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Insider Profiles

The Best Food Doesn't Have to Be Fancy

Chris Carpenter Working in some of the most beautiful places in the world, all while wearing comfy shorts.


Napa winemaker Chris Carpenter knows good food. It's the white lima bean soup with bacon his wife whipped up for dinner. It's the carne asada quesadilla he gobbled down for lunch at La Luna Market and Taquería. It's the super-fresh tomatoes he ate years ago in Italy.

Carpenter, 47, believes the best food doesn't have to be fancy. In fact, it is often quite humble. He also believes truly good food is about more than just delicious flavors — it is good for the people producing it and good for the planet.

Helping promote this idea has become a deep passion for Carpenter, who is heavily involved with the Slow Food organization, a movement begun in the late 1980s to counter the rise of fast food disconnected from its source.

Carpenter became involved with slow food after working on a wine harvest in Italy. He was the poorest he's ever been and also the happiest. He learned to live and eat very seasonably, and he found the change also made him slow down and feel healthier.

When he came back to Napa, Carpenter discovered the Slow Food organization, and he realized it aligned with what he'd learned in Italy. The organization leaders asked Carpenter to run a chapter in Napa, so in 1998 he started the Napa Valley Slow Food Convivium.

Through the group, Carpenter has helped to highlight food production (beyond grapes) in the valley, start a few local school gardens, host forums with legislators and school board members, and much more. Slow food has become something of a way of life for Carpenter.

His love of food and wine can also be seen at home. He and his wife, Tina, cook five or six nights a week, serving up tasty dishes to their girls, Maggie, 10, and Sadie, 6.

"It's very important for us to sit as a family around the dinner table every night and share the meal and share the day and have that moment of family solitude," says Carpenter.

This often involves wine.

"In this part of the world it's definitely part of our meal, and it's part of community and conviviality."

Carpenter first decided to become a winemaker after taking a trip to Napa with a friend. At the time, he was approaching 30 and a successful salesman living in Chicago, but he knew something was missing. While chatting with people in Napa tasting rooms, Carpenter realized becoming a winemaker could be the perfect career for him, as it would allow him to use both his biology degree and his MBA.

"I started thinking about, 'Maybe I could do this. Maybe this could work.'" He moved across the country, enrolled in a winemaking program and totally reinvented himself.

Now Carpenter, the winemaker at Cardinale, works in an industry that combines so many aspects he loves: science, the restaurant industry and people.

Plus, he gets to work in some of the most beautiful places in the world, all while wearing comfy shorts. Seems he knows that a good life, just like good food, should be taken slowly.

Check out Chris' Napa.