. “At many wineries, there is a champion (or maybe even a bit of a skeptic who becomes a champion),” said Brittain. “Folks are often overwhelmed at first; we help make it manageable to start down the path of sustainability and commit to continual improvement.” She finds her work personally meaningful. “I acknowledge that the Napa wine industry can’t solve climate change, but our leadership creates waves of impact in the beverage industry and beyond, helping consumers to think about sustainability in new ways. I love making that connection between caring for nature and community, enhancing quality, and cutting the bottom line.” Many of the wineries around which she grew-up are now clients. “Sometimes I’m driving down roads I’ve driven thousands of times before, and then I remember to stop and look, and I’m in awe and gratitude for living in such a beautiful place. And I love driving past wineries that I have known since I was a little girl, but now I can say I’ve worked closely with those same wineries to help them be more efficient and sustainable.”

 

COREY EDWARDS, INTRIGUING UNSUNG HERO

Corey Edwards is Napa Valley’s modern-day town crier. Day and night, he monitors various websites, police scanners, and fire cameras in order to keep the community apprised of anything that puts the public in danger. His alerts are shared via Facebook on a page created during the 2017 fires entitled ‘Napa Valley, CA Fire and Police Emergency Info (Unofficial).’ The Napa Fire Department requested the ‘unofficial’ tag, though Edwards’ fans find nothing unofficial about him. “Whenever something, anything, is going down in town – smoke, loud music, sirens – my husband and I say to each other, ‘let’s see what Corey has to say,’” said Christie Chevalier Kaer. A former freelance photo journalist for the Napa Valley Register, Edwards is a self-confessed ‘ambulance chaser’ who simply knows how and where to glean the latest news. His scanners are ‘on’ 24/7 and so is he; he hasn’t slept through the night in years. With a day job running Napa Valley Computers out of his house, he doesn’t administrate the Facebook page for money. It’s simply his way of giving back to the community. “I keep my personal feelings and opinions to myself and simply share the facts of incidents when they come across the scanner,” said Edwards. “My job and my lifestyle allow me to do this.” Says fan Wendy Jacque, “Corey works tirelessly around-the-clock as our community’s central hub of reliable and non-dramatic information for fire and criminal police events. He keeps the facts crystal clear which offers a sense of peace in times of turmoil. Why does he do it? He is a really good person who cares about his community.”

 

AL JAMES, INTRIGUING MUSICIAN

A James straddles two counties, playing venues throughout both Napa and Monterey. The singer/songwriter got a foothold in wine country in 2014 and has played his diverse portfolio of music, focusing on jazz and blues, in nearly every setting in which live music is featured. Some of his favorite sites to perform include Black Stallion Winery, Farmstead, and Archer hotel, where he was the first artist to christen the downtown hot spot’s live music scene. Further south, he sometimes performs with an ensemble, the Al James Band, and he can be found Sundays at Al’s Lounge, on the patio at Deja Blue jazz and comedy club in Seaside. James channels some of his favorite artists through his music such as James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway to name a few. He loves Napa, and Napa residents love him right back. Lee W Miller, a Napa realtor, is a fan. “I go see Al every opportunity I get,” said Miller, who appreciates James’ originality. I’ve seen him on his own, with his bass player, and with his entire band. He never disappoints.”

 

MATT STAMP, INTRIGUING RESTAURANTEUR

Operating a restaurant is a challenge in the best of times. In the worst of times, it takes commitment beyond the norm. Few demonstrate that commitment better than Matt Stamp, Partner at downtown Napa’s Compline. The Master Sommelier quickly switched gears to figure out how to keep his popular wine bar and eatery in the black, while continuing to employ staff. In late March, he started preparing meals for frontline healthcare workers, offering the community the opportunity to sponsor. “In this way, we could continue to pay staff, provide some money for our local food purveyors, and get some great food to our frontline workers in a time of crisis,” said the Omaha native whose prior work experience includes sommelier stints at The Farmhouse Inn Restaurant and The French Laundry. “We ended up sending more than 5,000 meals to healthcare workers at Queen, OLE Health, and Kaiser facilities in an eight-week period.” For several weeks in early spring, he offered a “$5 ‘family meal’ for those in the restaurant industry who had lost their jobs. He also started a robust take-out and home delivery service. And yes, he made the deliveries himself, along with business partner Ryan Stetins.  Since shelter-in-place orders ceased, he has tried to stay ahead of what can be sudden changes in mandate and government requirements while keeping the safety of staff and guests paramount. “We have a great patio and space for plenty of expansion,” said Stamp, who, when not working, can be found listening to his LP collection or wandering the aisles of Napa Bookmine. “And we’ve focused more on the restaurant side of the Compline experience; people know us as a great wine bar but continue to be surprised that Chef Jammir cooks an amazing meal.”  // complinewine.com

