News and Notes from the World of Wine
In mid-November, a small army of hard-hatted construction workers feverishly toiled to put the finishing touches on the most innovative museum and cultural center to hit northern California. Named after the Roman goddess of abundance and renewal, Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts opened to critical acclaim on November 18 with most of its infrastructure intact. However, its potential to become an international hub for the celebration of wine, food and the arts appears limitless. "I wanted to tell the story of wine, culture and civilization in an institution that will last 500 years," said Copia's founding visionary, Robert Mondavi, now 89.
Mondavi's dream began 12 years ago when he donated $20 million just to get things started. Through the efforts of collection of vintners and food and wine professionals, $60 million was raised (and spent) for the 80,000-square foot building that dominates what was formerly a flood-prone wasteland on the outskirts of the city of Napa.
The sleek stone, steel and glass structure alongside the Napa River was designed by New York-based architect James Polshek, who also designed the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. On hand to preside over the inaugural ceremonies were such luminaries as Mondavi and his wife, Margrit, Julia Child, Hugh Johnson and artist Wayne Thibaut.
Copia is a complex endeavor that attempts to integrate wine, the food arts and fine arts in ways rarely experienced in American culture. While not yet as heralded as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Copia's impact may be ultimately more far-reaching, with a focus that touches the heart of our existence—what we eat and drink—and how the culinary arts can reflect our capacity for artistic creation.
The museum and its ongoing programs intend to explore the relationship between art, wine and food. Some 13,000 square feet of gallery space is designated for permanent and changing art exhibitions like "Forks in the Road," an audio-visual waltz through the history of food and wine in America. Also on site are a research library, a 500-seat outdoor theater for performance art, extensive gardens, teaching kitchens and other classrooms for wine and culinary-related forums. The center's restaurant, Julia's Kitchen, will operate under the direction of Chef Mark Dommen.
Wine tasting and study will also be integrated into the program, under the direction of America's only wine curator, Peter Marks, MW. The entire operation falls under the directorship of Peggy Loar, who managed the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibits during the 1990s.
Copia's opening sends out a message that American culinarians need not take a backseat to the Old World. "The French only have a crummy little museum in the south of France," Child, a founding trustee, noted. "They have all this great food and wine, but they've done nothing to celebrate it."
The French, however, do live their food and wine culture on a daily basis, while many Americans are still trying to figure out what the term "food and wine culture" means. In fact, a San Francisco newspaper covering the long-awaited opening revealed a wine-country dimension rarely seen in the pages of wine and food magazines. "What is Copia?" asked the owner of a nearby hardware store when interviewed by a reporter covering the event.
It would seem that Copia's mandate and greatest challenge lies squarely in the realm of education. Will the nation be listening? Currently, some 6 million visitors flock to Napa Valley annually. That's a reasonable opening target audience.
But the message is as subtle as it is savory. "This is not a celebration of excess," Margrit Mondavi noted. She described Copia as a place that will provide nourishment for the body, the mind and the soul.
And it will do so for generations to come. "Copia is a bit like the mirror in the Harry Potter stories," said Jennifer English, a journalist with the Food and Wine Radio Network. "The mirror reflects what you can be, not what you are." Indeed, Copia sets the bar for our nation's continuing evolution in the food and wine arts.
Double Feature, Courtesy Beringer Blass
Two unusual vertical tastings took place last November in Napa and Sonoma Valleys that indicate long-term cellaring viability for California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Chardonnay camp, Sonoma's Chateau St. Jean trotted out a 20-year retrospective of its renowned Robert Young bottling dating back to 1982. The next evening, Napa-based Beringer Vineyards hosted a 20-year vertical of its Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, beginning with the 1977 vintage. Both wineries belong to Beringer Blass Wine Estates, which is owned by the Australia-based Fosters Group.
Highlights of the Chardonnay tasting included the 1983 vintage, quite honeyed and round, yet still perky and serving up plenty of melon, hazelnut, citrus and pineapple flavors. Vintages 1985 and 1987 were also bright and focused—very much alive and well. Typically tangy and citrus-like, the Robert Young Chardonnay is made from select grapes grown on a 100-acre vineyard in Alexander Valley. While the older wines remained quite lemony and firm, more recent vintages—particularly those after 1993—featured creamy, silky-smooth texture and riper fruit flavors, a result of new vineyard plantings and modern viticulture.
Chateau St. Jean has had three head winemakers, beginning with Dick Arrowood in 1974. He was followed by Don Van Staaveren, who left in 1997. Steve Reeder is currently in command. However, Van Staaveren's wife, Margo, remains with the winery after 21 years on the job, having signed on originally as a lab technician. Now associate winemaker, she offers a point of consistency that links two decades of vintages. "I never imagined, back in 1980, that I would still be here doing a vertical tasting. The longevity of this Chardonnay is a testament to a great vineyard and the efforts of all of us here at Chateau St. Jean," the winemaker noted.
East of Chateau St. Jean and across the Mayacamas Mountains in Napa Valley, Beringer Vineyards showcased its top-of-the-line Private Reserve Cabernets. Although the winery was founded 125 years ago, its modern history really began with the 1976 arrival of winemaker Ed Sbragia, who, along with managing director Walt Klenz and vineyard manager Ed Steinhauer, led the storied winery in a quality renaissance best illustrated by the Private Reserve series.
The concept began in 1977, when Sbragia decided that certain outstanding grapes purchased from the Lemmon Ranch (now called Chabot) merited separate bottling. Ultimately, Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has evolved into a selection of the best lots from among a number of Napa Valley vineyards managed by the winery. "We have tried to make a wine that is better than the sum of its parts," Sbragia said. "It's our flagship wine."
