Premiere Napa Valley 2003:
Retailers spend $938K on exclusive lots

Premiere Napa Valley 2003:
Retailers spend $938K on exclusive lots

In February 22, the Napa Valley Vintners Association hosted its seventh annual mid-winter barrel tasting and auction, raising $938,800 on 138 auction lots. Each lot featured a unique barrel blend made expressly for the event. The trade-only event offered an international crowd of distributors, retailers and restaurateurs a chance to purchase one-of-a-kind selections from their favorite wineries.

The bidding, led by Zachy's auctioneers Ursula Hermacinski and Fritz Hatton, was brisk, with total bids eclipsing last year's by $140,700. "But the average case prices were lower," commented Saintsbury co-owner, Dick Ward, whose 20-case lot of 2002 Brown Ranch Pinot Noir sold for $15,000—down from $24,000 last year. "It's not surprising in the third year of a recession. The good news is that people are still buying."

Indeed, they were. Savvy buyers were able to pick up superb wines for unusually reasonable prices, considering their Napa Valley pedigree. Five cases of a Cabernet blend from Monticello Vineyards sold for $3,000 (about $50 per bottle) to Indiana retailer Bill Kennedy. Kennedy works for an 18-store wine shop chain called The 21st Amendment.

"Five cases is not a huge amount of wine, and we're not looking to get the most expensive labels," Kennedy said. "But there are some uniquely special wines here that we will be able to offer our customers for around $100 per bottle."

South Carolina restaurateur Amber Parsell Lynch, of the Hospitality Management Group, echoed Kennedy's sentiments. "This is an opportunity for us to get special wines that we couldn't find through normal distribution channels," she explained. For $3,000, Lynch picked up a five-case lot of Syrah from Cuvaison Winery.

"We'll put the wine on one of our restaurant wine lists at around $100 or $140," she estimated. "We create a special place on the list to tell people that the wine is made uniquely for this auction. It's the fourth time we've been here, and each year the wines we buy sell out quickly. That's why we have to keep coming back!"

Jay James, wine buyer for Bellagio in Los Vegas, won four wine lots. "I bought more wine and spent less than I did last year," he noted. James presides over a restaurant wine list that features 1,800 different bottlings. "These are unique lots," he said. "We give them a whole page on our list and tell our diners why they are only available with us." James also picked up some good buys, including five cases of Chateau Potelle Syrah and five cases of Moss Creek Zinfandel for $3,500 and $4,000, respectively. The wine buyer was also pleased with a 20-case purchase of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon from a small vineyard located in the Stags Leap District. It cost him $17,000. At about $70 per bottle, he says, "that's cheaper than Mondavi Reserve."

However, not every retailer or restaurateur planned to put their auction trophies on the shelves. Many, like Frank Melis of Cannery Wine Cellar in San Francisco, came to bid for specific preferred clients, who sent him to the auction with a long shopping list. After 15 bids, Melis finally corralled a five-case lot from Staglin Family Vineyard for $8,000—a good price for an excellent wine.

Nonetheless, certain lots went stratospheric. Five cases of Harlan Estate 2001 Cabernet Franc went for $26,000, purchased by Japanese importer Jasaki Inoue. Five cases of Shafer 2001 Hillside Select sold for $30,000. The lot was purchased by a consortium led by the day's total top bidder, Gary Fisch, of Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Madison, New Jersey.

Toward the end of the day, an emotionally charged bidding war, for five cases of Rombauer 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, hit the single-lot, high-dollar mark of $32,000. The winning bidder was Oklahoma distributor Wayne Hirst, who plans to use the wine to raise money for cancer research. It was a tribute to the late Joan Rombauer, who had recently succumbed to cancer herself.

"This is my way of giving back to the Napa Vintners, who have given us so much," Hirst explained.

But proceeds from this auction are not designated for charity (as they are from the summertime Napa Valley Wine Auction). Money received from Premiere Napa Valley is earmarked toward marketing and research programs, and other educational forums, such as the new Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

—Jeff Morgan


The world mourns the passing of a great chef
André Daguin said it best. "For the first time, we're with Bernard and we're not smiling. For the first time we're with Bernard and he's making us feel terrible."