 

RODGER COLLINSON, INTRIGUING COMMUNITY SUPPORTER

Napa firefighter/paramedic Rodger Collinson loves food. When on duty, he is often the crew appointed firehouse chef. When off duty, he’s combing the Napa Valley for new restaurants and undiscovered eats. “I’m passionate about Napa’s culinary world,” said the Napa native. “Our food scene is what makes us unique and different. People come from all over the world for our cuisine.” So, when the pandemic threatened to undermine the region’s restaurant scene, Collinson took action. He formed a Facebook group – ‘Help Support Napa Valley Restaurants’ – that quickly amassed more than 14K members, many of whom actively post, review, and share tips, menus, and other details daily about how the community can assist local restaurants during these trying times.  On average, the group has 50,000 posts, comments, and reactions every month. It has become the area’s ‘go-to’ reference point for where to find a particular type of cuisine, who has the best brunch or burger, or who’s open for inside dining or home delivery. Collinson’s effort was initially intended to encourage his fellow first responders to support local eateries while on duty, but “the Napa community took over,” he said. He and a friend, City of Napa employee Kendra Bruno, administrate and monitor the site, on which negative reviews are not allowed and are swiftly removed. “This is a place for positivity,” said Collinson. “People are looking for ways to help each other in this world right now. Our group offers a positive light during this difficult time. We have a lot of family-owned businesses that rely on a steady flow of customers. If we as a community are not thoughtful in our support and approach, we could lose many of these places. We need to make sure they survive this.” The group page’s popularity has grown to become a home-grown resource that will live long past the pandemic.

 

SAM PETERS, INTRIGUING MARKETER

In his role as executive director for three Napa Valley wine associations (Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association, Mount Veeder Appellation Council, and Atlas Peak Appellation Association) Sam Peters represents and markets each’s respective American Viticultural Area. He ac-knowledges that it’s not a bad gig. “The AVAs with which I work make world-class wines, which makes the marketing side of my job a lot easier,” said the Wichita, Kansas native who moved to the Valley in 2005. “The wine itself is a draw to the region.” Peters initially moved to the area to be a golf professional at Napa Valley Country Club. “You often hear the Valley called Adult Disneyland,” said Peters. “We live and work where folks come for vacation, get married, honeymoon, celebrate anniversaries and special occasions or simply enjoy being fully alive with family and friends around fine wine and fabulous food.  Not to mention it’s fairly pretty here.” Peters likes the laid back, relaxed, easy going vibe of the Valley, a lifestyle that affords him the feeling of being ‘dressed up’ while sporting cowboy boots, blue jeans and a pressed, white, untucked shirt.  He loves the Valley’s close-knit community feeling which he witnesses every year through the thoughtful and generous donations to important community causes from businesses, wineries, restaurants, and hotels. His ideal day? “Tasting sparkling wines on an outdoor patio overlooking the Valley; lunch at a Valley restaurant with an outdoor patio, then onto a wine cave to taste some red wines, followed by yet another wine tasting, a steakhouse for dinner, then relaxing around a fire pit with a bit more wine, laughs, smiles, and sighs.”

 

YANNICK ROUSSEAU, INTRIGUING WINEMAKER

Yannick Rousseau’s winemaking philosophy and style are old school. His wines – both his high-end Y. Rousseau label wines and the more approachable Son of a Butcher (SOB) – are made with passion, consis tency, and meticulous care. “I provide as much attention to detail to SOB as I do to my high-end Cabernet,” said Rousseau. The Gascon-born winemaker has developed a devoted following for his artisan, primarily southwestern France, YRW labels: Tannat, Colombard, and Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. The more playful SOB label, named in honor of both his father and grandfather, both of whom were butchers, is equally popular. Rousseau attended winemaking school in Toulouse before landing in the Napa Valley as assistant winemaker for the Bordeaux program at Newton Vineyards. For two years, he worked side by side with the famed Luc Morlet at Newton before moving to Chateau Potelle, where he served as winemaker for six years. In 2008, he established his own label, recognized by the plume logo, a tribute to the also Gascon-born D’Artagnan whose life was fictionalized within Dumas’ book, The Three Musketeers. “As a winemaker, when making my picking decisions, I don’t go into a comfort zone,” said Rousseau, who appreciates the Napa wine-making community for its positive energy and open-mindedness. “I don’t wait for the grapes to become raisened or shriveled to make sure they are ready. I am not afraid of acid and tannins because as long as the berries taste good and the seeds are ripe, I will achieve balance and focus/purity in my wines.” Said his wife Susan, “Yannick is a craftsman and an educator, and he is very loyal, not only to the people in his life but to his wines. He makes his wines with conviction and love.”  // yrousseauwines.com

