It’s very… well, red. Red flocked wall paper (ceiling, too, as I remember), red divans, even a red felt pool table in an adjoining space. The style’s something between plushest man-cave for up-scale wine savants and what one jealous vintner calls “fin de siècle bordello,” which is both harsh and inaccurate. For one thing, the furniture’s too nice - real antiques, lovingly restored, and delicately sat upon by those accustomed to the thin air of Napa Valley’s elite.
Any demimondaines along for the ride are well-behaved and apparently aware they’re enjoying one of the more striking of the valley’s hidden resources. And the pour here is too good for anyone whose sensual pursuits are other-directed (more later about the wines). The Red Room lives in the interior of the old Raymond Winery in St. Helena, which has been radically reappointed since the days of the Raymond brothers, who would be astounded to see what has become of that workhorse on Zinfandel Lane.
Its owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, scion of the largest wine-producing family of Burgundy and third largest in France, is married to Gina Gallo, granddaughter of Julio. So his feet are firmly planted in two high-powered if very different, bi-continental wine worlds, and he’s making the most of both. Appealing, energetic, Jean-Charles was in, yes, Mondovino, the controversial wine documentary, and sometimes mentioned as a candidate to replace the late Robert Mondavi – one of several – as spokesperson for this, one of the most prominent vinous destinations on earth.
Some dismiss the notion, but I’m not so sure. Truth be told, Mondavi was primarily a showman, his personality and ability to stay on message for most of his long life redounding to Napa’s benefit. Jean-Charles is as outgoing as Mondavi ever was and has the European bona fides Mondavi longed for. His Red Room is available to ranking members of Raymond’s wine club, and anyone else willing to pay $500 a year for the privilege.
Like all owners of older wineries – Coppola springs forcefully to mind - Jean Charles enjoys grandfathered perks no new vintner could possibly get today. And you never know who you might encounter in The Red Room. When I was there, Delia Viader, owner of Viader vineyards on Howell Mountain, took me gently to task for, she claimed, making fun of the buttons on her blazer in my book, The Far Side of Eden. (What I remember was all the mud her vineyard dumped into St. Helena’s drinking water.) Mark Pope was also bending an elbow. The agreeable owner of The Bounty Hunter, the choice watering hole for fine wine (and now spirits) in downtown Napa, had just paid many thousands of dollars for primo cabernet at the trade auction. I remember when Mark was just starting out as an itinerant seller of hard-to-find vintages, with a media profile that included a three-legged dog as a side-kick.
You won’t find any of those in The Red Room.