The president of France's Federation of Hotel Industry Trades, Daguin stood by the altar of the 12th-century basilica in the little Burgundy town of Saulieu, facing the 800 or so mourners squeezed into every free inch of space. Thousands more from France, Europe and the U.S. stood outside to say goodbye to Bernard Loiseau, one of France's most endearing culinary inventors, ardent defender of Burgundy and mentor to chefs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Four days earlier, Loiseau had committed suicide, stunning France and making headlines worldwide. To many, it seemed incomprehensible: Loiseau had recently completed a beautiful chateau hotel-restaurant complex; his Côte d'Or restaurant had earned three Michelin stars; he'd launched three other restaurants in Paris; and had a profitable line of gourmet prepared foods.

Born to humble beginnings, a high-school dropout from the rural Auvergne, Loiseau started working in kitchens at 17 as a lowly apprentice at the then-unheralded Troisgros restaurant in Roanne. He advanced through the ranks, finally being offered the toque at the relaunched Côte d'Or restaurant. He restored the classic restaurant to its former glory, gaining his third Michelin star in 1991. Over three decades he became known for his dazzling innovations and generosity of spirit; he trained dozens of chefs cooking in America and France today.

The cause of the despair that led to the tragedy, it is speculated, was Loiseau's recent demotion in the controversial restaurant guide, Gault & Millau, from a 19 (out of 20) to a 17. There were financial pressures as well. To reach this level of excellence and luxury, Loiseau had indebted himself heavily and had floated his restaurant group on the Paris stock market, now in a great slump. After supervising the Monday lunch for a few clients at his restaurant, he retired to his bedroom with his hunting rifle.

Four days later in the big old Romanesque church, a number of his friends, including Paul Bocuse paid tribute to their departed friend. Loiseau leaves behind his wife, Dominique, two daughters and a son.

—Rudy Chelminski

Mondavi-Rosemount Joint Venture
Bottlings Finally Hit Retailers' Shelves

More than two years after announcing a joint venture agreement to produce wines in California and Australia, Robert Mondavi Winery and Rosemount have released their first wines: two blends from the Golden State, and four varietal wines from Oz.

From a number of Mondavi-controlled vineyards across California come two wines under the Talomas (pronounced tah-LOW-muss) label. The line consists of a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend and a Cabernet- Merlot mix. "Talomas" means "wildcat" in an indigenous California language.

The duo's Australian brand is called Kirralaa (pronounced KEERA-lah), which means "star" in an aboriginal language. And the wines, unlike their California counterparts, are pure varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.

Ian Shepherd, a product of Adelaide and a Roseworthy graduate, is the head winemaker for both brands. He works closely with Tim Mondavi and Philip Shaw, Southcorp's company winemaker.

In total, Mondavi and Rosemount are tapping into about 30,000 acres of vineyards in a multitude of California and Australia appellations. The wines are being made in Napa Valley and at Rosemount's facilities down under. Total case production for the Talomas brand is 14,100; for Kirralaa, it's just over 20,000.

The Talomas and Kirralaa wines are priced at about $15. But plans call for a luxury wine to be released, possibly as early as this fall. It will be an ultrapremium Shiraz from Australia, called Kirralaa Indelible Reserve, and will retail for approximately $80.

—Michael Schachner


Q&A Marilisa Allegrini
Proprietor of Agricola Allegrini

Born into a family of vintners, Marilisa Allegrini's childhood was every wine lover's dream: Her earliest memories were of roaming hills overlooking Lake Garda, some of Valpolicella's most venerable cru sites. Although she has two brothers, Marilisa received wholehearted support from her father in taking up the vintner's life. Today, along with caring for her two young daughters, she runs the marketing side of Agricola Allegrini. Encompassing 14 vineyards on more than 70 hectares, it has become one of Italy's star wineries.

Wine Enthusiast: Which non-Allegrini wines do you keep in your cellar?
Marilisa Allegrini: My personal cellar is 99 percent not Allegrini, because I think it's very exciting to learn from others. So for my personal consumption I want to see what other wineries do. Pinot Noir is a taste I really like, but I also like wines from California and Australia. In Italy, it's difficult to find a lot of different wines like Australian, or boutique wines from California, so when I return home from the States I normally bring several bottles.