 

ALI & BEN KOENIG, INTRIGUING COUPLE

To say that Ben and Ali Koenig pivoted their local business in response to COVID-19 is an understatement. The Heritage Eats founders, in an attempt to remain viable, found themselves transforming their fast-casual Napa restaurant into a variety of new services to support the community, particularly a grocery of sorts. Called ‘Heritage @ Home,’ the duo accessed their vendors to supply the elderly and those having to shelter with pre-order groceries, “We really enjoyed thinking creatively about what people needed and what they were missing,” said Ben, who at Easter dressed as the Easter bunny to deliver treat-filled baskets to area children. “These past several months have provided us an opportunity to fill various community needs in addition to serving as a restaurant, to provide a sense of normalcy.” East Coast natives, Ben moved to Napa in 2013 for a job in the restaurant industry and Ali soon followed to study urban planning at San Jose State University. They have been married for three years and recently welcomed a baby girl, Parker. They founded Heritage Eats in 2015 and based the concept on the varied cultures and daily food staples that Ben encountered during his world travels. The restaurant presents flavorful, globally inspired items in an approachable and family-friendly setting. “We’re so grateful for the community support at our founding and now more than ever,” said Ben. Living and working together can tax any relationship, but this couple presents a great team, on and off the field. “We have a great balance,” said Ali, who cites hiking, dining, and San Francisco day trips as recharge outlets. “We’re fortunate to work with a strong crew and we know how to keep it light, but also seize moments and make life worthwhile. It’s all about balance.” // heritageeats.com

 

KEN FRANK, INTRIGUING CHEF

Chef Ken Frank opened the first La Toque on the Sunset Strip at age 23. After a 14-year run, and a succession of other high-profile culinary positions, he heeded the call of wine country and moved north to open a new La Toque in Rutherford in 1998 before moving the perpetually Michelin-starred eatery to its current home in the Westin Verasa. As COVID upended the hospitality world, Frank, who is also 2021 chair of the annual Napa Truffle Festival, took quick action. “The speed at which COVID changed everything we knew was overwhelming,” said Frank, who quickly closed the restaurant and narrowed staff to keep the candle burning until reopening. “Worse, COVID represents an existential threat, as socializing, not distancing, is key to everything we do.” The crises caused Frank to focus on how La Toque fits into the community. “Our most basic function is to feed people; it’s what we do. Suddenly we had an abundance of capacity but no demand, so we adopted the South Napa homeless shelter.” Working with the food bank, the farmers market, and generous local benefactors, Frank and his team continue to prepare and provide hot lunches five days a week using 99% donated food. Reopening this past summer entailed a number of tweaks to provide accessibility to a loyal clientele. “So far, we’ve managed to pivot each time we needed to, and we’re determined to get through this together.” As for the Truffle Festival? “This January is clearly not going to happen, but we’re optimistic we can put together a summer festival featuring the great black truffles we get from the Southern Hemisphere during their winter season. Just before the pandemic, I spent two weeks down under and came home really impressed with the Aussie culinary scene. It will be exciting to bring some of those chefs to Napa to share not only their fantastic winter truffles but their great enthusiasm for cooking at the highest level.”  // latoque.com

 

LARRY HYDE, INTRIGUING GROWER

Known for his farming passion and innovative farming techniques, Larry Hyde of Hyde Vineyards has made Napa Valley his home for more than 40 years. The influential grower knew that grape growing was his calling when he signed up for his first job at Ridge Vineyards in 1970. Nine years later, he purchased his own Carneros property, and since, his original acreage has grown to 200+. After working with more than 30 wineries in the valley (15+ vineyard wines carry a ‘Hyde Vineyards’ designation), Hyde founded his own Hyde Estate Winery in 2009, where he and his son Christopher produce several varietals. Recipient of The Napa Valley Grape Growers Association (NVG) 2020 Napa Valley Grower of the Year award, Hyde is an ultimate exemplar of the award’s ideals: a strong commitment to sustainable practices, recognized leadership in agricultural preservation, dedicated community focus, contributions to the Napa Valley community, and someone who actively promotes Napa’s reputation for the highest quality vineyards. One of his greatest legacies is his pioneering work with clonal material: more than ten legendary varieties are planted at Hyde Vineyards.  With UC Davis’s Foundation Plant Services, he has mapped plant material gathered from historic California vineyards. He has provided 45 different clones of grapes, many of which might be gone forever without this contribution. A true workaholic, Hyde’s favorite pastime and his profession are one-in-the-same. “For fun, I like to ride through the vineyard on a Polaris with my dogs, checking for potential problems,” said Hyde. “It just happens also to be my work.”  // hydevineyards.com

