The Art of Throwing a Wine Country-Style Dinner Party


Since taking over Hanna Winery 15 years ago, Christine Hanna has made an art of throwing dinner parties. Here she shares her favorite autumn menu. (Adapted from The Winemaker Cooks, Chronicle Books, 2010).


When I first moved to Wine Country from the city, I was amazed at how the sidewalks rolled up in the evenings. After a 7 p.m. dinner reservation, there wasn’t anything else to do. What I soon learned was that Wine Country social life revolves around inviting people into your home. Dinner parties begin with a glass of wine on the terrace overlooking the setting sun on the grapevines. A leisurely dinner follows and stretches late into the evening with a final glass of wine around the fireplace, either indoors or out.

So I began to invite my new friends over for dinner. I took advantage of my lovely first house in Healdsburg, a  Craftsman cottage with a huge backyard to make up for its diminutive rooms. Spring, summer and fall, I’d set a table outside, under a 100-year-old Mission fig tree, and we’d watch the stars and enjoy our evening. Winter meals were more challenging, as only six could fit comfortably in the Douglas-fir-paneled dining room.

A year or so later, my husband, Jake, and I moved from town to Alexander Valley, just minutes from Hanna Winery’s second tasting room and vineyard. I wanted a peaceful place to come home to, with room to both relax and entertain. Our new home came with its own Cabernet vineyard, room for vast gardens, and plenty of space for indoor entertaining. Somehow, we were undaunted by the fact that the property and the house had been all but abandoned for decades. Once the renovation dust settled, I got back to cooking. My menus moved from standard repertoire to experimentation, using ingredients I’d pick up at the Saturday farmers market. I started cooking like a California chef, organizing menus around what was freshest. And I began to cook by looking through a vintner’s lens.

I started doing a harvest lunch in October a couple of years ago. Now it just wouldn’t be a harvest without it. We serve our lunch outside the cellar doors, but the menu is lovely for a picnic too: green zebra tomato, white corn and mozzarella salad; pan-seared duck breast with balsamic jus; French lentil, prosciutto and pepper salad; sautéed Romano beans with shallots, pine nuts and mint; Kadota fig tart with mascarpone cream (recipe at right). The wines for this menu should be rustic and plentiful. Serve Russian River Valley Chardonnay for a starter white, as its richness is just right for the cooler fall weather. And an earthy Russian River Pinot Noir is the perfect weight to pair with the duck.

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