VINE CUTTINGS

News and Notes from the World of Wine




David Reynolds
Charity wine auctioneer extraordinaire

He's been called "a one-man orchestra of auctioneering" and an "evangelist" who runs charity wine auctions like "revival meetings." He's worked alongside Jay Leno and Elvis impersonators, and has auctioned everything from dinner with Sophia Loren to a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. But British-born, San Francisco-based David Reynolds is best known as the podium-pounding auctioneer of the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, the Sun Valley Wine Auction and scores of others. Famous for his flamboyant style, colorful handmade vests, and bon mots (he studies with a comedy coach), Reynolds always begins his auctions with the rallying cry, "No spousal restraint!" We met for coffee one morning in Oakland, after the "auctioneer-slash-performer," as he calls himself, had seen his voice coach.

Wine Enthusiast: Voice coach?
David Reynolds: It's to make my voice pleasing to people. I decided to study voice after I saw Sir Michael Redgrave on a TV comedy show reading the telephone book. He was superb!

WE: How did you get into auctioneering?
DR: I was a wine retailer in San Diego and a friend asked me to do Sun Valley, 20 years ago. They had no one else, and I had a British accent. Masterpiece Theatre, you know, "Upstairs, Downstairs."

WE: What's the hardest part about
auctioneering?

DR: You've got an awful lot to remember: Where the bid is, what the next bid is, who the last bidder was, where the next bidder is, what the lot actually is. It's like talking in public and doing math problems at the same time.

WE: Is it ever fair to embarrass a bidder?
DR: Well, not embarrass. But you can gently tease them. There was this one time when a gentleman, whom I knew was rich as Croesus, had given nothing. I said to [another bidder], "I'm not taking your money until I get his," and I named the guy. And he gave me money.

WE: Do you ever have lots that are real dogs? I mean, that you don't like?
DR: [laughs] Okay, here's the worst ever. It was a very high-end event, and the auction chair had provided a painting for sale. It was of kittens in a cellar! It was awful. What could I do? If I bring that thing out and say, "Isn't this wonderful?" everyone will think I'm a complete idiot, and they won't trust another thing I say. So I said, "This should have been painted on black velvet, but we couldn't afford the material." It ended up being bought by the person who donated it.

WE: Do you ever drink wine before an
auction?
DR: Oh, Lord, no. Absolute no-no! Red wine is tannic, and the last thing I need is a mouthful of tannic acid when I'm going to be speaking for a long time. Dries out your mouth. The other problem is, if I taste one person's wine, then other people say, "try mine!"

WE: Do you buy wine? Do you collect? What do you like?
DR: Yes and yes. I spend a lot of money on wine. We get quite a few cult wines—Harlan, Kongsgaard, Dalla Valle and several wineries we buy every year, like Spottswoode. [Mat] Garretson's rosé ["The Celeidh"] is one of my favorites.

WE: Do you have a tip for someone new to charity wine auctions?
DR: Yes. Don't drink too much. Just don't.

WE: What do you like to do when you're not on the road working?
DR: Jigsaw puzzles. And I love movies. There are two types of movies I like: Guys blowing up guys, and chick flicks! And I love to go to the theater.

WE: Is there anything you'd like to do that you haven't done?
DR: I'd love to do the Napa Valley Wine Auction.

WE: Some people criticize big bidders as self-indulgent multimillionaires with too much money and too little common sense. Do
you agree?
DR: No. People disparage them, but I say, buzz off. These people are doing great things for charity. The generosity of Americans is truly unique in the world. No other nation comes close.

—Steve Heimoff

 

The Stars Come Out

The 2002 Wine Enthusiast Wine Awards dinner reinforces family ties and winemaking traditions

The winners, left to right, back row: Douglas Murray and Aurelio Montes of Montes S.A., New World Winery of the Year. Jane Cunliffe, Consul General of New Zealand in New York, accepting for New Zealand as Wine Region of the Year. Carl Horton, president and CEO of Absolut Spirits Company, Inc., Distiller of the Year. Adrian Bridge, managing director of The Fladgate Partnerhip, European Winery of the Year. Front row: Gina Gallo, winemaker at Gallo of Sonoma, American Winery of the Year. Anthony Terlato, chairman and CEO of the Terlato Wine Group, Man of the Year. Adam Strum, editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Robert Mondavi, Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Patrick Léon, managing director and technical manager of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the Winemaker of the Year.

A New Los Angeles Hot Spot Eschews Big Cabernets In Favor Of "Honest" Wines

Opaline, which opened late last year on the edge of Hollywood, calls itself a bistro. But if the word "bistro" connotes a modest setting with cramped tables, decent traditional food and just quaffable wines, Opaline shatters that conception.

