These shared moments come from one of our founding Black Chicken Society Members and friends of the winery since the 90s. Robert Biale Vineyards was touched to receive a letter penned by longtime Biale supporters, Lenny and Marina, and we thank them for all of their support over the decades!
“It was 1994. We had a young family and 1-year-old baby, tiresome surgical residency program for one, and a new real estate job for another, elderly parents needing help, and lack of sleep and money…We needed a break. As many before and after us, we came to Napa Valley for that break and relaxation and stopped in Calistoga for a serene experience of mineral pools, massages, hot Jacuzzis, and, of course, wine tasting…At the CIA, we were surrounded by the Institute’s culinary students (future chefs) making food in front of restaurant guests and student-waiters… We selected an unknown wine to us called Zinfandel based on the waiter’s recommendation. A few minutes later, he came back apologizing that the Zinfandel he suggested was no longer available and suggested to try Biale “Black Chicken” Zin that was “more expensive but actually better” honoring the same price. After a few sips, we looked at each other. We loved it!
Next morning, we decided to include the “Biale winery” to our list but could not find it on any Napa map we could get a hold of. Marina started to search the actual bottle, and, Voilà!, she found a phone number. The chances? – slim at best that someone would answer the phone. The reality was different. The phone was answered by …Robert. What did we know? “Call me Bob”, he said. We explained that we had a dinner last night at CIA and tried this wine and liked it very much and, by the way, “could we drive right now to your winery and buy a couple of bottles”. “Sure”, Bob replied. “I’ll be waiting for you.” “Such a nice guy, probably a host of the tasting room. Let’s go there!”, Marina said with enthusiasm. We cancelled our reservation at the different winery and thirty minutes later we were in front of the old country house, a farm really, with no tasting room to speak of, and a person walking towards us smiling. That is how we met Bob. He walked toward our car and offered a friendly hand shake.”
He walked toward our car and friendly shook our hands. He was extremely modest, rural shirt and simple jeans, very pleasant, with a warm personality of a great teacher wanting to share his knowledge and experience with anyone. After a few minutes talking to him, we finally realized that he, Bob, is Biale, Robert Biale, and the name on the bottle is his, his father’s Aldo, and his family. We learned that it was Bob’s father Aldo and mother Clementina’s personal home and garden (about 1.5 miles from the current winery and now is a residential setting). The house sat off the street among the vineyards and Clementina’s garden and, of course, chickens (black and white). The house did not have a formal tasting room, so we sat on their back porch with the beautiful view of vineyards. Bob told us about his path towards his father’s hobby of wine making, about the family’s Italian heritage, about the prohibition and now famous story of the “black chicken passport” to get wine at that trying time to any neighbor or friend, about his winery partner and old school friend Dave Pramuk, his plans for the future, his wine and winemaking, and many other wine topics that made us feel at home, very comfortable with the person and the place. We also talked to Clementina, a Biale Matriarch, whom we saw through the open door of her house, cooking dinner. We introduced ourselves and had a nice talk about food and wine with her. We did not want to leave. Bob and Clementina were such an amazing and welcoming people, and so excited about food and wine. We bought a few bottles of Black Chicken Zinfandel and left, promising to come back and become members. We kept our promise.
Soon, Marina and I became members of the Biale winery, members of the Black Chicken society, friends and most devoted Biale fans. Marina became Clementina’s (Robert Biale’s late mother) friend. A few years later, when we decided to celebrate our 10ths wedding university, we took a bottle of Biale Zinfandel wine with us to the 3-Michelin star French Laundry restaurant in Yountville. The restaurant did not allow to bring wine from outside. They made an exception for Biale wine.
Bob also sparked my own interest in wine and later I took a WSET wine course and become a level 3 certified wine educator. Since the first visit, we have been advocating Biale winery to all our friends, many of them became members.
Looking back, it seems that Marina and I are one of the oldest members of the Biale winery- 26 years of great memories, tastings, picnics, celebrations, excellent wine, and friendship that stood the test of time. Now, we apply the “Biale Standard” to any winery we consider going to, a standard of hospitality, quality of wine, friendship, and love of food and wine.
Since the first introduction to Napa Valley and Biale family 26 years ago, Napa Valley has always been for us the place of top quality wine and food, a welcoming community of warm and friendly people, and the unique place of healing, harmony and happiness.
Dr. Marina and Len (Lenny) Tolstunov
Black Checks Society members since 1994