THE TABLE arrangement was typical, except for the seven wineglasses surrounding each setting. The location was the dining room of the St. James Club on the Sunset Strip, the former Sunset Tower, a sparkling Art Deco monument to the late 1920s. The host welcoming the roomful of guests was Samuel Bronfman II, president of the Seagram Classics Wine Co.
The first five color-coded glasses eventually would contain barrel samples--two of Winery Lake Chardonnay and three of Pinot Noir, from the 1987 vintage. These were to be preambles to the pouring of Sterling Vineyards' newly released editions of Winery Lake 1986 Chardonnay and 1986 Pinot Noir from the Carneros-Napa Valley, the estate acquired by Sterling from owner-planter Rene di Rosa in March, 1986.
After dinner, Bronfman introduced the Sterling president, wine master Tom Ferrell, vineyardist Tucker Catlin and wine maker Bill Dyer, along with Di Rosa--still vineyard planter--and Di Rosa's artist wife, Veronica. The tasting was on.
In 1964, I walked with owner-partner Michael Stone through this Calistoga vineyard before the first building was erected, contemplating winery names. Peter Newton, one of the other main partners, an Oxford graduate, made the choice, dubbing the 50-acre parcel Sterling Vineyards, having the British pound sterling in mind. In 1977, the winery was sold to the Wine Spectrum division of Coca-Cola. A third partner, in Seattle, had wanted out, and Coca-Cola came in with an offer to buy all or nothing at all. In 1978, the company acquired the Diamond Mountain and Rutherford vineyard properties, and the following year, Tucker Catlin came aboard as viticulturist.