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California Questionnaire: Matt Stamp

The Napa Valley Master Sommelier shares his favorite places for wine and other California delicacies

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Matt Stamp has such a talent for selecting good wine that he even helped put his home state of Nebraska on the oenophile map. The Omaha native had started his career by growing his family’s restaurant there, earning it the state’s first nod as a James Beard Award semifinalist.

But when Stamp decided to take his wine career to the next level, he knew where to go: Sonoma County and Napa Valley, where he become sommelier at two bucket-list restaurants, The Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, and The French Laundry in Yountville. While at the Thomas Keller icon, Stamp completed the Master Sommelier Exam—making him one of just 200 Masters worldwide—and earned the title of “America’s Top Sommelier.” Now, he’s opened Compline in Downtown Napa, a wine bar and restaurant where he also offers wine-tasting classes. The wine bar’s theme pays tribute to early California’s wine-growing monks, who would practice the quiet contemplation of compline at day’s end, so we asked Stamp where he likes to go for his own Golden State downtime.

Where do you live? Downtown Napa

Why there? Downtown Napa increasingly feels like the center of the valley. It’s where the next generation of Napa winemakers lives. It feels like a real town—not just a wealthy outpost designed for tourists. I live six blocks from my restaurant, and I can walk to a half-dozen great restaurants, two music venues, several galleries, parks, and my favorite coffee spot.

Who or what is your greatest California love? When I was younger it was the L.A. Lakers. (Back in the magic days!) Now it’s the climate and the abundance of amazing food and produce that I love more than anything.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That everyone here is a tree-hugging liberal.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? That everyone here is a tree-hugging liberal!

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? A quick staycation in San Francisco, with lunch at Lers Ros, an afternoon museum-hopping, dinner at a favorite restaurant (Liholiho Yacht Club if I can get a seat), cocktails, and a downtown hotel to sleep off the inevitable overindulgence.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? Santa Barbara, with the scenic detour on Highway 1 through Santa Cruz. If I have a couple of hours to kill visiting Hearst Castle, even better.

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? Sadly: avocado toast.

How do you define California style? Relaxed, colorful, and full of heart.

Best California song? Pavement’s “Unfair.” Those boys from Stockton paint a pretty good picture...

How would your California dream day unfold? Sightglass Coffee appears magically at my bedside and a Langer’s Deli pastrami sandwich shows up for lunch. A drive to the coast for Hog Island oysters out on Tamales Bay. Dinner and drinks in the bar at Meadowood. By this point, I guess you might be noticing a theme…

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