Blind Boys of Alabama take Uptown crowd to church

Blind-Boys-of-Alabama-photo-by-Cameron-Witting-1By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 12/18/13)

Joyful sounds may be common during the holiday season but none are more uplifting and downright fun than those that filled the Uptown Theater Saturday night. The Blind Boys of Alabama were in town, serving up a 90-minute, Gospel-infused spiritual high that could make the most hardened holiday skeptic stand up and shout hallelujah.

The Grammy Award-winning vocal group delivered a rousing collection of spirituals and seasonal tunes to an enthusiastic audience that spent much of the concert on its feet. Led by Jimmy Carter, one of the original Blind Boys of Alabama, the four vocalists backed by a four-piece band launched into a stirring rendition of “People Get Ready.” After that, it was pedal-to-the-metal with a hard-driving version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Continue reading

St. Helena chocolatiers create edible works of art

woodhouse 1By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 12/2/13)

Visions of Willy Wonka danced through my head as we entered the kitchen of Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena. Machines churned silky streams of molten chocolate. Tiny decorated morsels sat ready for packaging. The aroma was intoxicating but there wasn’t an Oompa-Loompa in sight.

Looking nothing like the wacky Gene Wilder character, master chocolatier Tracy Wood Anderson stood at a bench working on a chocolate cat (the Halloween version of a chocolate bunny). Next to her, Tracy’s mother Chris Wood was creating quite a racket by furiously banging a metal mold on the stainless steel table. Read more…

On-line wine retail pioneer found home and success in Napa

about_al_alBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 9/12/13)

Al Jabarin sums up his success in wine retailing with a single, well-worn sentence.

“I started from click-to-order and moved to brick and mortar,” he said, gesturing to the neat shelves of expensive vintages lining the walls of his new wine shop in downtown Napa.

Jabarin, who 20 years ago saw retail opportunity in a computer screen and a newfangled concept called “the internet,” is describing his Napa-based business CalWine, one of the world’s first online wine retailers. Launched in 1995, became an instant hit among tech-savvy wine lovers and its sales grew exponentially as the Internet and e-commerce took hold in mainstream retail culture. Continue reading

For 40 years, Smith-Madrone is a brotherly labor of love

By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register, 9/6/13)

As brothers are sometimes known to do, one of them comes up with a harebrained idea and his sibling becomes an accomplice in the escapade. Such was the case more than 40 years ago when Stu Smith bought a thickly forested ranch on Spring Mountain planning to transform it into a vineyard and winery. His older brother Charlie was teaching sixth grade at the time in San Leandro.

“That wasn’t really what he wanted to do,” Stu said knowingly, “so I said ‘look, I’m in over my head here.’ So he came up.”

That was 1971. Charlie joined Stu full-time at the vineyard in 1973 and never looked back. In the following years the brothers worked hard together to carve out a hillside vineyard, build a small winery and launch Smith-Madrone, one of Napa Valley’s pioneering and most fiercely independent wine producers. And four decades later, Stu and Charlie Smith are still pretty much doing it all on their own. Read more…

Roundabout path to winemaking leads to Inman Family Wines

By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register, 8/8/13)

On a single day in 1982, Kathleen Inman’s future lined up like a once-in-a- lifetime cosmic event. Home from college for the summer, the Napa native (her maiden name was Kathleen McGowan) was working her first day at a startup winery near St. Helena. It was Inman’s first job in the wine industry. The next would be two decades later when she started her own winery, Inman Family Wines, and began making her mark as a respected producer of Russian River pinot noir, chardonnay and other wines.

But Inman’s winemaking future was not the only thing foreshadowed on that day in 1982. Her first tasting room customer would, in two years, become her husband. Read more…