City Winery clarifies its intentions, addresses concerns

2013-08-12T22:00:00Z 2013-08-19T16:55:14Z City Winery clarifies its intentions, addresses concernsMichael Dorf Napa Valley Register
August 12, 2013 10:00 pm  • 

I am writing to provide some needed clarification on exactly how we operate and to reinforce the seriousness and respect we have for music, wine, and food. In reading the many comments and questions, and feeling the tenor of the conversation about our coming to the Opera House, I believe there is a significant misunderstanding of our business and our intentions, and I hope to clarify many points.

City Winery is not a “nightclub” or a “cabaret,” but rather an intimate concert hall that has a focus on presenting internationally renowned artists in a comfortable setting created for a sophisticated audience.

We only do seated (rather than standing room) shows, in fact, we have signs on the tables requesting no talking out of respect to the performance; and our staff is trained to be highly sensitive to making noise during service.

Please look online at our schedule of performers in New York or Chicago and you will see the high quality of our programming. We also have a tremendous respect for the culinary arts and have developed a wine-friendly menu with large wine list served only in Riedel stemware.

I have been in the music business as a producer for more than 25 years and have a very strong set of relationships which allows us access to some of the finest artists in the world. I’ve also been a wine fan, a fact that led to the concept of City Winery and with our winemaking team back East, have been coming to Napa for years as a buyer of fruit.

In fact, we have long-term relationships and contracts with over a dozen Napa Valley producers and it is our deep admiration for the wine community that is part of our motivation to come to Napa. But above all, we saw an opportunity to bring our concept into the landmark Napa Valley Opera House as a demonstration of the ultimate respect we have for the arts.

This is to be manifested in how we intend to finish the restoration of the Opera House with a utilitarian and efficient integration of food and wine so that more people can enjoy this important landmark.

Presenting cultural events is a challenging business — putting on shows, competing for talent with multi-national corporations, marketing to audiences with more and more technological access to home entertainment— all in an atmosphere where support for the arts competes with many other important nonprofit activities and charitable work.

While we are a for-profit business, we are also a small, growing company that puts a lot of focus and attention on creating the best possible experience for both the artist and patron. The integration of food and wine allows us, as presenters of culture, to take more risk, give annually an average of 85 percent of our ticket income to the artists and use the other 15 percent for marketing and production.

This allows us to keep the ticket price as reasonable as possible, as our income comes from the food and beverage operations. As they say in the film business, “The profits are in the popcorn.” Our particular popcorn is great wine and high-end food, a combination that seems perfect for both the local community and the many tourists that come to the Napa Valley.

It was this “one plus one equals three” that Bob Almeida and Peter Williams of the Opera House understood and we abandoned looking at other Napa locations, as it seemed a perfect fit. We are taking a large risk with more than $2 million going into this project.

We are not, as some have said, “like the Wal-Mart’s that have ruined downtowns all over the country,” but rather a humble bunch of music and wine fans that would like to create our third location in a community we think will love our involvement.

We sincerely revere the chance to present shows in a room that bears the name “Mondavi.” For us to be connected to the history of winemaking in America and entertain fans in the oldest cultural edifice in Napa Valley is a true honor.

We are not about the “destruction of the Opera House,” as some have speculated, but rather about helping the venue do more of what it was designed to do — creating a lifelong memory of an experience involving all of the senses, and reaching as many people as possible.

Lastly, one final comment about what has been called our “terrible idea.” While we buy about 200 tons a year of grapes to process and make into wine for our New York and Chicago facilities, we obviously are not doing that at the Opera House.

Our planned wine program is to expand on our tap wine systems and have 35 wines on tap, with 30 of the lines used by local winemakers, wineries, and vineyards. We will buy this wine as a restaurant, direct from the producers, in 60-gallon (barrel) quantities, to show off the Napa Valley’s best terroir.

We are excited to have many great wineries lined up already to help us offer wine “as close to the barrel as possible,” in addition to what will be a 400-plus bottle wine list focusing on California and regional producers. We have seen great results with this trend in the business and are very confident it will appeal to many of the wine aficionados on Main Street here in Napa.

