Friday, June 7, 2013

Culinary Institute of America – St. Helena, California

Overlooking St. Helena on the western hills of the Napa Valley, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is one of the valley’s most historic and majestic estates. It is also home to one of the world’s most unique campuses for culinary education, the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant and the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies.

The History of Greystone – From Bourn to the CIA

The CIA Greystone campus is at the historic Greystone Cellars that was built in 1888. Since it’s founding the Greystone Cellars has been home to a number of residents. The castle-like solid native stone edifice began as a business concept of William Bowers Bourn Jr. William’s father had acquired a fortune from his shipping company that he co-owned with Captain George Chase. His Empire Gold Mine was particularly profitable during the California gold rush of the mid-1800s.

William Bourn began his campaign to build Greystone by establishing a business partnership with Everett Wise, who was also in his early 30s. Together they gathered support to create a cooperative within the Napa County wine industry in order to establish 1 million gallon winery and cellar. The vision was to free the Napa Valley vintners from the San Francisco wine dealers who manipulated the market. Without a large place to store their wine the winemakers were at the mercy of the San Francisco wine dealers to get the wine from the winery to the open market. The goal then was to establish a wine cellar from which the valley could sell their wines rather than be beholden to the sellers in the city. William achieved his goal with the help of Henry Pellet, president of the St. Helena Vinicultural Club, who financially backed the effort with the help of his associates. 

They then hired the San Francisco architectural firm of Percy and Hamilton to design Greystone Cellars. The firm was established by Frederick F. Hamilton (b. 1851) and George W. Percy (b. 1847) and both architects had considerable experience working with Maine granite.[1]

The final plans called for the use of cutting-edge materials and technology of that era, such as the new Portland cement. The building is over 400 feet long, with walls 22 inches thick, and over 110,000 square feet of interior space. During the construction, the cement was used as mortar and also poured over the iron reinforcing rods built within the first and second floor elevations. The heavy timber construction of the third floor provided structural support for not only that floor’s cask, barrel and bottle aging room (which is now a special event room) but also for the gravity-flow crushing area located on the floor above.

At the time Greystone Cellars was established it was the largest winery in California and it had a number of significant innovations. It was the first California winery to be operated and illuminated by electricity. A boiler and gas generator located in a mechanical room below the central front wing of the building produced the electricity. The total cost for building the monumental winery was $250,000, which was an extremely large amount of money in the late 19th century. Sadly, as good as the construction was for the time, it was not sufficient to maintain its integrity after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and would have to be retrofitted at a considerable cost to future owners.

Within a decade of its completion, Greystone began its succession of property owners. In 1894 it was owned by Charles (Chuck) Carpy (d. August 1996) whose grandfather came to California from Bordeaux, France, at the end of the Civil War. Chuck Carpy also founded Freemark Abbey Winery in 1967, was a co-owner of Rutherford Hill Winery, the Napa Valley Bank in 1982, directed the Napa Valley Wine Library, was president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and became the icon for the California Wine Association. By late 1924, the California Wine Association had removed all of the 200,000 gallons of wine stored at Greystone Cellars.

A bottle of Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon commemorating the life of Brother Timothy

A year later, the Bisceglia brothers of San Jose purchased Greystone where they produced sacramental wines until 1930. Following a three-year hiatus during the Prohibition, the Bisceglias restored operations at Greystone in October 1933.

In 1945 the Christian Brothers signed a lease agreement for the cellar and five years later they purchased the estate. The Christian Brothers had grown grapes and made sacramental wine in Benicia during Prohibition, but decided to expand the business with commercial production of wine and brandy. The winemaker of the Christian Brothers was Brother Timothy (b. 1910 - d. Nov. 30, 2004). Brother Timothy was born Anthony George Diener in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He graduated from St. Mary’s College in Moraga in 1929 and then taught science at Roman Catholic schools in the Bay Area and Sacramento in the early 1930s. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 he transferred to Mont La Salle in Napa in 1935 to become the wine chemist for the order’s expanding wine operations.

Brother Timothy lived a simple life with few possessions and he loved gardening, especially a fine orchid collection. But he was also an avid collector of corkscrews, most of which were given to him. His collection, one of the most impressive in the world, is on permanent loan to The CIA at Greystone, and the inspiration for the Greystone Cellars wine labels. Brother Timothy FSC died at the age of 94 of heart failure at the De La Salle Institute, a Christian Brothers novitiate in the hills above the Napa Valley.

