COMMUNITY + Intriguing Napa Valley
Napa Valley’s Most Intriguing 2023
WRITTEN BY Christina Andrews


Published On: December 07, 2023
Gold and white text on black background stating Napa Valley's Most Intriguing 2023

“Why Fit in When YouWere Born to Stand Out?”– Dr. Suess

In this section, Napa Valley Life is pleased to present our 22nd Annual List of Intriguing People, a curated collection of Napa Valley residents worth learning about and getting to know. 


University of Georgia football player Brock Bowers in uniform with arms crossed on white background

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletic Association

Brock Bowers

Student, Athlete, Local Legend

Brock Bowers, Napa native, now student-athlete at the University of Georgia, graduated from Napa High School, class of 2021. During his junior year, Bowers set a school record with 14 touchdown receptions, leading Napa High to state playoffs after the previous year’s dismal finish to the season at 0 – 10. For his part in the team’s remarkable turnaround, Bowers was named Napa County Player of the Year in 2019. Though the 2020-21 football season was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, Bowers kept himself in top form, and his remarkable athleticism did not go unnoticed. 

Bowers was named to the All-American Bowl in 2020 and would go on to become one of the most sought-after prospects for the 2021 college football season, listed as a 4-star recruit and the second-ranked tight end nationally. Despite his California roots, Bowers was drawn to programs in the South where their enthusiasm for football is legendary. He settled in at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he enlisted as an early enrollee in January of 2021.

Bowers’ freshman year at Georgia could not have been more remarkable. After the team’s top two tight ends were injured at the beginning of the season, Bowers was next in line for the position, and this as a freshman. Bowers did not disappoint. He finished the 2021 season as the Bulldogs’ leading receiver with 56 receptions for 882 yards and set a school record of 13 receiving touchdowns. These feats resulted in Bowers being named SEC Freshman of the Year, and he was included on the All-SEC First Team and the All-American Second Team.

Bowers attributes much of his success to his school teachers at Browns Valley Elementary, Redwood Middle School, and Napa High. “My Napa High coaches were a huge influence on my growth and development, as were my teammates throughout the years.” Whenever Bowers returns to town, he likes hanging out with friends and hitting the drive-through at In-N-Out Burger. //


Garrett Buckland standing in vineyard with hands in pockets wearing a navy shirt and jeans

Photo by Suzanne Becker Bronk

Garrett Buckland

Founder/Owner, Premiere Viticultural Services
Award-Winning Viticultural Consultant

Garrett Buckland is truly one of Napa Valley’s greatest assets and, in 2023, was recognized as such by being awarded “Napa Valley Grower of the Year” by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

In 2002, Buckland and business partner Steve Matthiasson created Premiere Viticultural Services, applying an impressive array of technical and scientific skills to develop vineyards for the region’s top Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Within just a few years, the company was managing over 4000 acres for nearly 30 luxury wine brands—no small feat.

What sets Buckland apart from the competition is what he describes as “applied science in the vineyard.” “What we do is highly technical, creating nutrition regimes, planning canopy and fruit management, mapping row orientation and spacing, and spending considerable time assessing soil chemistry.” The result: some of the best fruit in the industry.

Vineyard management is in Buckland’s blood. He grew up on an 800-acre ranch in north Napa, where he learned the basics of farming, but it was through his father’s business, Buckland Vineyard Management, that he found his calling, namely, working the technical and strategy side of vineyard management. Buckland would go on to hone his skills at U.C. Davis, where he studied viticulture and enology.

Buckland has embraced the challenges of the times and says, “I pride myself on building future-proof vineyards, vineyards that are climate-smart and respectful of natural resources. The goal is to put in vineyards and cover crops that do the heavy lifting in terms of carbon storage. What’s good for the vineyards is good for the planet.” And, he noted, “The best choice is typically the ecologically right choice.” 

