How Three Couples Found Love in
ine country has long been hailed as a haven for lovers. With its breathtaking vistas, intimate cafes and the presence of passion-fueling libation, the region is rife with new dalliances and the rekindling of existing romances. Local couples and travelers the world over seek its environs for courtship and wedding bliss, with nearly 1,000 weddings a year taking place in Napa alone — vaulting it into the top five wedding destinations in the nation.
“There’s something magical and mystical about the combination of wine, grapevines, rolling hills, great food and great company in setting the stage for romance,” says Bill Gleeson, author of Weekends for Two in the Wine Country (Chronicle Books). “People are stressed these days and we need some help escaping. This region gives us everything we need to relax and tune into the person we are with.”
A love of wine fueled the fire between Sonoma County winemakers Kathleen and Simon Inman, who met in 1983 under fortuitous circumstances. Kathleen, a Napa native, was on summer break from studying art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was working her first day on the job in the tasting room of Napa Creek Winery. The winery had just opened and had been renovated from a meat packing plant, so meat hooks were still hanging on the walls. It was, says Kathleen, “not exactly the most romantic setting.”
In one day walked Simon, a solicitor from Yorkshire, England, who was in town for his sister’s wedding, which had taken place the preceding day. Simon, his sister and new brother-in-law chatted with Kathleen about wine, wine country and, coincidentally, Kathleen’s intention to study in Britain. According to the couple, the conversation was quick and hardly inspired.
Kathleen “thought nothing” of the meeting, and was shocked to receive a letter three weeks later via the winery owner’s wife addressed to the “pretty blond assistant.” Inman’s cryptic addressing of the letter, which included no street number, miraculously arrived at the right place — a winery that had just been opened and was known by few. Fate, it seemed, was on a roll.
The two began a correspondence and when Kathleen transferred to the University of London in1983, the romance was sealed. The couple was married later that same year and in 1989, with their two daughters, left a beautiful Yorkshire estate and successful jobs (he still a solicitor and she a finance executive) in England to move to wine country and turn avocation into vocation.. Today, the couple owns a Russian River winery, Inman Family Winery, producing handcrafted Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Simon feels the whole thing was meant to be. “Wine is what had brought us together, and wine is what we now make together,” he says.
And the grape continues to bind the two: On their twentieth anniversary in September of this year, the couple spent the day picking and sorting fruit, and decided to commemorate the day by creating a small batch of Pinot Noir rosé called, appropriately, “Endless Crush.”
For Steven and Sally Gordon, interest in the allure of wine country food, wine and nature initiated their romance. Steven, an artist, and Sally, a restaurateur, had separately moved to Napa and met when both were working at Domaine Chandon in 1980. Steven worked as an expeditor in the kitchen, and Sally worked in the Visitor Center.
“Sally started putting together monthly art shows at the winery in which my work was being shown, “recalls Steven. “It was a close community and we’d often finish a day’s work and drink the sparkling wine that was left over from the tastings.” “We found we had a connection — art, music, wine, food,” says Sally, who was already known around the valley for her dinner parties. “But in the beginning, it was just a friendship. Over the years of us enjoying wine country together, the relationship grew.” And grew. The couple tied the knot at Auberge du Soleil in 1989.
Today, the owners of Gordon Gallery and Gordon’s Café in Yountville regularly pay homage to the elements that brought them together. “Landscapes are so important to Steven as far as his painting goes,” says Sally. “And I have always been a nature person. We both have artists’ sensibilities and the wine country is full of beautiful scenes. We love to just get in the car and drive through the valley from Napa to Healdsburg.”
The couple also cooks together at home, and wedding vows are renewed every anniversary. “We dress up, drink champagne, eat caviar and read the vows,” says Steven, adding, “It’s hard not enjoy one another in wine country. Everything is set up for you to have a great time together.”
Sally agrees. “Being here is soothing and allows people to really think about what matters — especially the person who is sitting right beside you that you are in love with.”
Though a match-making Wolfgang Puck first brought chefs Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani of St. Helena’s Terra Restaurant together, the finishing ingredient was wine country itself. Doumani was pastry chef at Spago Los Angeles and Sone was training to open Spago Tokyo when the two met in Los Angeles in 1983. By 1984 the gourmands were a pair. That year, they visited Doumani’s parents (Lissa’s father Carl started Stags’ Leap Winery) and Sone fell in love once more — this time, with Napa Valley.
“It is so similar to where I grew up,” says Sone, who hails from a village 300 miles north of Tokyo. “Instead of vineyards, we have rice fields. The terrain is similar and the pace of life is slow. I was comfortable in Napa Valley right away.”
Sone was also taken by the atmosphere of the place, which he attributes, in part, to the development of his own relationship with Lissa. “You’re drinking wine, you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery, and driving though the valley, even the nuances of light are magical,” he says. “To always be surrounded by beautiful sensations is very romantic.”
The valley’s ambiance prevailed upon them, and the couple moved to the area in 1988. They founded the romantic Terra in 1989, and in 1992 were married at the winery on which Doumani had spent her teen years.
“In wine country, we can really relax together,” says Doumani, who names gardening, scenic drives and eating at Hana restaurant in Rohnert Park as preferred romantic activities. “Our professional and personal lives meld together here.”
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