On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe discuss a recent article Adam wrote on the nightlife’s lackluster scene in Napa Valley. The two examine how this could cause a problem for the region looking to attract younger visitors and what may need to change in the future. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the “VinePair Podcast.” Zach, I still can’t believe I’m back. It’s crazy.
Z: I know. You’re like, “You got a whole weekend to feel you’ve stepped back.” We didn’t really go into this on Friday because we had a big topic to get into. Monday is where we do a little more of the less catching up thing. I want to know, what has been the biggest surprise for you about becoming a dad?
A: The biggest surprise?
A: It’s going to get cheesy, man. I can’t. No.
Z: That’s OK. It cuts too much against the persona?
A: No. I think, one: I knew that I would really like it, but how much I love it. I think the other thing that people told me as well — I mentioned a little bit on Friday. I wasn’t one of those people and I don’t think Naomi is either, that’s like, I now have to be at home with you 24/7. What surprised me is how much more amazing it makes it when you come home. That the separation, how excited you are to see them, and how much she changes every day is really cool. I want to be conscious because Tim was like, “Don’t make this a parenting podcast.” We won’t. It’s been just this really amazing journey. The other thing that everybody has said, including you is, and Naomi said the exact same thing to me last night is, I don’t think you can understand until you are sleep deprived and doing all this stuff, how much a glass of something when they are to bed is the biggest f*cking reward you’ve ever had in your life. It honestly tastes like some of the first times you drank. It’s so weird how much that becomes a huge reward. Again, parenting folks, for all these articles you’re reading about right now, the war on alcohol, where there is alcohol, there’s no man because as long as there is parenting, there will always be alcohol.
Z: God, yes. You set it up so nicely. What have you been drinking?
A: We’ve had some really great visitors come by. A few things that I — and I’ve been sent some really amazing things. First of all, the lovely J Vineyards team sent some delicious J Vineyards Vintage sparkling rosé because Estes’s middle name is Rose, which I thought was really great, so shout-out to them. Also, I got, from my buddy Neal from Tip Top, his new Martinis which you put in the freezer, which have been really delicious. I had some Le Moné and the Le Moné team sent a onesie for Este that I put on her earlier last week. My parents came to visit and we had a bottle of Hirsch during Passover, so that was fun. Josh has been over a bunch. It’s been a time to open fun stuff. We had a really fun bottle of grower Champagne — I can’t remember which one now — that has been in my wine fridge for a long time. It’s all blurring together. We opened a bottle of really old Barboursville from when Naomi and I went on our first wedding anniversary or something, which was really cool. We had a really cool bottle of Chianti that we bought when we were in Tuscany. I can’t remember the producer now. It isn’t even sold really in the U.S. We were in Chianti this summer when we first learned that Naomi was pregnant finally. A bunch of stuff like that, which has been a lot of fun. I made Tommy’s Margaritas one afternoon, and actually, Josh had come over on a Friday. We went out in the park and met with my cousins who live in Brooklyn as well. We all drank Tommy’s Margaritas in the park while we pushed Este around the stroller. Fun stuff. It’s been nice. Nothing aggressive yet because the other thing that everyone says is you never want to parent with a hangover. I try to avoid that so far. I’ve drank a lot more brown spirits than I thought I would because, again, like you said before, there’s nothing about that end of the night once you put them to bed, and you’re going to see them again, especially when they’re a baby because you’re going to get up multiple times, because Naomi and I are also feeding at the same time right now, which I’m just there for more support, but she’s doing way more than me. Once we put her down around the dinnertime hour, I just want one glass of really nice bourbon. I dug into some bottles that I had been saving. I have a bottle of Master’s Keep that I opened that was delicious. Some Old Fitzgerald, which is from Heaven Hill, which I really love. They are super-premium, which has been amazing. I have always been a fan of the Mortlachs, the Scotches, so I have something like 20 that were gifted to me that I had a little bit of. I had a Talisker 25. That’s probably going to stop. I’m going to stop drinking all the nice little things and save it. That’s what I’ve been up to. What about you, Zach?
