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Napa Valley winemakers are almost giddy in their praises of the 2014 harvest. The harvest began on July 30, which was very early, but not a record setter. Reportedly, the crop was abundant, The fruit is beautiful. The earthquake did not damage any vineyards, but there was substantial damage to the processing equipment in some wineries, but creative winemakers, with the help of neighbors, worked around the problems. Did you hear about the drones spraying the vineyards? Will they be picking grapes in the future?

Happy Birthday

That would be John Shafer’s 90th, which was celebrated with his friends last Saturday night at the Shafer Winery in the Stags Leap District. The Shafer wines have been ranked consistently as some of California’s finest. A beautiful, round tent, just a tad smaller than a Spanish bull-fighting ring, was set up for the occasion. Roughly 125 Shafer-ophiles greeted and schmoozed with each other and John and his family during a lovely reception on the sunset-lit patio, followed by a delicious dinner, accompanied by live music and candlelight in the tent. This was followed by emcee, son Doug, and five speakers recalling the pleasures of knowing and working with John, and his philanthropic contributions to Napa Valley, especially to the immigrants from south of the border who toil in the vineyards and winery cellars, and play a vital role in the world-class reputation of Napa Valley wines.

Lincoln Theater offerings

While you are musing on tasting the 2014 wines, the upcoming programs at the Lincoln Theater offer a good diversion. Programs include concerts by the Symphony Napa Valley Chamber Orchestra with soloists; a Merry Mozart celebration; an evening of Ballet Folklorico Costa de Oro; and a Pink Martini concert. Details of all of this can be seen at the LincolnTheater website,, or by calling 944-4400.

Shifting gears

The coming winter months are a good time to savor cheese and wines before a fire on a rainy night (if rain ever comes to the Napa Valley). From Calistoga to Napa, the valley markets have expansive selections of wonderful cheeses.

Nobody knows the number of different cheeses in the world. France alone produces more than 460 varieties, and Italy, more than 400. The first cheeses possibly were made in what is now Mongolia during the early Stone Age, about 800,000 years ago, but nobody really knows the answer.

The record for making a huge cheese must go to Canada, which exhibited a 4-ton wheel at a fair in Toronto. Cheese can be made from the milk of most domesticated animals: cows, sheep, mares, camels, yaks — the list goes on. (Cheese has been even made from human milk, but there is a volume problem.)

We are all lucky to have a staggering variety of cheeses available. And we are lucky to have a cheese expert, Janet Fletcher, who offers her expertise in classes and news letters.

On the subject of cheeses’ favorite partner, wine, more than 1,000 wine grape varieties have been identified. Reportedly, between 45,000 and 95,000 bottles of different wines are produced globally each year.

So there you are, with more cheeses and more wines than you can possibly try in your lifetime, unless of course, you are Methuselah who, the Bible tells us, lived to the ripe old age of 969 years.

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The 2014 Flavor! Napa Valley is scheduled for Nov. 19-23 and features farm-to-table cuisine; world-class wines; and showcases star culinary personalities from across the country. Visit for details.

Shakespeare fans, lend me your ear:

The bard’s” King Lear,” performed by eight actors from England’s Globe Theater, will present classic performances on Dec. 6 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville. Tickets are $25, $35 and $45 for the afternoon performance, and $45, $65 and $125 for the evening performance. What a wonderful opportunity for students in the valley to see live Shakespeare.

Apple news: (not the type that sits on desks, but the type that grows on trees) the St. Helena Public Library held a celebration of National Apple Month at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16. The public was invited to participate or to come and taste the winners in the five apple baking categories: cakes, pies, muffins, breads, and other.

Caboose Item: Note to John Shafer: One of the signs that one is entering his dotage years is when one switches from wine and caviar… to milk of magnesia and soft-boiled eggs. I noticed at your party that you had not switched.

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Send comments or info to George Starke at or call 70-942-0733.