Like many people who get bitten by the wine bug, my journey into the world of wine has taken me in many different directions. The more serious I’ve become about my wine education, the more I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances wine has to offer … and yet, sometimes I fear that path may take me away from the joy that inspired me to start the journey.

That’s why I appreciate all the more those times that bring back the joy – the times when I’m reminded that wine is about more than acid and tannin, more than determining whether the nose has aromas of roses or violets, more than whether a wine is aged in French or American oak or whether it’s filtered or fined.

Wine is about community. It’s about good food, good music, good friends old and new. It’s about a day that starts out gray and ends up sunny – literally, figuratively, or both.

Today, Florida-based Progress Wine Group hosted a trade lunch to introduce Orlando’s wine professionals to Kashy Khaledi and his wines from Napa’s Ashes & Diamonds Winery.

For me, everything came together at this event to bring back all the joy.

Gen-X Does Napa

These aren’t your father’s Napa wines. They’re not Kashy’s father’s Napa wines either.

Kashy’s father is Darioush Khaledi, owner of Darioush Winery. But Kashy came to the wine business after following his own path, as an executive at Capitol Records, MTV and Live Nation.

He teamed up with some of Napa’s most forward thinking winemakers – Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wine, Dan Petroski of Massican and Larkmead, and Diana Snowden Seysses of Snowden Vineyards – to start making wines that are, in Napa Valley terms, the definition of “retro.” Lower in alcohol and oak, higher in acid, and more nuanced in flavor than the heavier, fruitier products of the 1980s and 90s.

Ashes & Diamonds Lineup (2)
Ashes & Diamonds Lineup

Context is Everything

Kashy set the retro scene for us before he ever opened his mouth, creating a playlist of classics from the 1940s-70s (think Frank Sinatra and company) to accompany our lunch. It’s the same music they play at the winery, he says. As a fan of the original James Bond films, my ears perked up when John Barry’s “Diamonds are Forever” drifted over the speakers – an apt title for the wines we were tasting.

Our lunch venue added to the chill vibe. Winter Park’s The Heavy is a new-ish coffee bar and succulent plant shop (trust me, it’s cool) in the former Lombardi’s Seafood location. It sports a spartan hipster atmosphere, and the event space in the back has the feel of an indoor beer garden, with globe lights over picnic-style tables and a small seating area in one corner draped in Asian-themed tapestries.

Ashes & Diamonds Wide (2)
Kashy Khaledi of Ashes & Diamonds introduces his wines to Orlando’s wine professionals.

Catering was by the always on-point Orlando Meats. The food was absolutely delicious and perfect with the wines. The 2015 Blanc No. 1, a sauvignon blanc-semillon blend that pays homage to Bordeaux blanc, paired amazingly well with a salad with raw veggies and burnt scallion vinaigrette. 

The Community We Keep

Someone commented towards the end of the lunch that the event felt like a family meal. Indeed, the twenty or so folks in attendance represented all corners of Orlando’s wine scene, from natural wine fanatics to sommeliers at high-end hotels and theme parks, and everyone in between.

Ashes & Diamonds Kashy & Gary (2)
Kashy Khaledi with Gary Russell, sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes

We sat at communal tables under the globe lights and passed platters of food, family style. We listened to Kashy tell stories of his vineyards, his wine labels, and his journey. We enthused about the wines we were drinking (favorites were the 2014 Cabernet Franc no. 1, made by Steve Matthaisson and inspired by the wines of Chinon, and the 2015 Grand Vin No 2, a merlot-cab franc blend made by Dan Petroski and inspired by Pomerol).

We also had time to relax and talk about the state of Orlando’s wine scene, how it’s growing and changing, how we hope it will continue to grow and change. We had time to feel like part of something.

Ashes & Diamonds Matt & Matt (2).jpg
Matt Coltrin of The Parkview and Matt Uva of Quantum Leap Winery & Curate Art + Wine, looking more serious than they actually were!

After lunch, I chatted with Kashy about his accommodations at Animal Kingdom Lodge (I’m jealous!) but also about Orlando’s “underground” wine establishments that exist and thrive far from the Disney bubble. We talked about our fellow Gen X-ers and their passion for retro-everything. We talked about his wines and how they and those like them help to restore my faith in Napa.

Many critics have written tasting notes on Kashy’s wines (here’s one). I wrote my own, and I’m happy to share if anyone is curious – suffice it to say, I thought the wines were honest and delicious, even if I can’t often afford them.

But today wasn’t about tasting notes for me.

It was about experience, connection, and community. It was about wines that unite the disparate parts of our evolving wine scene. It was about discovering new wines in exactly the right context. It was about the joy of remembering why wine lovers love wine.

One thought on “Ashes & Diamonds: Napa Wines That Bring Back the Joy

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