Buckland also believes the wine industry to be critical in the long-term stewardship of the land in Napa Valley, noting that “the planting of a few winegrapes discourages the other types of land use that can knock out entire ecosystems. And that’s a win-win situation.” //


Photographer Tim Carl in suit and tie with jacket over shoulder in front of

Self portrait photo by Tim Carl

Tim Carl

Writer and Photojournalist Extraordinaire

Born and raised in St. Helena, Tim Carl didn’t wait a hot minute to venture beyond the confines of Napa Valley once he was of age, heading into San Francisco with his punk rock band and supporting himself as a cook as he lived the life of a musician. Following would be similar stints in Scotland and Italy, with a return to the U.S. in 1987, when he enlisted in the Navy.

Following naval service in the Persian Gulf as quartermaster, Carl returned home, married his sweetheart Lynn, and embarked on a distinguished foray into higher education, procuring a B.S., Ph.D., and post-doc fellowship in biology at the University of Oregon, University of Colorado and Harvard University, respectively.

Carl would go on to apply his impressive array of skills to positions in tech and media, landing positions as a consultant for McKinsey & Company in Cleveland and then at Putnam Associates in Boston. But, like many before them, Carl and his wife were inexplicably drawn back to Napa Valley. And it is here they have remained to raise their family.

In 2006, Carl embraced the quintessential Napa Valley lifestyle, co-founding Knights Bridge Winery, and serving as its CEO for eight years before selling his stake in the business in 2014. Carl’s creative mind and entrepreneurial spirit were soon on to new things.

This long arc of experiences has made Carl uniquely qualified to do what he now does–vigorously pursuing stories on the region’s landscape, people, and food and wine culture and capturing them through his photojournalism and writing for Napa Valley Features, an online publication he founded to deliver authentic and reliable local content. 

On a clear, starry night, you might also find Carl enjoying a fragrant glass of Chenin Blanc with friends. “I love Napa Valley’s night sky and the celestial canvas that unveils itself after dusk. It’s an experience that captures the tranquility and beauty of this region.” // //


Maria Castellucci Moore sitting on couch in neutral setting

Photo by King Lawrence

Maria Castellucci Moore

Proprietor, Castellucci Napa Valley
Author, Winery Proprietor, Asset Manager, Philanthropist

Maria Castellucci Moore’s talents are numerous, and she does anything as she does everything with enthusiasm, competence, and great attention to detail. Castellucci Moore’s latest project has been a children’s book, Vivienne in Paris, a work written to encourage curiosity and mindfulness and to help children develop an appreciation of French culture. Her book has received the Gold Mom’s Choice Award and accolades from Readers’ Favorite and the Midwest Book Review. A mother of four young children, Castellucci Moore indicated she intends to write four more titles, one for each of her children and each featuring a different city.

Among Castellucci Moore’s other accomplishments is her role as proprietor for her family’s winery, Castellucci Napa Valley, which produces distinctive single-vineyard, 100% varietal wines. She also acts as the asset manager for the family’s real estate company, Home Realty Investments, which manages over 60 San Francisco residential properties. 

Like many in Napa Valley, the Castellucci’s have roots in Italy. Her father, Antonio Castellucci, immigrated from a small town in Calabria, making his way to San Francisco via Argentina. Castellucci Moore spent her childhood in San Francisco and Marin County, where she learned all aspects of the family businesses alongside her siblings. Castellucci Moore would go on to study finance and economics at Dominican University, NYU, and the London School of Economics, ultimately folding her newfound skills back into the family enterprises.

Castellucci Moore cherishes everything about her life in Napa Valley – the vibrant community in which she raises her four young children and makes a life with her husband, Bart Moore, and the many wonderful things to experience here, like walking the vineyards, dining at Bistro Don Giovanni and taking in a movie at the Cameo Theatre. Other things to know about this talented woman are her deep commitment to Roots of Peace, an organization that transforms war-torn soil into viable farmland, and her work as a board member with the San Francisco Opera. // //


DJ Rotten Robbie in a swimming pool filled with smoji floaties and the word "DISCO" in balloons

Robert Doughty
aka DJ Rotten Robbie

Social Butterfly, One-Man Entertainment Unit, Curator of Celebrity Friends

Robert Doughty, aka DJ Rotten Robbie, was born and raised in Napa Valley, his family having arrived in the area at the tail end of the Great Depression. Doughty’s grandfather came out to California first, secured a job at Inglenook Winery, and then sent for the rest of the family. He likely never imagined his grandson would become a renowned DJ.

