VINE CUTTINGS

News and Notes from the World of Wine


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Copa de Napa Nets Big Bucks


Despite the challenges of a so-so economy, there was no lack of bidders at Copa de Napa, the 23rd annual Napa Valley Wine Auction, which took place June 5-8. On opening night, 1,800 bidders and guests entered a fancifully transformed Meadowood Resort for an evening of gourmet dining and hot dancing. Inspired by New York's legendary Copa Cabana nightclub, the Latin-themed event raised nearly $6.5 million for charity. The total figure surpassed last year's amount by $350,000.

"I'm tremendously pleased by the enthusiasm here," said Robert Mondavi. "We're going through trying times, but we don't see it here." Dressed in his trademark gaucho costume, the vintner introduced a special 90-bottle auction lot, so designed in celebration of his 90th birthday. Mondavi's lot went for $360,000.

Saturday's marathon bidding opened briskly, but initial bids appeared to be down from the previous year. However, halfway through the live auction, Los Gatos venture capitalist Gary Rieschel finally broke the $100,000 mark with his $160,000 bid for the Oakville Winegrowers' collective lot. Others soon followed suit.

Most noteworthy was the Napa Valley Vintners' Association lot called "Bidder's Brand," which netted $1 million. It offered the winner an opportunity to be a vintner for a year, complete with a private 300-case label.

Before the bidding began, the Trinchero family—this year's auction chair and the owners of Sutter Home Winery—made the surprise announcement that they would donate the difference required to reach $1 million. John and Tamra Gorman's $320,000 bid took the lot. (Gorman, the auction's highest bidder, spent $627,900 overall.) Additional funds were provided by Boston wine distributor Raymond Tye, of United Liquors, who added $25,000 in memory of his recently deceased son, Michael.

Nearly as impressive—at least from the buzz it produced—was Harlan Estate's lot, featuring a 10-vintage vertical of magnums dating back to 1990. The bidding skyrocketed to $220,000 within 15 seconds, and finished soon after at $340,000. "I must like [Harlan's wines] a hell of a lot," said winning bidder David Doyle, the founder of Quest software. "I don't think there's a better wine in Napa Valley."

Despite its aura of conspicuous consumption, the Napa Valley Wine Auction provides significant benefits to the local community. Some 95 percent of the proceeds go to health-related charities in Napa Valley. Over the last 22 years, a total of $42 million has been distributed to health organizations.

"If you're not touched or changed by the way you view philanthropy by coming here, then you're missing the whole point," said Gary Rieschel, who successfully bid on a number of high-ticket items in addition to the Oakville Winegrowers lot. "It's all about giving back."

Rieschel's sentiments were echoed by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), a Napa Valley native who spent eight hours busing tables on Saturday. "I don't think that dollars are the most important thing here," the congressman stated. "What counts is the way the wine community comes together to help folks who can't spend $70,000 on an auction lot."

Not all the weekend's excitement revolved around the live auction. The Meadowood grounds were adorned with artwork designated for bidding as well. Many wineries offered on-site dinners and luncheons, some prepared by celebrity chefs. Making a dramatic entrance for an Opus One meal he prepared, Wolfgang Puck sped down the winery's long driveway in a Ferrari 575 at 125 miles per hour. "I forgot the fish!" he announced as he emerged from the race car.

Newcomers among the Napa establishment also made their own marks this year. The top bid for a case of wine in the barrel auction was $10,000, a tie between Gemstone Winery and Gargiulo Vineyards. Gargiulo beat the odds with Merlot, a sleekly textured, complex wine that demonstrated just how good that variety can be in a region where Cabernet is king.

The next Napa Valley Wine Auction will take place June 3-6, 2004. For more information, contact the Napa Valley Vintners Association at 707/963-3388.

—Jeff Morgan

 

Pounds For Pubs

UK's Adopt-a-Local program aims to keep local
watering holes afloat.

Visitors to any traditional British pub are likely to encounter these customary fixtures: sweet-smelling logs crackling in a fireplace, perilously low ceilings fortified by centuries-old beams, and the regulars with heavy regional accents, debating in a corner. There's nothing quite like it.

But British pubs are in peril; they're closing at a rate of 20 per month. Lured by cut-rate prices on supermarket libations, Brits are doing their drinking at home. If the trend continues, some of the most unique watering holes in the U.K. could become extinct.

