FOR THE AUGUST BIRTHDAY party of a well-connected woman in Napa, Calif., Five Star Productions created a stylish 1930s Shanghai, China, setting for 150 guests.
The annual party — held on the vineyard estate of the woman and her husband — draws many of its guests from the wine industry and San Francisco's art world. With so many sophisticates attending, Mary Ross, owner of the Napa-based event production company, took extra precaution not to make an “error of protocol.” She looked to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco and to Chinatown shopkeepers to learn more about traditional customs.
Chinese dragonfly kites lined the path that led from the parking area to a redwood grove where costumed guests received “seating fortunes.” The honoree “never allows spouses to sit together,” Ross says, “so every guest was given a fortune cookie with a Chinese symbol for their table number.”
While guests enjoyed glasses of Chardonnay from the hosts' own label, a troupe of Mulan fan dancers performed to traditional drums. Overhead, red Chinese lanterns and long paper dragons added Asian ambience to the grove. A gong sounded to signal the beginning of dinner, and a ribbon of lion dancers “danced all around the guests and waved them up the hill to the dining area,” Ross says. The San Francisco Wushu Team dancers “were spectacular,” she says.
After dinner, guests enjoyed the espresso bar and ice cream buffet while lingering around the pool, over which Five Star built a 16-by-32-foot red pagoda. Lotus blossoms floating in the water and a spiral of ceremonial incense added an elegant look, with the pagoda as “a focal point,” Ross says.