During the recent tasting, bottle variation among the earliest vintages revealed the hazards of cellaring for any wine. However, the quality of most vintages was very good to outstanding. The 1977 Chabot was beautifully ripe, bursting with plum, blackberry, cedar, spice, sage, licorice, chocolate and herb flavors. It was still quite vibrant.
The 1983 vintage was threatened by stormy weather, yet the wine was among the best of the tasting—smooth, silky and supple, and brimming with tangy blackberry, chocolate, coffee, plum, cedar and spice notes. Even Sbragia appeared to be somewhat surprised. "This proves that there are still a lot of mysteries about how wine ages," he said. "Sometimes a wine that seems a littler lighter in its youth is amazingly good later on."
Nonetheless, Sbragia's goal with Private Reserve is to make the richest, biggest, most extracted Cabernet possible. By and large, he has succeeded, particularly in the 1990s, which were highlighted by the confluence of great vintages, improved winemaking and superior grape growing techniques. Lovers of robust yet elegant Cabernet will not be disappointed by any of the 1990s wines tasted. They included all vintages through 1997.
For aficionados' wine cellars, both Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay and Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet are good bets. Aside from their color, the biggest difference is their price. Chateau St. Jean comes in at $35; Private Reserve lists at $100.
Burgundy Prices Plummet 24 Percent
A cold wind buffets the Hospices de Beaune
Reality has arrived in Burgundy. After eight years of continuous increases, prices at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction collapsed at this year's event, held November 18. The average price of a barrel of wine produced from the 148 acres of the ancient Hospices de Beaune charity fell by 25.9 percent for reds, and 17.3 percent for whites.
Amid comments that this was less of an auction than a discount warehouse, some lots failed even to reach their reserve price. The audience dwindled as the six-hour auction stretched into the chilly, Burgundian evening. In total, the event raised $3.31 million for local charities.
| |La Grande salles des pauvres of the Hospices de Beaune, open daily to the public.
"It was," said André Segala, director of the Burgundy Wine Bureau, "a dose of reality." For Hubert Camus, the bureau's president, the price drop "is too much, and means we should ask questions. This was certainly going to be a difficult auction with a combination of the economic situation and the terrorist attacks of September 11."
American buyers were fewer and farther between this year. Only local négociants can actually bid, but they normally head up a syndicate of buyers from outside Burgundy. One of the biggest American players was whiskey giant Brown-Forman, which bought Pommard Billardet for $4,042 a cask and the white Meursault Charmes Albert Grivot for $9,460 a cask through négociant Michel Picard. John Farrell of Haskells wine merchants in Minneapolis purchased casks of Pommard Raymond Cyrot ($4,472) and Beaune Rousseau-Deslandes ($3,268) through Arthur Barolet. A cask of Burgundy contains 300 bottles.
Just as last year, some wines held their value, while others struggled. Pierre-Henri Gagey, head of Maison Louis Jadot and president of the Syndicat of Négociants, noted that Mazis-Chambertin and many of the Meursaults didn't go down in price.
By contrast, the price for Pommard Dames de la Charité fell by 19 percent and Beaune Brunet fell by a massive 29 percent. "It was a readjustment after 2000," said Gagey. Before the auction, he had been predicting a fall of around 15 percent.
Whites continued their popularity with American buyers. The Boston Wine Company purchased seven casks of Pouilly-Fuissé Françoise Poisard for $3,354 a cask through négociant Louis Latour. Casks of Meursault Genevrières Baudot went to buyers from Illinois, Florida and Texas for an average of $5,418 a cask. The highest price of the evening was paid for the superb Batard-Montrachet Dames de Flandres, which sold for $19,608 a cask to Japanese buyers.
A Guide to Food and Wine from Dean & DeLuca (and Morgan)
Jeff Morgan, Wine Enthusiast contributing editor, is the author of the just-published Dean& DeLuca: The Food and Wine Cookbook (Chronicle Books). The book represents the gourmet grocer's take on pairing wine, largely Californian, with the best, freshest foods. The store, which originated in New York, has a branch in St. Helena in Napa Valley.
As Morgan writes in his introduction, the book showcases "classic American style…flavors that are bold, bright, assertive—just like the flavors of rich, ripe California wines."
The book offers recipes from Dean & DeLuca's own chefs as well as several chefs from California wine country. Together, they serve up dishes inspired by the best of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Morgan offers several wine recommendations for all of the recipes. Also noteworthy is the chapter on cheese, which includes a comprehensive table of cheeses from all over the world and recipes for cheese-based dishes.
Chapters on the history and geography of California wine, pairing food and wine and basic cooking techniques, plus a glossary, round out the package.
French producers continue to enter the U.S. market. Marie Brizard USA has signed agreements to import Château de Segur (Sauternes) and Château Les Graves de Barrau (Bordeaux). On another front, Rhône Valley négociant Jean-Luc Colombo has switched its American agency to join Palm Bay Imports' growing list of French producers.
According to the latest statistical report from California's Wine Institute, which highlights 1999 data, the U.S. remains entrenched in fourth place in global wine production behind France, Italy and Spain. On the consumption side, the U.S. ranks third, behind France and Italy. But this is somewhat deceptive, as U.S. per-capita consumption ranks only 34th in the world, at approximately two gallons per year.
people in the news
Leslie Rudd, owner of Rudd Vineyards and the Dean & Deluca gourmet stores, has donated $1.5 million to the CIA at Greystone. the donation is intended to finance the transformation of an old building on the property into the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies.
Brian Croser, head of Australia's Petaluma Winery, has been named chairman of Lion Nathan's wine group. Brewing company Lion Nathan recently acquired Petaluma as a means of getting into the wine biz.