This is the first restaurant venture of David Rosoff, Opaline's managing partner and an enophile with years of experience in the Southern California wine industry. Opaline is first and foremost an oasis for wine lovers, especially fans of European wines who are frequently put off by heavily oaked, fully extracted fruit bombs. Among the white wines, look for a wide selection of mouthwatering Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace, as well as several Chablis and a few unoaked Chardonnays from other parts of the world. On the red side, Rosoff's expertly chosen list features plenty of Syrah, Rhône blends and Pinot Noir. Big Napa Cabernets and chewy Aussie Shiraz are conspicuously absent from the roster, although there are a few classified-growth Bordeaux.

"Long ago I gave up on the trophy wines. I prefer an honest wine, one that speaks of time and place," says Rosoff, who prior to opening Opaline last November with Jonathan Horne, was the general manager and wine director at Michael's, a celebrity magnet in Santa Monica. "I truly want people to drink our wines. I hate it when people feel forced to split one bottle of cult Cabernet between six because of price."

Meanwhile, the kitchen at Opaline is the domain of David Lentz, whose résumé shows stints at L.A.'s Campanile, Miami's Blue Door and the Las Vegas outpost of China Grill. Lentz's food could be described as California meets the Mediterranean, with particular odes to France, Italy and North Africa. Personal favorites among the appetizers include a confit of tuna with black olive aioli, and bay leaf-dusted scallops served in a mushroom broth with tiny beluga lentils and smoked bacon.

For entrées, the slow-roasted sirloin of lamb with parsnips, baby turnips and roasted almonds as well as the orecchiette with braised beef cheeks, roast peppers and sunburst tomatoes were both perfect matches for the Les Crêtes 2000 Coteau La Tour, a sensational Syrah-based wine from the Valle d'Aosta in northwest Italy.

As might be expected for a new place near Hollywood, scene is important at Opaline, but thankfully it doesn't trump cuisine. The look of the 99-seat restaurant, which features "The Den" lounge for more casual drinking and dining, is minimalist but not too stark. And despite the name, which Oscar Wilde coined to describe absinthe, there is no blinding green to interfere with the food or wine.

Opaline, 7450 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA. Tel.: 323/857-6725; closed lunch Saturday and all day Sunday. www.opaline.org.

—Michael Schachner

Fifteen's Minutes of Fame

Jamie Oliver's London boîte turns underprivileged youths into chefs
 

It's Monday afternoon and London's coolest new restaurant is full. With 70 discerning diners to satisfy, the chefs are feeling the heat. But as usual, the orders are perfectly prepared—quite a feat for a crew of school dropouts, teenage mothers and formerly homeless youths.

The brainchild of Jamie Oliver, host of Food TV's popular Naked Chef and Oliver's Twist programs, Fifteen is a restaurant and a nonprofit charity (and, not surprisingly, the subject of a British television series). Its aim is to turn vulnerable kids into top chefs.
Twenty-seven-year-old Oliver scoured Britain's employment centers, choosing candidates for their enthusiasm rather than their culinary skills. He says, "I wanted people who could work very hard for long hours and still come back the next day."

Selecting the would-be chefs turned out to be the easy part. Oliver says that the three-month intensive training was "way more difficult than I ever thought it would be." The students, who make around $6 an hour, learned everything from how to chop onions to how to select suppliers, and were even given an introduction to wine, which included a visit to the Sassicaia estate in Tuscany. Most importantly, they acquired life skills, such as the importance of punctuality and essential kitchen hygiene.

Nineteen-year-old Kerryann Dunlop works the grill in Oliver's kitchen. She's one of his most trusted chefs, but it wasn't always that way.

"In the beginning, I wasn't always showing up," Dunlop admits. "Then I got in trouble with Jamie, and I realized he was trying so hard to make my life better for me. So I sort of gave myself a kick up the ass. I don't know where I'd be without this place now."

With its skylights, chrome tables and fuchsia-colored vinyl seats, Fifteen could be any other modern London eatery. What sets it apart is Oliver's streetwise persona. The modern Italian menu is written in London slang, including dishes like "gorgeous potato gnocchi" and "scallop crudo, kinda sashimi." And the 200-bottle wine list suits all budgets.

The dishes change regularly, as the chefs gain confidence. They can even create their own entrées.

Nineteen-year-old Ben Arthur has an idea for jerk chicken ravioli, which he hopes Oliver will like. Formerly homeless, Arthur now says, "When you're in the kitchen, you and the other chefs are like a family."

In July, the charity will recruit another 15 students. Dunlop and her classmates, working with a job placement service Oliver has arranged, will move on to find employment in other restaurants—and pursue their own newfound ambitions.

Dunlop says, "In a few years, I'll come back and tell Jamie, 'I'm opening my own restaurant now.' "

Fifteen, 15 Westland Place, London. Tel.: 207-251 1515. Website: www.
cheekychops.org.

—Tara Gadomski

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