Finally, we look forward to help bring more music, comedians and other performances to Napa; to support the efforts of what the Napa Valley Opera House will continue to present; and to complement the programming of the Uptown Theatre and other venues.

We are very excited to be coming to Napa and getting involved in the local community, and to support local causes. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you, help you better understand our intentions, and hear and address your concerns.

Dorf is founder and chief executive officer of City Winery.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. napablogger
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    napablogger - August 12, 2013 10:43 pm
    This sounds good to me.As I read all the back and forth over this I find myself thinking that I will probably end up going to the Opera House a lot more than I ever have.
  2. Report Abuse
    - August 13, 2013 10:06 am
    Mr. Dorf thank you for your expertise to integrate the elements of what was lost at Copia into the Opera House. While there may be a level of negative reception to this re-invention of the Lady Of the Valley it is only a small group of amateur "music critics" or should I say "chronic complainers" that complain about anything music. They seem to surface when music gets a spotlight, recently ie; Bottlerock. I should say that everyone is entitled to their opinion, it would be an improvement if their opinions were based on a knowledge and expertise in the entertainment business, however? Well I could go on and on historically about different music episodes that have caught the attention of the "change is bad crowd" but it would bare no fruit, I think I will put some Frank Sinatra on and vision sitting in the Lady Of The Valley listening to a entertainer performing some of those great songs.
  3. misofrappacino
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    misofrappacino - August 13, 2013 10:42 am
    Actually, it seems that those who are not enthusiastic about this change are coming from the perspective of respect for the space and for the music, the acoustics that were created in the space, the reverence for quality, and also the substantial efforts that went into the restoration. Concerns are legitimate and its sad to see them get misconstrued by some. There are actually real differences in experience of a performance, whether you are sitting in a hushed theater with rows of seats all facing the stage, or whether you are sitting at a table while eating and drinking.
  4. JustAnotherManicMonday
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    JustAnotherManicMonday - August 13, 2013 12:47 pm
    Is this wine delivery system the same one they had at the Lincoln Theater right before it closed? Sorry I got a glass of wine there and it tasted awful was old and flat, not a freshly opened and poured wine. This is basically bringing alcohol to the masses. You can dress up this pig in lipstick of Riedel stemware but I'm not buying this load of dung.
  5. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - August 13, 2013 1:47 pm
    I sincerely hope this works out, because the Opera House had some trouble filling seats with some of the very acts that City Winery has in its Chicago and NYC venues.

    But I'm all for change as long as it's in a positive direction. I'd rather see City Winery take it over than to have the current incarnation of the facility limp into obscurity.
  6. rational-one
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    rational-one - August 13, 2013 2:52 pm
    Really what does this really have to do with anything? This comment is a good example to remove the computers for public use from the library.
  7. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - August 13, 2013 4:18 pm
    I agree. It's one of the frustrating yet entertaining aspects of this forum to see how quickly and how far responses can get off target. I always thought that if NVR editors required responders to have say, a 5th grade level of spelling and grammar, it would dramatically cut down down on the number of respondents, but elevate the overall quality of the discourse.
  8. Report Abuse
    - August 13, 2013 4:41 pm
    I can really see the respect. ("You can dress up this pig in lipstick of Riedel stemware but I'm not buying this load of dung."). Some comments are really shallow. For example we have 3 amazing and beautiful structures as venues in downtown, now we have two as Copia and its use remains in limbo, most likely to house more business offices. I experience that some comments here are selfish and self-interested speaking only to one point of view and with a negative slant. Good music venues are hard to find and then the ones that are successful are few and far between. Mr. Dorf has a very successful music business model. It will work for the increase in tourists that is finally growing in Napa. It is the tourist opinion that matters because they are bringing the disposable tourist dollar to the downtown arena aiding in increasing the GPI for Napa. Very simply nothing is different here from other complaints in concern of an activity connected to music in Napa, just more chronic manure tossing
  9. misofrappacino
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    misofrappacino - August 13, 2013 8:54 pm
    We can all have our opinions of course. Again, there are genuine sentiments about the performance space. Sure, perhaps there are some here who are just tossing manure. But don't lump me in with that, or others who just don't want to see the opera house ruined.