Doughty’s humble beginnings in DJing were a matter of practicality, “I was the kid in school with the biggest record collection.” But the immense popularity that would follow Doughty had more to do with his all-inclusive style and the irresistible joie de vivre he radiated. “I play events for people from age 8 to 80, so my musical style has to be very diverse,” he noted. “And I am one of those few DJs that love taking requests.” Over the years, DJ Rotten Robbie has performed at nearly every venue and winery in the region, as well as headlining at San Francisco’s major clubs, and he’s been house DJ on numerous international cruises.

A blast from the past – Doughty’s first big gig, in the 90s, was at Marlowe’s in the Riverpark Shopping Center. It was for this performance that Doughty had to come up with a stage name. That evening, his childhood nickname, “Robbie,” converged with that of the neighborhood gas station, “Rotten Robbie.” Doughty noted, “I liked my stage name from the get-go as it sounded a bit self-deprecating and a little punk rock, like Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.”

And Doughty’s motto: “It’s not a party without a disco ball. They are magic, and they give people permission to have fun.” Lizzo (yes, the Lizzo) once referred to Doughty as the “Disco Ball Shaman” as she lovingly clasped his disco ball while belting out “It’s About Damn Time” to an audience of thousands. Truly the pinnacle in Doughty’s colorful career.  //


Ian Devereux on stage playing the guitar at Bottlerock

Photo by Braden Tavelli

Ian Devereux White

Making Music, Making Wine

Ian Devereux White is a man of many talents, as exemplified by the array of tasks he performs on any given day. “I’m never quite sure what the day will bring, but it might look something like hosting a vineyard tasting, sketching out plans for harvest, doing a bit of songwriting, then rounding off the afternoon coaching my son’s baseball practice,” he said. And something else not typically found on a vintner’s schedule: moonlighting as a boxing coach.

Devereux White is a founder and the vintner for Smith Devereux, a boutique winery in the Oak Knoll AVA established in 2012. The winery produces a variety of wines, from Cabs, Merlot, and Syrah to Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling Blanc de Blanc. The winery also collaborates with celebrities and musicians in producing special vintages. Devereux White is currently focused on Setta, an award-winning philanthropy wine he’s creating with Cedric the Entertainer. Connections like these are an offshoot of his other life as a songwriter and musician, of which a recent high point was his performance at BottleRock.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Devereux White often visited Napa Valley with his mother. He also enjoyed spending time in San Francisco, where his father, a renowned creative, worked on marketing projects for the likes of organizations such as the United Way and San Francisco Symphony. After studies at U.C. Santa Barbara, Devereux White followed in his father’s journalistic footsteps, becoming a contributor for Lonely Planet Travel Guides, 7×7 Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Magazine, and other publications.

Eventually, the novelty of a journalist’s life wore thin, and after meeting his to-be spouse, Ariana Peju, Devereux White moved toward a more pastoral life of winemaking in Napa Valley. Devereux White and his wife now reside in St. Helena, where they are raising sons Benjamin and Sonny. // //  @ian_Devereux_White 


John Dunbar seated in blue shirt and maroon vest

Photo by Michelle Walker Photography

John Dunbar

Principal, John Dunbar Company
A man with connections

When John Dunbar arrived in Napa Valley in 1998, he brought with him skills and insight that would greatly benefit the region. For 12 years, Dunbar served as the Mayor of Yountville, with an additional six years prior on its city council. Dunbar is now principal of John Dunbar Company, providing consulting services in government policy, community relations, and strategic advocacy. In wearing this new hat, Dunbar said, “I can apply my experience and connections to helping people navigate government rules and regulations, be their project a home remodel, building a business from the ground up, or major land use planning.” 

A native of Oakland, Dunbar’s childhood impressions of Napa Valley were of spending time in Yountville with his cousins, Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob, who was the Chief of Surgery at the Veterans Home. Dunbar would go on to study at U.C. Davis, which he points out was not in enology or viticulture but rather in rhetoric. This degree served him well, first as a reporter and editor at the South Lake Tahoe Daily Tribune and then in his 24 years as the Publications Director at U.C. Berkeley’s Athletic Department. 

