WASHINGTON — All of that wining and dining of members of Congress by the nation's wine industry will pay off on Tuesday, when California vintners will provide the first wine to touch the lips of the new president.
It's a big thrill for Margaret Duckhorn of St. Helena, whose company donated 10 cases — 120 bottles — for the first and second courses of the exclusive luncheon.
"There's a lot of logistics to getting wine into Washington," said Duckhorn, co-founder and vice president of Duckhorn Wine Co. "This is obviously a first, to have it served at an inaugural luncheon. It's very exciting."
The first course, a seafood stew, will be complemented with a 2007 sauvignon blanc from Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley. It's billed as a wine with a rich, creamy taste, with bright acidity and a long, refreshing finish.
The second course, pheasant and duck served with sour cherry chutney and molasses sweet potatoes, will be served with a 2005 pinot noir from Goldeneye in Anderson Valley. It's described as a medium-weight wine that's delicate and understated, with a rich aroma that's evocative of dark cherries, nutmeg, caramelized apple, cinnamon and clove.
The third course, an apple cinnamon sponge cake with sweet cream, will come with champagne. It's a special inaugural cuvee made by Korbel Champagne Cellars, in the Russian River Valley.
It's no coincidence that California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a longtime ally of the wine industry who's promoted its interests on Capitol Hill, is heading the committee that's planning the inauguration ceremony and the following luncheon, which is in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.
"Senator Feinstein, being a Californian, was eager to have California wines made the featured wines, and so they are," said Carole Florman, the committee's spokeswoman.
The inaugural committee is preparing to feed 230 dignitaries, including President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, their wives and members of their families, the Supreme Court, Cabinet nominees and congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Feinstein, the first woman and the first Californian to head the inaugural committee, said the public is intensely interested in what the president will be eating at his First Meal. Of the 1.9 million visitors to the committee's Web site, Feinstein said, 329,000 have gone in to read the menu.
"It's the most popular part," she said.
Feinstein said she teamed up with the wives of Reid and Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah for a pre-tasting and selection of the menu items. She said that it would feature "the best that Washington catering has to offer."
The committee said the menu is intended to reflect the tastes of Abraham Lincoln, who favored root vegetables, wild game, stewed and scalloped oysters, fresh apples and apple cake. It's meant to be consistent with the overall inaugural theme, "A New Birth of Freedom," which celebrates the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.
The committee, which has a budget of $1.24 million, wouldn't disclose how much it's spending on catering.
"It's a beautiful menu, but it's not champagne out of shoes and caviar of some endangered species," Florman said. "It's a fairly simple, elegant meal, so it's not wildly expensive, but we just don't break out our budget that way."
Gary Heck, Korbel's president and owner, called Obama's inauguration historic and said it "deserves to be toasted with American champagne with roots in our country's most memorable occasions." The company has provided the champagne for every inauguration since 1985.
Duckhorn said it isn't the first time her company's wine has made its way to big events in Washington, either. The sauvignon blanc was served at the White House in 1993, when President Bill Clinton met with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Duckhorn wouldn't say whether she voted for Obama, but she said that she'd have to miss the inauguration because she'd be out of the country on a trade mission. She said the company catering the luncheon contacted the Wine Institute, which in turn contacted Duckhorn. Margaret Duckhorn is the chairman of the Wine Institute's board this year.
"They offered to pay for it, but it was such an honor we said we would contribute it," Duckhorn said.
And it makes for good publicity and public relations, too.
"Of course," Duckhorn said, "that always enters into it at the end."
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