Kirsten Dunst and Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy aim their cameras toward Napa during a snap-happy girls getaway in wine country.
While one never really needs a reason to sojourn in Napa Valley, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy and their friend and surrogate sister, actor Kirsten Dunst, had a solid excuse. “They had just finished the Rodarte fall show in New York and we had done a film together [Woodshock], so we were down for a good trip,” says Dunst. If that wasn’t enough, this year also marks Rodarte’s 10-year anniversary and a decade of friendship between the trio, who originally met at a friend’s birthday party after Dunst wore a Rodarte gown to the Spider-Man 2 premiere. “That’s why we had to go!” Dunst insists.
The Mulleavy sisters have been in a NorCal state of mind for some time: Their fall collection—a mash-up of flower prints and ruffled black leather—drew inspiration from art nouveau and The Godfather, the screenplay for which Francis Ford Coppola is said to have penned at Caffè Trieste in San Francisco’s North Beach. Both references hit close to home—the duo grew up in Aptos, set on the southern point of the San Francisco Peninsula, and later attended the University of California, Berkeley before moving to Pasadena. “I’m equal parts Southern California and Northern California,” says Kate. “Some people prefer one over the other, but they mean different things to me and I appreciate both.”
For Dunst, who calls the San Fernando Valley home, the destination wasn’t as familiar. “The only time I had ever been to Napa before this trip was for Sofia Coppola’s wedding, and for her child’s baptism,” she says. Dunst and the director’s friendship can be traced back to the 1999 set of The Virgin Suicides (they also paired up on Marie Antoinette in 2006 and will join forces again with the upcoming remake of The Beguiled); in 2012 Dunst starred in On the Road, based on the Jack Kerouac novel and executive produced by Sofia’s father, Francis.
The first stop on the itinerary was the McDonald’s at the Burbank airport (“for chicken McNuggets,” says Dunst) before hopping a flight to Oakland and renting a car. “I’m the one with the directions, Laura’s the driver and Kate’s in the back,” says Dunst, who, as confirmed by Kate and Laura, is indeed an expert navigator. “It comes from reading the Thomas Guide for my mother driving around Los Angeles when I was younger. It was the only way to get around before we had GPS.”
Making a right off the Silverado Trail and accelerating up a short winding road, they reached their home for the next four days: a private, freestanding cottage at Auberge du Soleil with an outdoor soaking tub overlooking the pristine valley floor. The wine-country cycle of drinking, eating, spa-ing and napping immediately commenced.
At the top of their to-do list was a visit to The French Laundry, and after an 18-course meal—which at one point involved a sampling from the house’s decadent Truffle Platter—the women were treated to a tour of the temporary kitchen. Says Laura, “It was like watching a ballet. Just amazing.”
Each morning, Laura, the early bird, woke Kate and Kirsten for leisurely days spent wine tasting at Quintessa, lunching at Oakville Grocery and admiring the blossoming tulip fields in Yountville. On one afternoon, the girls paid a visit to Francis Ford Coppola at his Inglenook estate. While reclining in deep plush sofas in the Rutherford winery’s tasting room, Coppola told the girls about the backstory of the land, which he acquired in 1975 with profits from The Godfather. Coppola’s chef passed appetizers as stories unfolded (like the time Coppola reportedly commissioned Tiffany & Co. to create the house labels) and the wines began to open up. Hours passed like seconds. “Who knows how long we were there,” says Dunst. “Napa is a time warp.”
As Coppola wished them well, he left them with a last morsel of advice: Ciccio in Yountville for mortadella pizza. The following evening, over said pie, Laura remembers, “We actually started crying at the dinner table.” It was an overwhelming moment: the food, yes, was nonpareil, but it was also the catharsis that being in Napa Valley can elicit with each exquisite bite.
Despite the picturesque tulip fields, the aged cabernets at Quintessa and the lavender bath salts at Auberge du Soleil, “the highlight for me was definitely the camaraderie,” says Laura, although all of them concede that five days was not nearly quite enough. In Laura’s words, “We’ll just have to have the Napa Valley Chronicles Part II.”
Written by Kelsey McKinnon.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Kate Mulleavy, Laura Mulleavy and Kirsten Dunst.