Decades after purchasing the estate, the Christian Brothers was faced with declining market shares and vineyard yields as well as the very costly prospect of seismically retrofitting Greystone following the earthquake of 1989. Christian Brothers winery was then sold to the Heublein Company of Canada in 1991. A year later, Heublein sold Greystone to the Culinary Institute of America for $1.68 million. 

In three short years, opening in August 1995, the estate building had been retrofitted and remodeled into the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Fortunately they were able to incorporate the functional aspects of the retrofit into the design of the building. Throughout the kitchens there are bright red pillars with Doric caps and unless you were told that they were added for support of the building you might think that they were part of the original decorative design of the room. Likewise, in the stairwell there are large metal stars on the sides of the walls that look purely decorative. Yet they were added to conceal the ends of the lateral metal cross bars that were used to reinforce the structural integrity of the building.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

The CIA Greystone is a branch campus of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. It was founded in 1946 as an independent, not-for-profit college offering associate and bachelor’s degrees with majors in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and culinary science, as well as certificate programs. The CIA offers courses for professionals and enthusiasts, as well as consulting services in support of innovation for the foodservice and hospitality industry. The college has campuses in Hyde Park, NY; St. Helena, CA; San Antonio, TX; and Singapore.[2]
Teaching Kitchen
While visiting the campus I toured the historic multi-level facility which was quite impressive. Located on the top floor is the Teaching Kitchen which has an open-space floor model and it is surrounded with granite, stone, tile, and wood. Cooking classes gather around custom-designed suites, which employ a myriad of cooking methods and technologies, from a traditionally crafted rotisserie to the advanced technology of magnetic heat induction. But you won’t find any microwave ovens here!

Baking classes work on 16-foot flecked granite and solid oak work surfaces for pastry and dough preparation. A stone hearth oven, convection ovens, and a battery of massive mixers represent a sample of the array of equipment available to the baking student. Baking students demonstrate their honed skills at The Bakery Café. Here visitors can enjoy freshly baked pastries and breads along with coffee, espresso drinks, and teas in a coffee-bar style setting.

Part of the student-life experience at the CIA takes place in The Ecolab Theatre, a 125-seat amphitheater-style demonstration auditorium that rises through the first two levels of the building. It is designed for cooking demonstrations, lectures, food and wine tastings, and other special events. The auditorium features a custom-designed 22-foot cooking center, large-screen video monitors, and fixed tables for wine and food service at each seat.
Visitors to the CIA can also attend cooking demonstrations that are offered daily to the public at The De Baun Theatre. The 48-seat demonstration kitchen provides Greystone visitors an opportunity to learn cooking techniques oriented toward the home cook, while providing a glimpse into the world of the professional chef.

Greystone is also home to The Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies. Located in the historic Still House building, it serves as the center for the CIA’s Professional Wine Studies Program. The Center features sensory analysis classrooms with wireless keypad response systems, built-in light boxes, and expectoration stations. The Rudd Center contains a pantry, a 4,000-bottle wine cave, a private dining room, and a hospitality terrace overlooking heritage oaks and vineyards. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible (A MUST READ!), is the creator and chairman of the center.[3]

The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant

The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant provides real-life, hands-on experience for students in the associate degree program in culinary arts. Local, seasonal ingredients are the inspiration for the cuisine and the herbs are picked from the estate garden lining the walk-way in front of the estate. 

The dining room presents open cooking stations, giving diners full view of the chefs at work. While visiting I had lunch and enjoyed a sumptuous three – course meal! I thought the food was great, the serving staff was superb and the format for the menu was a significant improvement from my previous visit. I had previously visited about 10 years ago and the menu was à la carte. During that visit the server was inattentive and by the time I ordered an appetizer, main dish and a single glass of wine it cost me about $60. I left hungry so I picked up a cheeseburger on my way home. I was pleasantly surprised to see the new format of the menu and a massive improvement in the service during my return visit.

Greystone Cellars Wines and Markham Vineyards

Since 1995, one of Greystone’s neighbors, Markham Vineyards has been producing a small amount of Greystone Cellars wines exclusively for the CIA. They are owned by the Teralato Family Wines International and the wines are made under the stewardship of winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls and President Bryan Del Bondio. They produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines are economically priced at about $11 per bottle. They are available at the restaurant, the Markham Vineyards tasting room and are widely distributed.[4]

To see more pictures of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information about the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone:

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
2555 Main Street
St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707- 967-1100


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