 

CATHY BUCK, INTRIGUING NAPA ENTREPRENEUR

Cathy Buck’s 20 years as a realtor in Michigan did not necessarily qualify her for a career in the movie theater business. But as proprietor of St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema, the former waterfront properties specialist found a calling. “The Cameo is important not only to St. Helena and the Valley, it is an iconic piece of movie-going history for the entire country,” said Buck, who moved to the Napa Valley 16 years ago after falling in love with the region during a holiday visit. She purchased the theater on a whim. “When I walk into the theater, I have such a sense of pride. The walls have stories; with the help of the community we have maintained all the nostalgia along with keeping up with technology.” Buck went to great lengths to provide entertainment for the community during the pandemic. “No one expected this pandemic to go on so long,” she said. “It takes a toll on people’s spirits, not being able to see family and friends. Movies can be a great distraction and escape that brings joy.” She set-up an in-home streaming system to offer the indie films that would have shown at the Cameo had doors been open. She created a drive-in to provide families a safe outing. And the foundation that she presciently established in 2012 has helped to make it all possible. “It was created as a vehicle in which the community could support renovations, festivals, speakers and new and exciting programs,” said Buck. “Today, it is these contributions that are keeping us alive. It’s a challenge to keep adjusting to the times, ensuring that the Cameo continues to live on for generations to come. For me, it’s a labor of love.”  // cameocinema.com

 

GEORGE O’MEARA, INTRIGUING SMALL WINERY ADVOCATE

As CEO of Save the Family Farms, a group of owner-occupied, Napa Valley grape growers that classify themselves as ‘micro-producers,’ George O’Meara works to protect Napa’s smallest wineries and vineyards. His goal is that Napa County acknowledge family farms’ historical, cultural, and winemaking legacy by creating a reasonable path to compliance. “Current Napa County regulations take a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach, demanding small, family farms spend several years trying for a use permit,” said O’Meara, an accomplished sales executive with extensive leadership experience in solution sales, business development, IT consulting/professional services, and leadership development. He is also proprietor and vintner with master-gardener wife Barb of Double O Vineyards & Garden in the Coombsville AVA. The duo was first bitten by the wine bug while attending their first wine club event at Mike Grgich’s home in 1985. They’ve been Napa residents since 2006, enjoying Coombsville’s relaxed pace and sense of calm. The devoted grandfather of two and enthusiastic golfer has been working with Napa’s Board of Supervisors for nearly three years to create a new avenue for these small family farms and vineyard producers to participate in a new Napa County Micro-Winery Ordinance, which would allow each to operate for generations to come. “Data suggests that nearly 200 small family vineyards have either gone out of business or sold to investors in the last five years, some as a direct result of the unfair regulations imposed on growers,” said O’Meara. “Small family farms and vineyards are not designed to fit into a box designed for large scale winery facilities.”

 

CHIEF ROBERT PLUMMER, INTRIGUING COMMUNITY PROTECTOR

Since his arrival in Napa more than two years ago as Chief of Police, Robert Plummer’s goal has been to build upon the community engagement portion of policing initiated by his predecessor, City Manager Steve Potter. “I believe law enforcement has an opportunity to make communities safer by engaging with everyone, irrespective of their economic or social status,” said Chief Plummer, who leads a dedicated department of men and women, both sworn and non-sworn. “I have always looked out for the underdog or little guy. Protecting those who cannot defend themselves gives me a sense of accomplishment. And when I go to sleep at night, I know I had an impact on someone’s life.” Chief Plummer acknowledges that COVID-19 has changed how law enforcement interacts with community members, and he’s dismayed how the pandemic has limited the community engagement that he so enjoys. He also concedes to challenges experienced by the current state of affairs. “Frequently, officers need to see someone’s facial expressions to gauge an incident or situation,” said Chief Plummer. “Wearing a mask has made that part of the job difficult at times.” Yet he asserts that Napa PD officers have adapted quickly. He was recently lauded for kneeling with others in support of racial justice and for an end to police brutality. “I’m proud of how our staff has adjusted during these challenging times of COVID, civil unrest, and wildfires,” said Plummer. “I have witnessed during my two years here that the community members of Napa are resilient and strong. If we stay focused on getting through the pandemic together and looking out for one another, we will rise up and prosper as a community. Stay strong and Be Kind! Right now, we all can use a little more kindness.”

Making the commitment to third party certification takes time and effort, but it is worth it to demonstrate our commitment to the community and to protect our watershed, our land and the air we breathe.​

- Susan Boswell, Chateau Boswell Winery