Chums since elementary school days, a trio of 30-year-olds has teamed up to give back to the educational system that helped them get where they are today.
Tyler Rodde, Grant Long Jr. and Tyler Nelson trace a lasting friendship to their days at Vichy Elementary School. They’ve remained close over the years, even though careers took them in different directions.
Rodde chose a career in culinary arts, one that took him out of the area for a substantial chunk of his 20s. But a couple of years ago, he and fellow chef Curtis Di Fede returned to the valley to open up one of Napa’s most popular restaurants, Oenotri.
Long made a decision to earn a living in the industry that keeps this valley humming — wine. Like those of his two buddies, his family grows grapes so selecting a career path in winegrowing seemed an appropriate fit.
On the other hand, Nelson decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, enrolling in a pre-med program at UC Davis, then the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, with the goal of specializing in oral and maxillofacial surgery.
After a discussion with Renee and John Lawson, founding members of the Napa Valley Education Foundation, about the upcoming 28th annual Taste for Knowledge Gala at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel, Long contacted his friends about taking part in the wine auction associated with the event.
Upshot of that discussion is the Vichy Class of 1993 live auction lot, up for bid with a lot of other one-of-a-kind offerings at the gala on Oct. 22.
Long, Rodde and Nelson each contributed wine for a blend of 2010 wine that Long will put together in conjunction with the wishes of the winning bidder. The blend will consist of cabernet sauvignon from Atlas Peak, cabernet franc from Calistoga and malbec from Yountville. Aged in new French oak for at least 18 months, the 12-case lot will be available to the winning bidder late next year. “The winning bidder will be fully involved in that timetable,” Long advised.
Reflecting his Irish heritage — “from my mother’s side of the family” — Long named his Napa wine operation, Aonair, a Gaelic term for “one man,” or “solo.” He incorporated his grandfather’s Irish crescent into the label design.
Focusing on mountain fruit, Long prefers “bolder style, in-your-face” red wines, wines favored by “hedonists” like himself.
Rodde pointed out he and his Vichy school chums have remained “a close-knit group” over the years. Long says all three are “classic over-achievers” eager to give back to the schools that did well by them.
The current late harvest will determine if Long will be able to attend the gala on the 22nd. His cohorts won’t make it, as Rodde will be on the line at Oenotri on a busy Saturday night and Nelson is in Boston wrapping up post-grad work.
Tickets for the 6 p.m. gala on Oct. 22 at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel are $150, which includes a food and wine pairing dinner created by Napa Valley Marriott chef Brian Whitmer. They can be obtained by mailing a check directly to the Napa Valley Education Foundation, 2425 Jefferson St., #105, Napa 94558, or by calling 253-3564.
A few of the other exceptional live auction lots include:
“Casa De La Luna” — Beachfront villa on Sea of Cortez in Los Barrilles, just north of Cabo San Lucas. It sleeps as many as 10 and has an infinity pool and your own swim up bar. Ocean kayak included. Deep sea fishing for 2 days, transportation to and from airport included.
Luxury box for eight at Oakland Coliseum for the Dec. 18 game between the Raiders and the Detroit Lions, with travel to and from the venue in a limousine.
Known as the Valley Isle, Maui is home to long stretches of world-famous beaches and winter plays host to playful whales. Four lucky people will spend a week in a private Kahana Village condo, just 100 yards from the beach. This two-bedroom, two bath condo has breathtaking lanai views and a heated pool.
Six days at the Gimenez Riili Estate in Mendoza, Argentina, for two couples discovering the best winemaking regions of Argentina and enjoying the outstanding landscapes of the Andes mountains, its valleys and city.
Some of the food and wine events on the auction block include dinner for six at Cole’s Chop House with winemaker Rob Lawson, Opus One Twilight Tour and tasting for six guests, dinner at Bottega for six with wines from the Chiarello Family, Duckhorn tasting and luncheon for eight people, plus Far Niente and Nickel and Nickel lunch for four and a convertible Packard for the day.
In its effort to aid both students and teachers, the Napa Valley Education Foundation has raised more than $1.5 million since its inception and figures it has helped some 120,000 students, says founding member Renee Lawson. “The need is even greater today,” she added.