    I'm really curious about whether this is a done deal or not. Are we just making a lot of hot air? Is this already inevitable, or is there still a chance of preventing this change?

    I'm also curious about alternatives. Seems like if there were more bookings, and maybe some high priced special events, the opera house could do better financially. Yes? No?

    I'm actually not opposed to this as an idea. When I lived in NYC I went to the Bottom Line quite often, which uses this model - tables and chairs, drinks, etc. It's an amazing venue, loved it.

    It just seems like such a waste to re-renovate and to rip out such a beautiful theater. Call me whatever, I don't care what you call me.
  10. Report Abuse
    - August 14, 2013 10:01 am
    I suggest that the Opera House, it's vision was ruined, not it's structure or it's operation. However if the vision politically and economically of the direction and operation of an establishment is narrow lacking the full and total embrace of artistic culture, it can be difficult to succeed. In the music business there is a term, it is called "genre splitting". Genre's are loosely defining category's of music. When you split a genre of music out and define it as the politically correct genre then essentially you obscure the music from it's culture. While many in the community enjoy the "finer", "high end", performance, music and art, having it as a main course all the time can result in empty seats. Diversity is always the best tool in creating a music scene, a music happening. But, looking closer I found that a political air of aristocracy cloaked our Lady Of the Valley.

    By the way nothing is being ripped out of the structure, the raked floor is temporary, over the original floor.
  11. JustAnotherManicMonday
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    JustAnotherManicMonday - August 14, 2013 6:31 pm
    My deepest apologies for missing a comma and making a run on sentence. I believe my previous comment was quite relevant. Mr. Dorf mentioned both Riedel stemware and a new wine delivery system in his letter to the editor "developed a wine-friendly menu with large wine list served only in Riedel stemware" and "planned wine program is to expand on our tap wine systems". I did visit the Lincoln Theater in Yountville before it closed. They put in a new "wine delivery system" where you buy a wine card, like a credit card, and buy a glass of wine, and the wine is poured out into a glass. For $14, I got a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. However, it was flat and tasted off, like it had been opened several days ago, similar to at home when you open a bottle of wine, cork it, and drink it a few days later, and decide to use it for cooking wine instead. If this is a similar type if wine system, I don't recommend it. It is an insult to the Riedel brand of glass with old wine.
  12. Michael Dorf
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    Michael Dorf - August 15, 2013 10:51 am
    We seem to all agree that the Vinoteca wine systems (with the cards) they have out there don't fully live up to the hype. I too have tasted some nasty flavors of wines we all know, since the system did not preserve the wine properly. WE ARE NOT USING THAT! We have built our own tap wine system using commercial grade stainless steel and commercial argon gas. I invite anyone to come to NY or Chicago and try our wine, a glass on me, and see what you think of the system. If that is a problem, send me an email to and I'll buy you the first glass when we open and you can see what you think. I am hopeful you will like what you taste in the Riedel glass. With respect, Michael
  13. surfdog
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    surfdog - August 16, 2013 10:49 pm
    I worked at Copia until almost the end, when they had the wine dispensing machines that used the cards. Those particular machines, of which I forget the brand, had 4 bottles at a time which were changed out weekly by Wine Dept Staff..As Facilities Maint, I was responsible for the Argon Gas bottle changeouts and cleaning the lines..From all I was able to hear, they worked quite well and the wines were poured fresh..Many bottles lasted up to a week, sometimes more depending on usage..I believe these were the same used in the wine shop in SF that started this whole "Tap" wine usage. I believe Mr Dorf will do everything he can to be sure his system is the best there is and I am looking forward to experiencing the freshness he is bringing to our Grand Lady. Everyone is sad that the "Theater" style operation has not been successful, but as one of 7 employees of the Opera House, I am excited that someone is willing to try and come in to help save our Venue AND create more local jobs..
  14. Joey Ramone
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    Joey Ramone - September 01, 2013 2:24 am
    Delighted to hear Mr. Dorf is taking an interest not just in the town, or the wine, but in the music and culture that come into it. Loved the Knitting Factory when I lived in New York. Of course, I'm under forty and I like Charles Gayle. I'm sure he'll bring excellent cultural curation to satisfy a broad range of tastes.
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