Q & A with Cultured Vine Producer, Guy Barstad

Guy Barstad’s friends often complain that simply going out to coffee with him can take way too long. He’s such a known fixture in the Napa Valley that every outing entails constant greetings and conversations with people who’ve known him for years. As Cultured Vine’s Producer, Guy is probably the first face you’ll see on your Napa Valley experience, as he loves to welcome guests upon arrival with glasses of Champagne. His 40+ years in the hospitality business ensure that he can secure even the most impossible hotel and restaurant reservations for our guests.

How do you interact with Cultured Vine guests?

Christopher Scott, our Director of Concierge Services, will send me a wine-tasting itinerary and ask where I can get them into one of my favorite restaurants relatively near to their last tasting. Then I’ll phone the restaurant and brief them personally on our guests and their CV experience. I don’t call the hostess, I call the owner. The French Laundry, which can take months to reserve, I can book in a single phone call. I’ll usually request a little extra gesture, like a complimentary appetizer or dessert, or will advise about a birthday or special celebration. And our guests are always blown away when the waiter already knows about a dietary restriction – like being gluten-free – without them telling him.

What are some of the most over-the-top experiences you’ve created or witnessed with CV guests?

We can customize anything, from hosting a surprise party at a private vintner estate to creating a day-long spa experience to serving a dinner in the vineyards under the stars. And I’m always on site to ensure that every detail is attended to.

What’s your favorite aspect of your role with CV?

Just seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they know they’re doing something extraordinary that isn’t available to the typical tourist. Whether they’re tasting a flight with the winemaker at an invitation-only winery or getting into a Michelin four-star restaurant on a moment’s notice, we know the “who” and the “how.” At CV, our greatest asset is the relationships we’ve garnered over our many years in the valley. We can open doors that they can’t, and we go that one step beyond.

What are some of your own preferred hang-outs or experiences in the Napa Valley?

I love the pool at Solage on a Sunday afternoon, with food and drink service in one of the cabanas. I also love dining in some of the lesser-known restaurants in downtown Napa — a casual, obscure place where I can just be one of the guests. My friends usually make me sit with my back to the dining room, so I can’t critique anything. Forty years in the restaurant business will do that to you!

In your view, what sets CV apart from other tour companies?

It’s like having a back-stage pass — you just arrive and enjoy the show from the best vantage point. If I send guests to a restaurant, I can call and ask the chef to go out and say hello or sign a cookbook. At CV, we’ve made that call. And once or twice a month I’ll call around to my preferred venues to make sure my people are still in place. I need to know the new person who took a waiter or host’s place, to bring them a bottle of wine, and tell them about Cultured Vine. This business is all about relationships, so you need to remember people. I keep copious notes on all my professional relationships, as well as our guests. How’s your dog? How’s your granddaughter? By the time our guests become second-, third-, and fourth-time visitors to the Napa Valley, they’re like good friends.

What continues to amaze you about living in the Napa Valley?

When it comes to volume of tourists, we’re often compared to Disneyland, but instead of amusement park rides, we have year-round beauty, acres of vines, and a world-renowned wine industry. All the exclamation points! I’ve lived here all my life — my great-grandparents came here in the ‘30s — and I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 14. As I washed dishes, I watched the chef, and by the time I was 16, I was cooking food at an early farm-to-table-style restaurant. I’ve waited tables, tended bar, and when I was older, I managed the front of the house. The only thing I’ve never done was own one – thank goodness!

You can read more about Guy here.

written by: Kirsten Mickelwait