In 1998, Dunbar made the move to Yountville. From early days, Dunbar attended council meetings because, as he said, “I’m not someone who likes to watch others work and then second guess their efforts.” Dunbar fell into the role of Mayor right in the thick of many of the region’s most trying moments, namely the 2014 earthquake, wildfires, the drought, and the pandemic. During those years, Dunbar coordinated services that protected Yountville’s citizens, their homes, and livelihoods.

Dunbar’s fondest memories are of serving the kind people who live in Napa Valley, and he noted that “a generous pour of Napa Valley wine has the power to make any trying situation better.” //


Judd Finklestein seated on a couch in a dark room wearing an orange suite sipping wine

Photo by Lisa Foote Photography

Judd Finkelstein

Proprietor, The Fink
Vintner, Musician, Radio Personality, and Host

It’s hard to live in Napa Valley and not have run into Judd Finkelstein at one time or another. Perhaps it was at the farmers market or the Fourth of July parade. Or maybe it was that summer concert in the park where his Hawaiian band, The Maikai Gents, performed. Finkelstein is a popular guy around town who’s got the gift of gab. He’s witty, funny, knowledgeable, and downright nice. 

Similar qualities could be ascribed to any of Finkelstein’s many endeavors, from his web series “Judd’s Enormous Wine Show” and “Wine Booty” to his popular weekly radio program, “Judd’s Napa Valley Show.” Finkelstein’s hospitality-forward approach at Judd’s Hill Winery has made him a stand-out in the wine industry, as evidenced by their stellar Tripadvisor reviews.

Hospitality is in Finkelstein’s DNA, and this he figured out in the early days of his career. One of Finkelstein’s first jobs was as the chatty resident wine specialist at Whole Foods Market in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, Finkelstein returned to Napa Valley to take on sales for his family’s winery, Judd’s Hill. As Finkelstein settled into these new responsibilities, it became abundantly clear that while he could talk the talk, he would have to fire himself from the position because, as he says, “I was not a great salesman.” This character flaw would haunt Finkelstein until he embraced his true calling: hospitality. It was at this juncture that all good things fell into place.

Finkelstein’s latest adventure in hospitality is The Fink, “a neighborhood bar for the world traveler,” located in the old Napa Mill complex. Finkelstein has always loved the culture and lore of cocktails and the science of mixology and had a vision to create “a place in Napa Valley that was for the community, where people could enjoy cocktails, conversation, and inexpensive live music while feeling connected to the region’s history.” And Finkelstein is every bit the consummate host, just like his idol, Trader Vic. //


Author Paul Franson in glasses and blue sweater sitting on a bench outside

Paul Franson

Journalist/ Editor, NapaLife
A man who writes

Everyone in Napa Valley knows Paul Franson except, of course, those who don’t read. Franson is one of Napa Valley’s most prolific writers, with articles that over the years have graced the pages of everything from the Napa Valley Register to Food & Wine, Decanter and Wine Enthusiast, to Wine Business Monthly. Franson also has numerous books under his belt, including the popular title “The NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley.”

Most notably, however, Franson has been the editor of NapaLife. This renowned weekly publication explores happenings in the valley related to food, wine, the arts, and entertainment– an excellent resource for locals and tourists alike.

Franson has been in journalism most of his life, starting with a position he held as editor at a ham radio magazine in New Hampshire shortly after attending Davidson College in North Carolina. Following were stints at Electronics magazine in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley and a position as editor for Electronic Business in Boston. Franson would continue work in high-tech, opening a successful PR agency in Silicon Valley, a career he would eventually exchange for a sailboat in the Caribbean. 

In 1997, Franson left his life in “Margaritaville” and San Francisco’s North Beach and moved to St. Helena. This would change his career trajectory, turning him toward writing about wine, food, the business of wine, and this new region he called home. Not a bad place to land in the world of journalism.