Z: Well, a couple of things. One: following up on something I discussed with Tim last week, I tried to make, or I did make, a White Negroni with the Singani that he and I discussed. As I suspected, it was quite tasty. I think for those of you who listened to that episode, we talked a little bit about how that might work and speculated because neither of us had tried it at the time. I do think that it makes a really good match. You get a lot of the aromatics of the Singani coming through in that cocktail, which I thought was really good. I could see myself doing that with some regularity when I want a White Negroni, as opposed to going to gin, not that making a gin is at all bad. That’s also tasty. Then on the wine front, a couple of things. Like you, some Passover wine. I opened a bottle of ’09 Poggio Conte Brunello di Montalcino, one of my favorite styles of wine, as well as a Magnum of 2013 Andrew Will. It’s like a Merlot–Cab Franc blend from the Champoux Vineyard here in Washington. I always like to take that opportunity to open a large bottle of wine because you’re going to have a few glasses per person, so it guarantees that you’re going to get through that bottle, which sometimes is trickier unless you have a larger gathering. Actually, the standouts for me were a couple of nights in a row where Kaitlyn and I had roast chicken. I opened some bottles of Chardonnay, both from the West Coast, one from Ridge down in Santa Cruz Mountains, and one from Quails’ Gate up in British Columbia, and both 2014s. Really, both beautiful, just like at a wonderful point to drink. I love Chardonnay with about a decade’s worth of age on it in general, and it’s really different. Similar in certain ways. Chardonnay is made in a style that does incorporate some oak and isn’t that very lean, racy style, but a little bit richer. The Ridge has this texture and weight to it that comes not from oak, but just from the altitude and the intensity of the wine. I think you probably get thicker skins in the whites as well just from that high-elevation grape growing. Then in the Quails’ Gate from the Okanagan Valley, you have this bright acidity that underlies this ripe fruit that just comes from being very far north and getting these big temperature swings from day to night and all that. A couple of really nice bottles that I enjoyed and are both just Greek fits with roast chicken, which has become, over the years as a parent, one of my favorite meals to make because the kids will eat it. Kaitlyn and I like it, and then it doesn’t take that much active cooking, which becomes more important when you have children to chase around as you will find.
A: You know what else? I’ve always been a huge fan of them. You can’t get it all over the country, but IPSA Provisions, they are a frozen foods startup. We’ve been doing a lot of that where they have really incredible lasagna or polenta with mushrooms and Nebbiolo and whatever. Then yes, I’ve been making lots of it. I made a roast chicken. You’re right. It’s active for just a bit and then you walk away, and then back to active. Also, I found the dishes were like, you don’t have to eat them right away.
A: I’ve learned that too. Let’s talk about something I’d love to talk about, which is me. For those of you that also read the site, I write a lot less than I used to, but I like to try to write a few features every single year still. A feature that we’ve published that has gotten a lot of reactions in the past month, actually we published it right before I went out because, oops, Este came early, is a piece about nightlife in Napa and whether or not that is what’s holding it back, and among this younger generation. Zach, we talked a little bit about the service in Napa that I had on our most more recent trip, but the thing that actually struck me the most — and it was because I’ve had a very different experience in another, I guess you would call it, drinking town only a few weeks prior — is how dead of a scene Napa’s nightlife is. It made me really question — when I talk about Napa stuff, I mean the entire valley. I don’t just mean the town of Napa. I say the town of Napa probably has the most going on when it comes to nightlife, but how really dead it is. When you talk to the demographics we talk to, including our younger Gen Z demographics, when they travel for drinks, especially, they’re looking to go out at night. It struck me that one of the things I think that continues to probably make Napa seem like a very boring foggy-esque place for a lot of consumers is the fact that there really isn’t much of a nightlife there. The prime reservation in Napa seems to be 5:30 or 6 p.m., which I guess if you were tasting wine all day, you don’t want to go back to the hotel. You just roll to the restaurant. For the majority of consumers who want to taste some wine but then go back to the hotel, freshen up, go get a drink, then go out, I think that’s a real problem. The town that I compare this to in the article is Louisville, Ky. I understand that Louisville is also an independent commerce city with UPS’s biggest hub and lots of insurance companies headquartered there and lots of other stuff that keeps the town running than just bourbon. When it comes to tourism, the only reason people are going to Louisville is for bourbon. They have had a huge, huge rise in the amount of tourists. They’re building tons of hotels in the city. So many bars and restaurants are opening. It’s a boom time in Louisville. Part of the thing that I think makes Louisville really interesting is that people go tasting all day too. They go from distillery to distillery to distillery. I think also what makes Louisville somewhat unsafe is how far the distilleries are from each other. Some people are not using designated drivers, but then they’re all coming back to Louisville at night because it’s a great base. It’s either that really or Lexington if you want a city that’s a decent base. I would say Lexington, by the way, is very similar in its nightlife. Then there is tons of sh*t to do at night, tons. That I think makes Louisville a really attractive destination for a younger consumer who wants to go and taste bourbon during the day, but then at night gets to go and have a nice meal and then hit some bars, go hear live music, do these things. I really think that for as much as we’ve talked about — Is Napa’s loss of appeal amongst the younger generation that it’s too expensive? Yes, for sure, that it’s only for one kind of consumer. Yes, for sure, but I think the thing that no one has talked about forever is that also it just sucks at night, totally. It just does. It’s not fun to go out in Napa. I would argue that a lot of the restaurants are not that fun. I think that that is why Napa will continue to have issues with a younger consumer because it’s not Miami. It’s not New York. I get that there are things that make that special, but it just is sleepy. Sleepiness is not what people think of when they think of going on vacation amongst a certain demographic of people.
