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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 2)

Not all restaurateurs are cigar advocates like Showley. Lissa Doumani of the fantastic Terra restaurant in St. Helena has a strong aversion to smokers. Her father Carl Doumani has smoked in Terra once--and only once.

Doumani was dining with Lee Iacocca and a few others. The meal was superb, and Iacocca decided to savor the moment by lighting up a cigar. "I waited to see what Lissa would do. She made hand gestures to me, but couldn't bring herself to tell Lee Iacocca to put it out," says Doumani. Seizing this rare opportunity, Doumani and the others all lit up. Lissa called her father later to complain about the role reversal. "She told me, 'You're acting like the child and I'm like the parent,' " he recalls with a chuckle. Parent-child squabbling is nothing to Doumani. He recalls the time when he was smoking in another Napa restaurant and a woman hit him over the head with a purse.

Doumani isn't the only one. Mike Chelini, winemaker for Stony Hill Vineyard, was part of an amusing cigar escapade that is becoming increasingly rare. Following a private lunch at a local cigar-friendly restaurant, his group decided to continue the festivities at another eatery. The roasted-pork pig's head from the luncheon came along for the ride. They all lit up cigars--including the pig--only to discover the new restaurant was not as cigar friendly as they thought. "They were fairly cordial, but not sorry to see us retire."

Not surprisingly, wine-country smokers seem content to smoke in private. "Frankly, I understand the restrictions because I do not enjoy cigar smoking next to my table while I am eating," says Groth. "But I used to enjoy smoking in great hotel lobbies. Too bad so many are disallowing the activity."

A few wine-country restaurants permit cigar smoking in limited areas. Rhodes points out that both Mustards Grill in Yountville and Jeremiah Tower's new Stars Oakville Cafe in Oakville have smoking areas outside the restaurant. The elegant Auberge du Soleil resort in Rutherford allows smoking in the lounge and offers cigars at the reception desk.

What about the marriage of wine and cigars? Port is the obvious wine to accompany a cigar, but there are several other enticing options. Don Sebastiani has made a Mourvèdre and Syrah, both high-extract wines, that work well. "If I drink a claret, it is not a big, structured wine, but one with lush, smoky flavors like Palmer," he says.

Rinaldi thinks that the subtle flavors of red wine and cigars are lost when combined. He suggests that wines such as Champagne or Sémillon make a good match with a cigar. "But there is no better wine to accompany a cigar than Port. I have learned this by trial and error--with a lot of errors along the way," he says.

"I prefer a cigar after the wines," says Jordan. "Perhaps with a Port or Cognac."

Cognac and Armagnac are considered the best spirits to pair with cigars, because of their smoky, complex, woody flavors. A few vintners recommend grappa, along with Calvados, marc and applejack. For nonalcoholic tastes, Rhodes notes that premium, strongly brewed black coffee is an appropriate choice. And Rinaldi adds, "For a real treat, try a lager beer with a good cigar. An excellent combination."

The wine country has evolved into a remarkable home of mannered country living, where style and sophistication meet rural beauty and simplicity. Many residents are transplants from the city--doctors, lawyers, bankers and engineers--people whose success has allowed them to realize a dream of life in the vineyards. Others have grown up in the wine business either here or in Europe and would not consider trading their bucolic lifestyle.

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