When the wine expert was asked for advice on wines to try, Franson suggested a rosé from Provence for summertime and a restrained Zin for the cooler months. And Franson noted, “My idea of hell is a tasting of 25 big Napa Cabs.”  //


Gina Gallo on porch wearing white shirt and jeans, smiling

Photo courtesy of E J Gallo Winery

Gina Gallo

Vice President of Estate Winemaking, E. & J. Gallo Winery
Steward of the land, artisan winemaker, industry leader

Gina Gallo is a rarity in the wine world. Few in the industry have her broad shoulders or exceptional palate, which she uses to carry forward the legacy of her family’s name. Gallo is renowned, in her own right, for her work on Gallo’s Estate Wines, as well as her collaboration with award-winning winemakers across E. & J. Gallo’s estate portfolio, which includes Louis M. Martini and Pahlmeyer. 

As Gino Gallo effusively stated, “Fall in love with your passion!” For Gallo, there are numerous passions, and topping the list are her family and community, winemaking, and the thoughtful stewardship of the land on which she grows the grapes. Her deep appreciation for the soil is something passed down through generations of her family. As her Grandfather Julio was known to say, “The richest good we have is the soil beneath our feet.” Gallo has always kept this philosophy foremost in her mind, seeking to “plant the grapes where they want to be” and advocating for what she describes as “a spiritual relationship with the land and getting to ‘know’ the dirt.” 

Gallo’s introduction to winemaking began in her youth as she found herself drawn toward work in the cellars. She was tutored first by her grandfather Julio, then by master winemaker Marcello Monticello, another cherished mentor. From Julio, Gallo also learned the importance of discipline and attention to detail. To her, he would say, “You aren’t gifted anything. You have to perform” – his expectations were unambiguous. Gallo would go on to study winemaking at U.C. Davis and, upon receiving top grades, was invited by her grandfather to join the winery’s exclusive tasting panel. This would mark the start of Gallo’s career and leadership in the family business.

Gallo and her husband, Jean-Charles Boisset, are raising their two daughters from their Stag’s Leap District home, formerly the residence of Robert and Margrit Mondavi. There is nothing they enjoy more than looking out over the soulful views of the Wappo Valley as they enjoy a glass of JCB #3 Pinot Noir, a wine they created to celebrate the birth of their twins and the convergence of their wine legacies.  //


Jeri Hansen seated outdoors wearing a blue sweater and jeans

Photo by Bob McClenahan

Jeri Hansen

President and CEO, Napa Chamber of Commerce
Advocating for Napa’s business community

Jeri Hansen landed in Napa Valley in the fall of 2000 and wondered if it was the right spot to put down roots. She said, “It didn’t take long to realize Napa Valley was the spot for me. Almost immediately, it felt like home. There were qualities I was looking for in a community, a certain energy and liveliness, a place with people that were real and genuine and who knew how to work hard and live well.” 

Hansen grew up on a cattle ranch in Sonoma County and was familiar with the hard work and tenacity that is the fabric of an agricultural community. Hansen described her connection to agriculture as a thread that runs throughout her life, from her post-college involvement with California Women in Agriculture to her work as CEO of Sustainable Napa County and then as the Public Affairs Manager for the Napa Valley Vintners. Other related work included positions with the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, and the Solano County Fair.

In 2001, Hansen became involved with the Napa Chamber of Commerce, first as a committee and board member, then as Chair of the Board, which led to her current position as President and CEO. She said, “I have a strong affinity for this organization. This doesn’t feel like a job– it feels like my calling.” As the Chamber’s leader, Hansen focuses on advocacy, economic development, facilitating, and engagement between members.

Hansen loves Napa Valley’s diversity, the wealth of things to do, and its beauty. She also enjoys a glass of Carneros Pinot Noir, proclaiming, “After a flurry of work, I sometimes have to remind myself to look around and get reacquainted with all that makes this valley so special.//


Mark Ibanez leaning on a wooden post outdoors wearing a navy shirt and jeans

Photo by Lowell Downey, Art & Clarity

Mark Ibanez

Renowned Sportscaster, Voice-Over Artist, MC

One day, as Mark Ibanez sat in his grandmother’s kitchen, he asked her why she was always so happy, and she replied: “Mark, there is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.” 