Z: For sure. I think there’s a couple of things here. One of them is that it’s unclear to me who set it in stone that every tasting room everywhere on the planet that’s a winery tasting room has to be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It seems odd to me that there aren’t more wineries and maybe there are some that are open till six or whatever. If you think about it from a very simple standpoint, when do people generally drink wine in their life? It ain’t at 11 a.m. Some people do, good on you, I guess, but most people think of wine as an afternoon, evening kind of thing. You have this first piece of it which is the biggest part of the tourist draw in Napa. The tasting rooms are built around this calendar that I guess makes sense from a nine-to-five job title standpoint. Given that these are hospitality jobs, fundamentally it is odd that they are so geared around that schedule. I’ve found it strange whenever I’m visiting Napa or other places that I don’t really want to get my day started with Cabernet Sauvignon at 11 a.m. to fit in three or four winery visits. Obviously, people do that. Some people, that’s the hallmark of being on vacation is doing something at a time of day that you never would otherwise. I should say I think the nightlife piece is built out of this one part just, I don’t know, what’s become a calcified model for the way wine tasting works and maybe some vague concession to the fact that it is an agricultural practice and so, therefore, you operate on the agricultural calendar, or clock, I guess. When it’s dark, no one does anything, but that seems silly to me given how much money is at stake now. You’re going into a tasting room and paying $200 for our tasting experience that includes a highly designed meal with it. We could drop the pretense that you’re there about farming. Let’s f*cking stop kidding ourselves. The other piece of it is, I think — and you did mention this of course in your piece which I think is really relevant — is that one of the problems for Napa is even places that might be inclined to try and be open have a real challenge keeping staff because no one can afford to live in Napa who works a service job in Napa. They live in the Bay Area or other places far away, and they don’t want to drive home at 2, 3 a.m. every night. Maybe with enough pay, but these jobs aren’t paying so much money that people are willing to live that life. If they’re the kind of person who’s like “I will work late nights at a service job,” they’re probably going to want to be bartending in San Francisco or Oakland. They’re not going to want to be serving people wine at 10 p.m. or helping a nightclub stay open until midnight. There is that real inescapable problem that I think cities have just an easier time getting around because people can live more closely, there’s more going on, you’re not stuck on a dark quasi-rural road for an hour getting home.
A: I think that Napa doesn’t know what it wants to be. I think Napa has to decide: does it want to be an agricultural region? OK, then why do you have insanely expensive hotels and three Michelin-star restaurants and tasting rooms that cost hundreds of dollars? There are agricultural areas where I’ve gone to have wine. I totally get it because nothing’s open because those kinds of restaurants don’t exist, but you know that there’s good wine to be found. I think especially as you know, I’m pretty big on Virginia. There’s parts of Virginia that are up and coming that have really great wineries where you know you’re going to go back to the inn you’re staying at or whatever at like 7, 8 p.m. and you’re not going to find many great restaurants. You might go to a local spot and you’re going to go to bed. Or is Napa a drinking destination which means you are attracting all ages of drinkers, or — and this is the one that I think Napa has decided at least right now it is — are you a retirement community? If you are, because when I started researching the piece and really talking to people and looking at average income and cost of living, et cetera, a lot of the, especially new, communities in Napa, are marketing to retirees. They are in the same way that spots in Florida are, and everyone understands that the nightlife capital of Florida is Miami, and then everything around it is for people who are over the age of 65. That’s fine because there’s a city in Florida that says they want to be known for nightlife and the same exists in other places. I think for Napa, the attraction of the money that people have to live amongst the vines towards the end of their years, the end of their journey, if you will, is too good of a thing to pass up. When you have that, that demographic wants the early bird special. They’re also not demanding these other things. The problem is how many of us really went to the communities that often where our grandparents lived or live?
Z: We’re like, “Yo, let’s go have a great night out.”
A: We don’t. It becomes a destination you go to see, like for me, Bubby and Grandpa, Nana and Pop-pop or Yaya, whoever your grandparent is, grandma, and that’s it.