Enter Adopt-a-Local. For £20 (about $30) good Samaritans everywhere can ensure that a tippler in Gloucestershire gets his or her adequate supply of ale, in turn filling the pub's coffers. The adopter receives a photo of the drinker, a signed coaster, and a newsletter. The £20 fee gives £5 directly to the drinker (it's a bar-tab credit at the endangered pub), and another £5 to the Society of Licensed Victuallers' charity, which cares for the elderly and sick in the retail drinks industry. The remainder of the fee goes to printing, administrative and marketing costs.

In its first three weeks, this marketing scheme arranged 250 adoptions, and is now expanding its list of the thirsty.

Fifty-nine-year-old Gloucestershire local Richard "Dickie" Sadler has already been adopted 49 times. He's a regular at the 16th-century Plough Inn, where his drink of choice is Guinness. At £2.50 ($3.75) a pint, he says he "really needs the sponsors!"

But Sadler says the pub is more than a watering hole. "I'm a dry-stone wall builder, and this is the place where I get offered jobs," he explains. "Other people say the same thing—electricians, plumbers. All my work comes from here."
Parched from the interview, Sadler takes one more sip of his stout before shouting, "Long may the local pub reign!"

Additional information on Adopt-a-Local is available at www.pubs2000.com.

—Tara Gadomski

America's First Affinage

Artisanal Cheese Center opens in New York

America now has its first European-style affinage, an aging facility designed to monitor cheeses from farm to consumer. "The cheese industry in the U.S. today is much like the wine industry was 30 years ago," notes Artisanal Cheese Center creator Chef Terrance Brennan, who made New York's bistro-style Artisanal a Mecca for cheese lovers. "At that time, Americans were only drinking wines on special occasions. Now wine is part of Americans' everyday experience. I want to do the same for cheese."

The Center has five cheese caves, each with a distinct climate suited to aging goat, blue, washed rind, bloomy and tome cheeses, monitored by a refrigeration system that controls temperature and humidity to one-tenth of a degree. The center also offers classes on such specific subjects as the Basque cheese craftsmen, and tastings that pair regional cheeses with wines, Sherries or fine beers. Although the Center is not a retail outlet, its mail order catalogue and Web site, www.artisanalcheese.com, will make fine cheese available to consumers across the country.

Artisanal Cheese Center, 500 W 37th Street, at 10th Avenue, New York. Tel.: 877/797-1200 or 212/239-1200.

—Janet Forman

All-stars' seminars wow crowds
at 11th annual Hospice du Rhône

They call it the Mother Church, the Gathering of the Clan, the True Believers. It's the three-day Hospice du Rhône celebration, where some 500 Rhône fanatics gather every year at the end of May in Paso Robles, on California's Central Coast, to eat, shmooze, taste and learn about their favorite wines.

This year's amazing seminar lineup included a tasting of Cornas wines with vignerons Thierry Allemand (Domaine Thierry Allemand) and Yves Cuilleron, one of the three "Rhône Musketeers" at Domaine des Vins de Vienne, with Turley Wine Cellars' Ehren Jordan translating; a tasting of Torbreck Vintners, in the Barossa Valley, conducted by owner Dave Powell; a discussion of Syrah clones led by U.C. Davis professor Carole Meredith; and a tasting of John Kongsgaard's Napa Valley wines.

The Cornas wines, especially Allemand's, displayed the enormous power and finesse that this Northern Rhône appellation's wines can possess, particularly when made from old vines, as many of Allemand's are. The Torbreck wines were blockbusters; Powell's Run Rig Shiraz, made from old vines (some as old as 140 years), left even veteran Californian winemakers shaking their heads in amazement. "Sugar has absolutely nothing to do with when grapes are ripe," Powell said of the wine's massiveness. "Sugar has only to do with alcohol."

Kongsgaard, a Napa Valley veteran who made Merlot at Newton and Sangiovese at Luna and now makes Rhône varietal wines for his Kongsgaard label, answered a slew of technical questions from winemakers at his seminar.

HdR's founders, Alban Vineyards' John Alban and Garretson Wine Co.'s Mat Garretson, started the event 11 years ago on a shoestring budget, in a remote area of the state, and in an odd venue: The California Mid-State Fairgrounds, where you're more likely to see Stetson-hatted cowboys than a swirl-and-sniff crowd.

This year's HdR maintained the informality that you'd expect from such a spot. Shorts and sandals were the garb of choice, and the men were not required—indeed, were expected not to—shave.