At the age of 23, having recently graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Idaho, Ibanez snagged a tony position at KXTV in Sacramento as a sports anchor. Life seemed great; the parents were proud. And then, in 1979, less than a year later, KTVU Channel 2 came knocking on his door with a more spectacular offer– to be their weekend sports anchor in the #4 market nationally. Ibanez fearlessly accepted the position and proclaimed, “Back then, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I just did it, and that was one of the most important lessons of my life: not to overprocess things, not to overanalyze.” Ibanez’s happy road would lead to a 43-year career at KTVU, where, as sports director, he covered the region’s top teams, often sitting for interviews with the likes of Willie Mays, Stephen Curry, Joe Montana, and Barry Bonds.

Ibanez landed in Napa Valley in 1999, staying at a friend’s property while recovering from a divorce. Napa Valley turned out to be the ideal spot for reordering his life. And, as luck would have it, it was during this time that he met the love of his life, Tina, while sitting in her chair at the Illusions Salon in Napa.

Ibanez has grown to love the valley not only for its beauty and tranquility, its kind people, and its culture of food and wine but also for the deep connections he has established with his wife’s large family. Though admittedly still a neophyte oenophile, Ibanez recently had a breakthrough moment while enjoying a glass with vintner friend Jeff Jaeger. “I was really enjoying the wine, but for once in my life, was at a loss for words in describing it. Bill said it succinctly: ‘There’s a lot going on in that wine.’ And that there was.” //


Natalie Kelly in a dance pose with arms outstretched in red costume

Photo by Michael Patland

Natalie Kelly

Founder/Owner- Slow Fox Dance Hall
Dancer, instructor, founder, owner

Natalie Kelly, founder and owner of Slow Fox Dance Hall, is pleased to bring social dancing to Napa Valley. Since moving to the area in 2016, Kelly’s mission has been to have a place where every type of person, at any skill level, could come to learn and enjoy social and ballroom dancing. Once the dust had settled from the pandemic, the perfect venue presented itself – the lower level of the former Tom Foolery Saloon on Trancas Street, an ideal space for dancing.

Kelly is no stranger to agricultural communities, having grown up in nearby Davis on her parents’ farm, “Impossible Acres,” a place where families come to self-pick fresh produce and fruit. Dancing is an important part of farm culture, and Kelly’s love of dance began as a toddler. In her experience, “People who love dance know it early on,” and though Kelly was ready to get down to the business of dance at the tender age of three, her parents were determined she not start ballet until she was four. 

The itch to dance continued, even as Kelly studied biology and entomology at Santa Clara University. During those years, she took up ballroom dancing and even began competing. Post-college, Kelly continued her dancing as an instructor, interspersing that with work as a freelance artist and illustrator. In 2020, Kelly secured a manager position at Arthur Murray Napa, a position she held until she opened her own studio.

Kelly and her husband, Michael Patland, whose family founded Patland Estate Vineyards, are settled into a home in Brown’s Valley. Kelly loves Napa County, both for its physical attributes and the wine culture. “A favorite weekend activity is a simple drive up valley. I get immersed in the region’s beauty and tranquility. It’s like being in another world.”  //


Rebecca Kotch riding a bike with pink helmet, yellow shirt and green shorts

Rebecca Kotch

Proprietor- Ride Napa Valley
Event producer, advocate for good causes, cyclist 

Rebecca Kotch has been the ever-energetic owner of Ride Napa Valley, an event production company that has uniquely tied cycling activities into fundraising fêtes for nonprofit organizations such as Rock the Ride, Cycle 4 Sight, CampoVelo, and the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. 

Most immediate is Kotch’s focus on gun violence prevention and the growth of Rock the Ride, which, in 2023, expanded to Illinois and which Kotch looks to expand further. Kotch has also anchored her production savvy to the Mare Island Company, where she creates community events with music, arts, and cycling for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Foundational in Kotch’s career was her work for Nike, where she honed her business skills and learned the art of having clarity about who you are and what you sell. Kotch carried these skills and tenets through to numerous other positions with the likes of Microsoft, MBT, and Title Nine, among others. Of her events, Kotch said, “Not only am I a visual storyteller, but I’m also an empath, and that’s infused in all of my events and informs the people with whom I work and who work for me.”

