Bottle Rock: Napa Festival's Attempt To Combine Food, Wine, and Music Falls Short

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Anna Roth
These $15 wine pouches were a huge hit at Bottle Rock yesterday.
It seems like a good idea on paper: Throw a music festival in wine country where guests can go wine-tasting and sample some of the region's best restaurants in between musical acts. That was the focus of Bottle Rock, a new festival thrown in a park in downtown Napa that combines stadium-filling rock groups like the Black Keys and the Flaming Lips with high-end restaurants and wineries. "What we're trying to do is a connoisseur's festival -- a rock show for people with a palate," one of the event organizers told SF Weekly music editor Ian S. Port last month. But unlike Outside Lands, a music festival that just happens to have really great food and drinks that you can grab between acts, Bottle Rock seemed to have trouble integrating the two portions, and ended up with without a clear emphasis on either and a crowd that seemed more interested in partying than enjoying the finer points of connoisseurship.

See also: Bottle Rock: The Black Keys and Flaming Lips Can't Break Through Distractions at Napa Valley's New Fest, 5/10/13
Rock the Wine Country: Bottle Rock Festival Is an Odd New Addition to the Bay Area


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Anna Roth
Wine tasting took place in tents near the main stages.
The biggest problem with the wine-tasting idea made itself apparent early on: it was at least 80 degrees and super-sunny for most of the day. Shade was at a premium, and beer was the beverage of choice -- I like discussing the nuances of a good Cabernet Sauvignon with the winemaker as much as the next oenophile, but not when there's sweat trickling down my back and thousands of people milling around and distracting me. Then there was the cost: five-ounce pours of wine in the tents were selling for between $13 and $17 (one of my friends reported seeing one for $21) -- a price higher than you'd find at most tasting rooms, and that for the privilege of trying wine out of a plastic cup.

Because of this, the wine tasting tents were nowhere near as crowded as the beer booths, with one exception: Everyone was walking around with white Bottle Rock-branded wine pouches, drinking the wine through straws like a grownup Capri Sun. The "White Noise" white wine was some kind of buttery chardonnay, the "Reverb Red" (slightly chilled, which was appreciated) seemed to be a blend, and while it was certainly not great wine, it was drinkable, and the pouches were portable, easy to share, and a relative deal at $15 for 12.5 ounces.

I was excited to check out the food, because the culinary portion was curated by well-known Napa restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, and Cindy Pawlcyn's Wood Grill & Wine Bar). Most of the fancy Napa restaurants were in the Whole Foods Market Garden, a corral of food booths and reclaimed wood tables in between the three stages. To get anything you first had to wait in line to buy tokens, a hassle because you had to figure out how much food you'd want in advance. The tokens were sold in $5 increments, which meant that most of the better dishes in the pavilion were $15. And because some booths took cash as well as tokens -- and you had to buy beer with cash (Sierra Nevada's booth was in the corner) -- the whole process seemed as arbitrary as it was annoying.

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Anna Roth
Tra Vigne's short rib pizza was the best thing we ate at Bottle Rock.
Not to say there weren't some great things to eat in the Whole Foods Market Garden. The best thing we ate at the festival -- and indeed, probably the best thing I've eaten in the past week -- was a short rib, tomato and arugula pizza from Tra Vigne, the Italian restaurant and wood-fired pizzeria in St. Helena. The pizza was topped with a generous amount of rich, slow-cooked short rib that melted into the pizza's cheese; baby tomatoes and arugula cut through the richness and added vivid brightness to the meat's earthy flavor. It was well worth $15.


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Anna Roth
A golden crust with gooey cheese and house-cured ham underneath.
A deeply satisfying grilled cheese sandwich from The Girl and the Fig had Santa Rosa's St. George cheese with house-cured ham. What really made it was the crust, an almost sweet, brioche-like bread that had a crispy crunch on the outside and was soft and pliable on the inside. I'm always skeptical of $10 grilled cheese sandwiches, but this was an example of one that I couldn't have replicated at home.


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Anna Roth
This argentine sausage from Smoke was good but messy.
We enjoyed an Argentinean sausage sandwich from Smoke ($15) which had a spicy sausage, provelone cheese, and chimichurri. The sauce was a little too heavy on the vinegar, but the sausage was just spicy enough and perfectly grilled. The real problem with the sandwich was that it fell apart as you ate it, and its greasiness required several trips back to restock napkins -- a reminder that festival food is about the ease of eating as much as the taste.


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Anna Roth
The sad tri-tip sandwich from Traxx.
But for all the dishes that showed the strengths of Napa restaurants, there were plenty of mediocre plates as well. The Santa Maria BBQ tri-tip sandwich from Traxx was a terrible disappointment -- cheap bun, flavorless salsa, cold meat, and felt like a ripoff at $10.


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Anna Roth
Chicken and pork tacos were pretty much undistinguishable.
By far the longest line in the Whole Foods Market Garden was for the tacos at La Condesa, so we got in line there too, and ordered one chicken mole and one pulled pork ($10 for two). The meats were indistinguishable from each other, to the point where we wondered if they'd made a mistake with our order, and the sauces were bland and watery. As we stood nearby and ate them, someone asked us whether the line was worth it, and we gave an emphatic "no."


We left the Black Keys set early and hightailed it back to the car to escape the inevitable traffic jam on the two-lane highway going in and out of Napa. On the drive back to the city, we stopped at In-N-Out for a late-night snack. Two double-doubles, fries, and drinks cost about $15, and as we sat in the florescently-lit restaurant, chowing down and recapping the night, I realized that I was happier than I'd been all day, and wished that Bottle Rock had focused less on chasing after a high-end culinary experience and more on providing people with the simple things they want at a festival.


