When Alexis Swanson Traina, the creative director of Napa Valley's Swanson Vineyards, began dating technology entrepreneur Trevor Traina, they devised a competition. The rules of the contest, called Target-Off, were simple: Each had $100 to spend to create a spectacular dinner with items bought only from the popular budget retailer. The loser would take the winner to Paris for dinner. "I wholeheartedly believed I would win," says Alexis.
Although she served her dinner (dressed-up Campbell's tomato soup, fancy macaroni and cheese and butterscotch pudding) in her Oakville, California, garden at sunset under a canopy of sycamore boughs, Trevor won the contest by hanging Japanese lanterns in a persimmon tree, setting a table with candles and bamboo cutlery and making fish cooked in foil and vanilla ice cream–filled oranges. They went to Paris on their honeymoon three years later.
Alexis doesn't often meet her match in entertaining. The glamorous 37-year-old is renowned in wine country for her ability to throw great parties. She even makes occasions of wine tastings at Swanson, the 140-acre Oakville vineyards founded in 1985 by her father, Clarke, a member of the Swanson frozen-foods family. Swanson offers a range of wines, from a vibrant Pinot Grigio to a sumptuous Muscat, but it's best known for its magnificently elegant, structured Merlot (especially impressive given that, with immediate neighbors such as Opus One and Silver Oak, Swanson is surrounded by the powerful Cabernet Sauvignon grape).