Z: If you’re non-Yiddish, the name for grandparent, whatever you’d like.
A: Exactly. Napa also wants to be known as this great destination, this luxury destination. I don’t think you can have a luxury destination without vibrant nightlife, and they don’t have it. The only place I think that Napa even has that comes close to is Cadet. Cadet is arguably f*cking awesome.
Z: I enjoy it.
A: I love Cadet, but it also closes early-ish or at least doesn’t close early-ish. That’s not fair for me to say. They try to stay open late. but it just dies because they’re also the only show in town really, or you have this one dive bar that’s in downtown Napa if you really wanted to drink. Again, that’s not what people are looking for. You need more Cadets, you need more places like that. I also wonder if because the people who live full-time in Napa are so loyal to each other, no one wants to compete with Cadet and do something that’s similar. You need that or you need a Cadet also in St. Helena, you need a Cadet also in Calistoga. Those places don’t exist.
Z: I think that’s an important point to note, too, which is that for people who haven’t maybe spent much time or any time in Napa, it’s easy to forget that the valley itself is quite large. It’s not really large in the sense of a wine region, but from the north to the south end is a good distance. There’s one main, well two, but really one main road that goes through it. It’s not super easy to traverse. If you don’t stay in Napa the city, then Cadet is inaccessible. As you mentioned in your piece, ride shares and things like that are few and far between, especially at night. If you are not staying in downtown Napa, Cadet might as well not exist. It’s not easy to do that. Not everyone wants to stay in downtown Napa. It’s not always the most convenient depending on what wine tourism you’re looking to do. Many of the great wineries that people are looking to visit are a fair bit north of there. It is a problem. I think so much of this is really driven out of the fact that Napa, whether it’s the housing shortage or just all these things, is driven out of the fact that Napa obviously has this incredibly tortured relationship with its own growth and its own success. On the one hand, it’s very happy to just keep raising the prices of everything for the tastings to get more and more expensive, for the meals to get more and more expensive, all those things. To welcome in more and more tourists and yet not really work to do anything to provide any of the infrastructure that would allow some of these other kinds of businesses that might well be successful. Even though I agree with you that a core constituency for Napa Valley wine tourism are people who are older who may not be interested in late night dining or drinking, I am always surprised to some extent when I go to Napa, especially when I’m in the city itself of like, there are lots of people of all different ages there. Some of them are there maybe with their parents or whatever, but they’re people in their 20s and 30s there too. Those people would presumably enjoy other things to do than just retire to bed at 9 p.m. Again, as I think you mentioned in your piece and certainly we know it’s true, it’s not as if the kind of person who on their own is like, “I want to go to Napa Valley for my vacation.” Those people have money to spend and they would like to spend it. They will spend it on the elaborate tasting experiences and joining wine clubs and fancy meals, but they might also want to spend it after 9 p.m., and yet as you said, outside of a couple of notable exceptions which are notable because they are exceptions, there are very few opportunities for people, and it just seems incomplete as a region that is in so many other ways so well — I don’t know if “designed” is the right word — but has evolved to be so effective at separating people from their money. I think of it sometimes this way. You think of a retired community. I think of Napa Valley as being weirdly analogous to Las Vegas. It is a place that people aspire to visit that has a very different image, but yet one of a place where you are going to be in some cases very gently very gracefully separated from a lot of your money. Las Vegas would never be so f*cking stupid as to not have you able to lose your money in one way or another 24 hours a day. I’m not saying that Napa has to have 24-hour tasting rooms for one thing, that’s probably against the law, but also there should be more options for people than f*cking McDonald’s after 9 p.m.
A: I agree. Look, just to say in closing, the key difference I found in both, if I wasn’t a professional is, when I have been to Napa, I’ve had some really amazing wine experiences, but I’ve never thought — I think a lot of people won’t think as well — “Oh my God, I had the most fun time ever and I can’t wait to come back.” I think a lot of people say to themselves, “OK, I did Napa.” Been there, done that, experienced it, did it, don’t need to do it again. Whereas I really think with Louisville, people are like, “I definitely would come back.” That is because I think you see this town indifference that is investing in all of the things it needs to be a top entertainment destination, and Napa right now isn’t. It’s a place that makes really expensive fine wine. It is America’s fine-wine-growing region, but it is not yet America’s fine-wine entertainment destination.
A: Well Zach, it’s been fun. I’ll talk to you Friday, man. For those of you that have thoughts as well, hit us up [email protected]. Love to know what you think. If you totally disagree with me, that’s cool, let me know. We’ll see you back here on Friday.
Z: Sounds great.
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