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14 comments
jill379
jill379

Sorry I'm reading this so after the fact but I sooo agree with your review!  Thanks Anna.  I went for 3 days and you were lucky to go on Friday when you could even attempt that Food Court--later in the weekend, it was so crowded that we just had to back up, get out,  and make due with very average fairground fare!

dwinegirl
dwinegirl

Wow.  Couldn't disagree more.  It was an amazing weekend of food, wine, music and all the things that the creators had hoped for.  I've heard positive-to-negative 10-to-1.  For the record, the wine wasn't for "tasting" it was for enjoyment, for drinking.  a $15 glass of wine is pretty standard in many, many a wine bar in SF.

megan.long
megan.long

I agree about the food & wine, it wasn't integrated well. You could find some glasses of wine for cheaper than $13, although the lowest I saw, $9, still wasn't that cheap. Was disappointed with the La Condesa pibil tacos as well (and I got them on Thursday when there was NO one else at their tent); the marg. pizza I got was better (forget from where) but I wish I would have tried Tra Vigne's. Token/cash thing totally bizarre and very arbitrary.

I enjoyed the music though! We'll see if I'll be back next year, everything was too $$$ for my taste.

uvaluva
uvaluva

I think Bottle Rock ROCKED!  I was there Thurs - Sun and thoroughly enjoyed GREAT music, food, wine & venue!  What a wonderful weekend and we're hoping to make it an annual event!

oddmanout
oddmanout

People like this can't enjoy the good things in life, they overlook them to seek out any little fault and dwell on it.  Did you actually expect there would be no waiting in lines or any traffic for a festival of this caliber... over 120k people?

SF weekly is obviously resentful this was such a success, and it will only get better for the next four years!

bondgirl
bondgirl

Wow.... talk about First World Problems!  I couldn't disagree with this review more.  I was there for the entire festival and I think they did an amazing job being that it was the FIRST time Napa has done a festival like this.  I am local to Napa and felt the city did a great job.  

The food was amazing!   La Condesa was my favorite.  For $10 you got two amazing tacos and for an extra $5 a lovely grilled corn on the cob. 


SO sorry you had to wait 40 minutes for parking-- again, First World Problem. 



manilow00
manilow00 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Wow.  Totally disagree on so many points.  Seemed like a lot of people had an awesome day for four days in a row.  The sound of the music was amazing.  The sound techs did a great job.  The weather was great.  The food-for a festival, in pop-up tents, was unreal.   And I had the Condesa tacos (which were great, in my book) and there was a reason the line was so long...the street corn was insane.  There was a bidding war for the last 2 pieces that went well over asking. Yeah some parking issues, but as a Napa resident, I was impressed with how well traffic for locals was unimpeded.  Dude, do you guys get mad at the 49ers when you are stuck in traffic coming home from Candlestick?  Seriously.

mlcox1968
mlcox1968

Just a quick note on the wines - Cindy Pawlcyn Napa Valley set the pricing at the event, not the wineries.

Schug Winery (pictured above) was selling an $11 Chardonnay and a $13 Pinot Noir.  I did see some wines (St Supery Sauvignon Blanc) priced under $10.  All in line with wine by the glass at a restaurant.  (Whereas beer was more expensive than a typical restaurant and in line with any other concert/sports venue.)

Linda Beaumont Townsend
Linda Beaumont Townsend

We debated the pros and cons of going. In the end, we didn't believe they could pull it off and make it worth the minimum price of $200 each. So glad we decided not to go! Thank you for the review! I am feeling a whole lot better about my Sunday at home :-)

JHDVM
JHDVM like.author.displayName 1 Like

the bagged wine was absolutely disgusting.  the parking lot was abhorrent.  It took us 2 hrs to get out of the parking lot and we literally did not move for 45 min.  The wine was ridiculously expensive.  The bands were great but bottlerock was awful.  Wasn't that impressed by the venues.  The shuttle line took 30 minutes and another 20 minutes to drive 3 miles to the parking lot.   Then there is a food area where you have to buy chips (poker) for $5 each yet they ran out of certain things, only accepted cash or cards at others and wouldn't give you your money back when you said you didn't want the chips.  So basically go to your tent to find out if they even have what they are selling, then get in line to buy the chips then get back in line for what you wanted to buy and hope its stil there.  F U bottlerock!

Elise McDonough
Elise McDonough

Smoke argentine sausage sandwich was awesome, mine wasn't too messy at all. Loved the fish tacos from Grace's Table...

Elise McDonough
Elise McDonough

It was a good festival with some first-year logistical issues... I too was annoyed by the lines for ID Check and Food garden tokens, but those are problems easily fixed...

lwbpublic
lwbpublic

Well put. I felt a lot of things weren't planned out well at Bottle Rock. One entrance that took forever to finally open and when you did get to it you were practically strip-searched... ID checks weren't on the map, so most people stood an hour in a line that snaked into itself. We got in line for burritos just as they were yelling out what they had left, once we got to oder ours we also realized we needed to get tokens from an even longer line.. Tokens are cool where everyone is giving out $5 tastings, but not so much when you gotta calculate how many you need for dinner.. We ended up with the crappy bags of wine because $18 a glass with so many options just seemed dumb.. 

i'm also not sure if it was the crowd or the bands, but none of the performances except for a few were that amazing, and I've seen the artist in different venues give amazing shows.. the shuttle bus setup to the parking lot was quite an amazing feat of chaos with most of the drivers not knowing where they were going. wish they had posted more bottlebus tickets so I didn't have to stop drinking so early in the day

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