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Smoking Winemakers

Dedicated Cigar Smokers Puff Away in California's Vineyards
Anthony Dias Blue
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 1)

Rinaldi prefers Macanudo Baron de Rothschild and Avo No. 5, smoking from four to ten a week. His wife enjoys Davidoffs. They have found the ultimate place for a relaxing smoke: in the spa on the back porch. Maximum number of smokers in the spa at one time: five. There is one rule. "If the cigar goes out because it touches the water, no relighting is allowed. Only a fresh cigar will do," Rinaldi says.

The list of smokers goes on:

Don Sebastiani of Sonoma's formidable Sebastiani Vineyards smokes his Cohiba Esplendidos in his car in traffic (which is fast becoming a concern in the wine country). He also unwinds with a smoke in his den or cellar, enjoying the cigar without distractions. "I used to smoke on the phone or while watching a movie in my den, but now it is me and the cigar alone," Sebastiani explains.

Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, a connoisseur of wine, cooking, art and cigars, perhaps more than anyone embodies the spirited good life of Napa. He inherited his taste for cigars from his father Carmine Coppola and later from Hollywood moguls such as Jack Warner. (see Cigar Aficionado, Winter 1992-93.) His elegant Victorian house in the vineyards was originally built by Gustave Niebaum, founder of the Inglenook winery. Coppola has added a small commercial winery, Niebaum-Coppola, on the property that produces a rich, premium red blend called Rubicon.

Tom Jordan, oil magnate and co-owner of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, which makes an outstanding Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and sparkling wine, was inspired by his grandfather. "As a very young lad," he explains, "I would snitch a cigar and smoke it in his garage. Contrary to the popular version, it not only didn't make me sick, but I loved it."

The wine crowd in Napa Valley has experienced everything from warm welcomes in incredibly opulent, plush settings to rude rejection. Like cigar smokers everywhere, they are always on the lookout for a place and time to smoke, whether it is in groups, on a special occasion or alone.

Belle Rhodes, a true Napa Valley original, worked for Mondavi in the 1970s and '80s. Her first smoke was at the Biltmore in Santa Barbara, California, just after the Second World War when she was still in the Navy. Today she smokes only on special occasions. Her husband Barney is a doctor and an avid wine connoisseur. Rhodes remembers one extravaganza that she helped organize nearly 25 years ago.

"Barney and I attended a wine auction at Christie's and were fortunate to get a triple magnum of Château Lafite vintage 1865," she says. "We agonized how best to consume this fabulous purchase and finally decided to honor André Simon, founder of the International Wine & Food Society on the occasion of his 93rd birthday."

The dinner was held at Cercle de l'Union restaurant on Mason street in San Francisco. Since Simon was a connoisseur of both wine and cigars, it was decided to include an after-dinner smoke as part of the menu. In addition to the cigars and the 1865 Lafite jewel, the dinner featured Bollinger Réserve 1934 and 1937, Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial 1953, Blandy's Sercial 1870 Madeira, Château Belair 1929 and Château d'Yquem 1953 in double magnum. As Rhodes describes it, the dinner clearly was an unforgettable night.

Just because most wine-country cigar smokers tend to puff alone, it doesn't mean they won't on occasion gather for a group smoke. Grant Showley of Showley's at Miramonte in St. Helena has sponsored a popular cigar dinner for the past two years. Vintners are encouraged to bring a bottle of their favorite wine to accompany the multicourse meal. Cigars and vintage Port provide a rousing finish to the festivities. Rinaldi recalls a recent Showley's smoke-out: "I went out to my car for a minute and upon returning noticed a window of the restaurant opened a few inches. A billowing fog of gray perfumed smoke drifted out into the night. The sight and the sound of laughter made it a magical and amusing moment."

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