Culinary Institute of America

William Schragis lectures at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and is the Chief Product Innovation Officer at Barrell Craft Spirits. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the Culinary Institute of America, he previously worked as a sommelier in Eli Zabar’s family of restaurants and wine shops, and at Zachy’s Retail and Auction — one of the world’s leading fine wine and spirits retailers — where he managed sales and purchasing for the spirits department.



Napa Valley is undoubtedly the most prestigious wine-producing region in America. With thousands of wine labels, hundreds of tasting rooms, a robust tourism industry, and one of the world’s most consistent and desirable growing seasons, it is no surprise that–while many parts of the U.S. make world-class wines–the wines of Napa Valley command more attention than any other place in the country.

Despite all of the fame and investment, Napa is quite young compared to other formal and sought-after wine regions of the world. Only in the past 60 years or so has there been significant investment in fine wine in Napa, as opposed to centuries behind legendary places like Bordeaux or Champagne. For this reason, the great wines of Napa are still evolving. They are impacted more by trends and outside market factors, and competition to be the best, or the most sought-after, is fierce.

In this lecture, we will review the ecological, environmental, and economic assets that make Napa such a perfect place to make wine. We’ll look at the sub-regions of the valley and discuss the historical and market-driven reasons why they are delineated. Finally, we will look at some of the most famous wines of Napa, as well as some of my own personal favorites, and ask the questions: what makes them special, and how did they find their own place in the ever-changing world of American wine?


Recommended Reading:

Napa Valley Then and Now, by Kelli Audrey White

Bottle Shock, by Frederic P. Miller

Exploring Wine – Edition #3, by Brian H. Smith, Michael A. Weiss, and Steven Kolpan


Discussion Questions:

1. What do you associate with wine from Napa? Is there a specific type of food or culture that it pairs with in your mind?

2. Is supply and demand a valid way to price wine? If so, what strategies in building demand feel authentic to you?

3. What information is helpful to you to see on a label if you are making a decision about which wine to buy or drink?



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Marc Tanenbaum

An Excellent Napa Valley Primer

Will nicely explains the geography, the geology, the soil, i.e. the terroir of the Napa Valley. His slides are very helpful in visualizing the beauty of the Valley and his vineyard suggestions are much appreciated. I can almost picture a vacation to the area and a drive through the Valley. I think I will revisit his talk multiple times.

1 year ago
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