The weekend's events included the now-legendary Rhône-N-Bowl, which had many a participant complaining of hangovers the following day; the Grand Tasting, which showcased hundreds of current releases of 22 recognized Rhône varieties from 150 wineries; and the Farewell Gala BBQ and Bash, whose theme, "I will never be thirsty again!" lampooned Scarlett O'Hara's famous Gone With the Wind quote. The Hospice's benefit auction, presided over by auctioneer David Reynolds, raised $112,800 for HdR's satellite programs.

At one of the weekend's lunches, at which only blush wines were served, Garretson and two other Rhône zanies paraded out on bicycles to the sound of roaring motorcycles. They were the "Hell's Pinkeys"—the Hospice's answer to the Hell's Angels.

"When someone asks you what to drink," Garretson said, "give them the finger—the pinky." The winemaker, a men's extra large in size, was wearing a hot pink, skin-tight, midriff-baring women's T-shirt that left little to the imagination.

"It just goes to show," he said later, "to what lengths I will go to promote Rhône wines."
And will he bare even more flesh next year?
"I hope not. We want people to come back!"

—Steve Heimoff

Screaming Eagle Sorbet?

Ciao Bella, producers of high-quality artisan gelato and sorbet, are going the way of wine: Among their newest flavors is Blackberry Cabernet, a non-alcoholic sorbet that was created in northern California as a custom flavor and became so successful that the company added it to its already lengthy menu. That menu also includes Blood Orange Champagne, Apricot Chardonnay, Port and Fig, and Tequila flavors.

But if "non-alcoholic Cabernet flavor" just isn't "Cabernet" enough for you, you can also order your own custom Ciao Bella flavor. There's a four-tub minimum (each tub contains approximately one quart); making your dream flavor will set you back $38 per tub, plus the cost of your "special ingredients." Screaming Eagle sorbet, anyone?

For more information, visit www.ciaobella gelato.com, or call 800/GELATO-3.

—Kristen Fogg

Q&A Tyler Florence
Chef, TV personality, object of desire

Chef Tyler Florence, 32, was in San Francisco recently promoting his cookbook, Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen. His Food 911 program on the Food Network is going into its fourth year, and he's just started a second series, Tyler's Ultimate. He's a regular guest chef on NBC's Today show, and next year will launch his most ambitious project yet, a Manhattan restaurant.

Wine Enthusiast: Food 911 is a cool show. [Editor's note: The premise is that frustrated home cooks "call 911" to ask for Tyler's help, and Tyler rushes off and shows them how to cook in their own kitchen.] Do you ever find weird things, like really dirty kitchens or idiot uncles?

Tyler Florence: We always send someone out to scout their house first, so we know they don't have a cyclops, or strange moans coming out of the basement.

WE: Do you ever get hit on by housewives?
TF: [blushing] Yeah, sure. It's really funny. We did one show on arroz con pollo. After lunch, I was exhausted, just wanted to lie down and take a nap. So the lady is like, "Yeah, go into my bedroom." I go in, close the door and lie down on the floor. And I wake up, and she's on my arm, curled up next to me.

WE: No!
TF: Yeah! And I got flashed once. This lady, she pulled her dress up.

WE: On your cooking shows, you pretty much wear the kind of clothes you're wearing now—jeans, a T-shirt.

TF: I used to wear a chef's coat, but then I stopped. It's like Superman's cape—with that, you can cook, and without it, you can't. It's a barrier between the TV chef and you at home.

WE: Tell me about your new restaurant.
TF: It's gonna be a social experiment…in a contemporary farmhouse, with 30-foot kind of knobby farm tables. People are going to sit together. The food's gonna come out in small pots—braised chicken with pepper polenta, stuff like that. Very simple farm food.

WE: Do you watch your weight?
TF: I try not to shove food in my face constantly. It's really easy to kind of blow up doing what I'm doing.

WE: What about wine?
TF: I love wine! I love Burgundy. I went to the Cannes Film Festival last year with my girlfriend and stopped off in Pouilly-Fuissé. I love Muscat, and the New Zealand Pinot Noirs are just explosive. And I love California wine.

WE: You're on death row. You've got one last meal. What is it?
TF: One last meal? I would have Nobu's black cod with miso. Either that, or a big bowl of guacamole. Could definitely be both!

—Steve Heimoff

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