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Thousands of Chinese visitors throng to Napa Valley this spring

Thousands of Chinese visitors throng to Napa Valley this spring

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Locals may not have noticed, given our wine industry’s intrinsic link to hospitality and the steady welcoming of visitors from around the world; from mid-May to mid-June, the region was visited by more than 9,000 Chinese, all eager for a taste of the Napa Valley experience.

In groups of 1,600, these visitors flew into San Francisco and explored numerous northern California destinations over a four-day period. Their excursions included a trip to Napa Valley; a tour of Stanford University; a shopping trip to the Livermore outlets; a gala dinner aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in the San Francisco Bay, complete with a bomber jet fly-by, and more. While the group filled seven hotels in San Francisco alone, scheduling was coordinated so that just 300 guests were at any one destination at the same time. Sponsoring these incentive-driven trips was Amway, the global direct sales company.

For the group’s Napa Valley trip, Charles Krug Winery was wine country central, and Patty Grantham, Director of Hospitality, and team managed the private tasting room for all guests, as well as wine samples at lunch each day. The large grassy knoll outside of the renovated Carriage House was transformed into a daily farmers market, with vendor stalls often seen at St. Helena’s Friday morning market. Agnes Ramos of the Napa Valley Tea Company brought her wine-inspired tea flavors to this special market. Sean Nash of Nature’s Candy displayed a large array of different flavored roasted almonds. Numerous other local companies, including St. Helena’s Olivier, provided wares or specialty foods for purchase.

A separate area on the grounds was decorated with bright blue and white tablecloth-strewn tables for a luncheon each day. Managed by Oak Avenue Catering with chef/owner Shannon Kelly overseeing all details, there were heaping pans of different paella dishes — plump shrimp, crispy pork and fresh vegetables and herbs. Grillers were busy caramelizing barbecued ribs which were served with fresh corn on the cob and a variety of hand-made pizzas were topped and cooked fresh onsite. The food options were deliciously abundant. Table settings included a list of available Krug wines. There were also separate wine tasting tables where guests could taste and purchase the latest vintages. For enthusiastic oenophiles, a guided wine tasting was offered in the Chinese language on the second floor of the Carriage House.

Before and after lunch, visitors were invited to join in games including a wine barrel roll and a grape stomping competition. It was all good food, good wine, fun and games for the Chinese visitors.

Coordinating an event of this size is no easy task. Chosen to assist the group was St. Helena resident, Barbara Edwards, and her event management company, California Host. With two decades of experience working directly with Steve Jobs at Apple, Edwards and her team are used to big challenges.

Last week, the final guests returned home to China. Like many visitors from around the world, we suspect at least a few left their hearts here.

According to a Visit Napa Valley report on international tourism, 60,928 visitors from China came to the Napa Valley in 2014, which was 13.6 percent of the 448,000 visitors. Overall, in 2014, the Napa Valley welcomed 3.3 million visitors.

The report was released in May. Visit Napa Valley is the official tourism marketing organization for the Napa Valley, with a mission to promote, protect and enhance the region’s position as one of the world’s premier wine, food, arts and wellness destinations.

Catherine Bugue, the Star’s tasting panel columnist, loves writing about — and drinking — wine. You can contact Catherine at

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