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.