Kotch moved to Napa in 2010 to launch the Napa Valley Film Festival, but she also had the notion of leaving Los Angeles permanently, where she had centered her career. Kotch longed for a pristine setting for riding her bike and wanted a more wholesome environment for her young son, mother, and beloved dogs. Napa Valley turned out to be that place.

Clearly a wine buff, Kotch was difficult to pin down when it came to a favorite wine, though Whetstone’s Viognier and Paula Kornel’s Blanc de Noir were mentioned. She noted that although a glass of wine is best enjoyed with family and friends, the company of her pooch, Spike, will do in a pinch. //


Eric Smaldino smoking cigar with drink in hand wearing a blue suit and glasses

Photo by Bob McClenahan

Eric Smaldino

Owner, Napa Cigars
Mountain climber, cigar aficionado, pizza expert

Eric Smaldino owns Napa Cigars, a boutique cigar lounge specializing in premium cigars and top-shelf bourbon, whiskey, rum, port, and wine. The shop is in the heart of downtown Napa, a small space that Smaldino described as having “no room for the bad stuff.” Smaldino’s fascination with cigars began at SUNY ESF, where he and a buddy, Jason, hosted “Gentlemen’s Night,” evenings of smoking cigars and sipping a special spirit.

Smaldino grew up in Buffalo, NY, and post-college, spent considerable time mountaineering the peaks of Ecuador. He would carry this affinity for outdoor living to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he and his wife, Lindsey, lived, skied, and worked for ten years before moving to Napa Valley. During that time, Smaldino honed his knowledge of cigars and spirits as manager for Jackson’s popular smoke shop, Tobacco Row.

The move to Napa Valley was born from a desire to live somewhere warmer where there were also family connections. Lindsey, who grew up in the Bay Area, posited the idea that Smaldino continue the work he loved, pointing out wine country would be an ideal setting for fine cigars. In 2014, they made the leap, signing a lease for a property in Napa while still in Wyoming. Lindsey has gone on to become a successful proprietor in her own right with Lovely Day Events, and Smaldino recently opened a second business, Pizza Dino, with friend Pete Cucinella, a retired CPA from Detroit. Smaldino pointed out, “This is not another wood-oven pizza truck. We will be serving authentic Buffalo, NY-style pizza, something most people in this region have not experienced.”

At the end of a long day, you might find Smaldino out on the deck of his home in Napa, taking in the sunset, sipping some Heaven Hill Bourbon, and enjoying one of those fine Nicaraguan cigars from his shop. Not a bad life. //


Musician Amber Snider posing with her guitar in front of a white background

Photo by Samantha Madnick

Amber Snider

Singer, Songwriter, Marketing Specialist, Mom

Amber Snider embodies in her making music the same passion, drive, and poetic balance that a winemaker strives for in the vinification process, distilling experiences, relationships, and dreams into beautiful songscapes. Snider’s versatility is remarkable, her music touching on traditional country, blues, folk, a bit of classic rock, and 90s pop, with a few Spanish riffs thrown in for good measure. In addition to sinewy alto vocals, Snider is adept at guitar, piano, and harmonica and dabbles in playing ukulele, accordion, mandolin, and banjo. Growing up in a family of professional musicians had some benefits.

With numerous albums, EPs, singles, music videos, and a litany of awards and nominations under her belt, Snider is arguably one of Napa Valley’s top musicians. Most notable are her Silver at the 2022 W.A.M. Awards, Best Song at both West Coast Songwriters and the Akademia Music Awards, and being inducted into the Akademia Hall of Fame (2023). For over 20 years, Amber Snider has headlined hundreds of concerts, appeared on numerous radio and television shows, and been featured on Best of the Bay KRON TV. 

Snider spent much of her childhood in Napa Valley, graduating from Vintage High School. Following high school, Snider lived in San Francisco and then Los Angeles, where she honed her songwriting chops and worked as a receptionist for legendary songwriter Diane Warren. Watching Warren in action was transformative. “Warren showed me what it was to be serious about songwriting. She wrote prolifically and treated her work as a professional enterprise,” said Snider.

Snider and husband/guitarist Aaron have made Napa Valley their home for over 20 years. Keeping up with three young children means the only “whine” they are enjoying these days is that of their 6-month-old baby waking in the middle of the night. //

Intruiging People