WE: What is your favorite regional food?
MA: In Verona, we have what we call "barbaric" origins because at the end of the Roman Empire there were invasions from northern Europe. I like what many people think is a barbaric dish.: bollito misto con la peara'
[mixed boiled meats, including fowl, beef, veal and fresh sausage. —ed]. Peara' is a sauce made with bread, bone marrow and a lot of pepper — "peara' " means "spicy from pepper." On Sundays in winter, every family eats this dish. The wine that goes with it is a medium-bodied red. Our Palazzo della Torre is very good, or any Valpolicella Classico Superiore, but not the light version.

WE: What kind of unpredictable wine-and-food pairings should we try?
MA: I like Amarone with Oriental food, because the modern version has a lot of sweetness in the aftertaste, which goes well with spicy foods.

WE: What is your strongest childhood memory of growing up in the vineyard?
MA: It was the day my father took me to La Grola, which is, according to everybody in Valpolicella, the best vineyard in the area. It has a fantastic location on the hill, a lot of sun and great exposure, with a beautiful view of the city and Lake Garda. Without any noise from cars, it really seems to be the end of the world. It didn't belong to us at the time and my father told me, "One day I want to have a piece of that land." He realized this in 1979.

WE: When did you start working in the vineyard?
I started to harvest when I was around 13 or 14. The first thing I learned was how to select grapes to make Amarone and Recioto.

WE: How old were you when you had your first sip of wine? Did you like it?
I didn't drink wine during every meal but it wasn't forbidden to taste. My first was the Recioto, which was a sweet wine, so to a child the taste was very good.

WE: Did you always want to work at the winery?
No. When I was 18 or 20, I wanted to be a medical doctor. I wanted to do something social, to help people. When you are young, you are very idealistic and I thought that through this I could express the best part of myself. But helping people is still part of my behavior. I do what I do now with a lot of passion.

—Janet Forman

New Bay Area Gourmet
Market Opens
San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace is a showplace for fine food and wine

With the opening of its new Ferry Building Marketplace, scheduled at press time for March 22, San Francisco takes center stage as host to America's newest, largest and possibly most impressive farmer's market. A blend of food, wine and history, the showcase for artisan food and wine purveyors is set in the newly renovated landmark San Francisco ferry building, which was built in 1898 as a portal to the burgeoning frontier city by the sea.

A $90 million renovation has restored the building to its former glory. The expansive ground floor marketplace spans the length of two football fields; its brickwork, tilework, archways and windows have all been restored to recreate the excitement of the original design, slated to house some 150 purveyors. The scene is reminiscent of Seattle's Pike Street Market and Vancouver's Granville Island, but the setting is grander and more spectacular.

"The Ferry Building Marketplace…is a culmination of years of planning and a strong desire in this community to support local farmers and artisans," said project manager Steve Carlin. Carlin is a former partner and CEO for Oakville Grocery, a high-end purveyor of gourmet foods in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, the market developers' vision remains grassroots. "We're not looking to be an upscale supermarket," Carlin explained. "We are focused on individual, owner-operated businesses." Farmers and other artisanal purveyors have been chosen from a pool known for both quality as well as sensitivity to sustainable agricultural practices.

The roster of well-known Bay Area food names include Hog Island Oyster Company, which will operate an oyster bar, and Cowgirl Creamery, a cheese maker and cheese importer. Both hail from nearby Tomales Bay, where the marine climate is conducive to both aquaculture and dairy farming.

The wine industry will be represented by Master Sommelier Peter Granoff and restaurateur Debbie Zachareas. Granoff is best known as the founder of Zachareas is a co-owner of San Francisco's popular Bacar restaurant. Their new shop is called The Ferry Marketplace Wine Merchant. It will offer an extensive selection, with a special focus on Californian wines.

Other purveyors include MacEvoy Olive Oil, Scharffen Berger chocolate, Frog Hollow Farm, Acme Bread and Napa Valley's alternative to fast food, Taylor's Refresher. The St. Helena-based "drive-in" restaurant is owned by vintners Joel and Duncan Gott. This will be Taylor's first foray outside Napa Valley.

The Ferry Building Marketplace will also feature two cafes, and a new restaurant called The Marketplace Bar, owned by San Francisco restaurateurs Doug Biederbeck and Joseph Graham.


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