Looking from Reception toward The Judgement of Paris painting in the dining room, through the glass-encased vault.
California Wine Festival, May 13 - 14 RG20 8JU at The Vineyard Hotel Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire By Sabrina Sully T
his gem of a hotel & spa is a temple to California wine, comfort and fine dining. Add its proximity to London (on the Hampshire/Berkshire border), their exclusive relationship for guest access to nearby Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle), and their renowned California wine masterclasses, tastings and Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses, and you’ll wonder why you’ve never been before. When Virginia lived in London she was a frequent visitor, need I say more! Wine is at the heart of this hotel, literally, it’s a strange experience walking over a glass floor through the wine vault to reach the dining room. Owned by Sir Peter Michael and family, who also have the highly regarded Peter Michael winery in Sonoma County (the main property is on the southwest slopes of Mount St. Helena, about eight miles north of Calistoga, just past the far north end of Napa Valley), this unstuffy, 5 star Relais & Chateau hotel boasts over 30,000 bottles in the cellars, 3,000 bins, 100 wines to drink by the glass, an extremely knowledgeable Head Sommelier Romain Bourger and a helpful Californian sommelier who speaks perfect American! The
food is no slouch either. And there are 32 suites and 17 bedrooms, all luxuriously elegant and named after iconic wines from around the world. The hotel excels at the little, personal touches that count - a personal note of the next day’s weather forecast on a slip of paper on the turned down bed, superb discreet service everywhere. Every year The Vineyard holds a wonderful two-day festival (bookable separately), comprising The Peter Michael Winery dinner and California Wine Tasting. The dinner, hosted by the family, is a 5 course meal with matched wines mainly from their winery. Last year my favorite course was the Black Risotto with roasted hand dive scallop, paired with a big red - the PMW Fort Ross, Sonoma Coast ‘Le Caprice’ Pinot Noir, 2011(a big wine where a floral nose and raspberries stand back to reveal blackberries, and a combination of spice and flint that for me makes the perfect red wine). I would walk 500 miles to have this course again - every day. Silky, tasty risotto and the sweetest scallop I’ve ever tasted, sourced from Scottish islands - the colder the water, the sweeter the scallop, as Michelin-
starred Head Chef, Daniel Galmiche told me. (Daniel left at the end of January, with Robby Jenks steppng into his shoes from another Relais & Chateaux hotel, Amberley Castle.) I haven’t room to detail the other courses, but of note was the cheesepaired wine - PMW Knights Valley Les Pavots Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011. 80% Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and a touch of spice from a little Petit Verdot, (blackcurrant with herb and spice). The wine tasting starts at a leisurely 11am, with over 50 Californian wines from various regions throughout California, including Peter Michael Winery, Benovia, Ferrari-Carano, Waterstone, Honig Vineyards and Rudd Estate. Winery owners and representatives will be there too, so you can ask them anything about their wines as you sip, and place your order, if you wish. And then there’s the sumptuous 40th anniversary annual dinner (May 28) which celebrates the Judgement of Paris, when Californian wines comprehensively beat French wines at a prestigious blind tasting. I love this place, Virginia! There are events & special packages throughout the year see www.the-vineyard.co.uk