News and Notes from the World of Wine

Premiere Napa Offers Unique First Tastes of 2002 and 2003 Vintages
Annual mid-winter auction raises $987,200

On February 20, the Napa Valley Vintners Association hosted Premiere Napa, its eighth annual trade tasting and auction, which offered some 500 wine retailers, wholesalers and journalists a taste of red wines to come from Napa Valley. The event raised $987,200 to be used for marketing and other Association endeavors.

The tasting and auction unfolded in the historic Greystone winery, now the home of the Culinary Institute of America, and featured unique barrel blends from the 2002 and 2003 vintages. These small-lot offerings—often only 5 or 10 cases of wine—were then auctioned off to the trade for eventual sale, or use in other auction events.

The top bid of $36,000 was for a barrel (20 cases) of Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet that contained a small amount of Merlot from the winery's relatively new Soda Canyon vineyard. That comes to $150/bottle—$50 or so more than Silver Oak's normal retail price.

But other high bids topped Silver Oak's, when calculated by the bottle. A 5-case lot of Shafer's 2002 Sunspot Vineyard Cab sold for $28,000, or $433 per bottle. A 5-case lot of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Heart of Cask 23 sold for $21,000, which is $350 per bottle. Both lots were purchased by Gary Fisch of Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Madison, New Jersey. Fisch was the high bidder of the day, spending a total of $203,900. But don't think he's worried about being out so much cash: "The wines I purchased today are already sold," he said, smiling.

High bidder Gary Fisch, of Gary's Wine and Marketplace, in Madison, New Jersey, flanked by Warren and Julia Winiarski of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Mark Pope, owner of Napa's Bounty Hunter, with Bounty Hunter colleague Joan Salyer, and Craig Williams, winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Vintners Laddy and Ted Hall of Long Meadow Ranch with Melinda Kearny (also of Long Meadow Ranch), and Alliance Beverage Company's Tom Rustwick and Kevin Smith.
Photo credits: Top, Jeff Morgan; middle and lower, Jason Tinacci

With plenty of barrel samples to taste and enough seemingly flush bidders, the festive mood matched the fine wines. Most were selected from the ripe 2002 vintage. However, those wineries that poured barrel blends from 2003, such as Volker Eisele Family Estate, demonstrated the excellent potential of Napa Valley's latest vintage, which benefited from a long, sunny and late harvest.

This year's auction may have raised more money than last year's $938,800, but it appeared nevertheless that a sluggish economy had left its mark on highflying auction prices. Only a small percentage of the lots achieved the sky-high prices seen in previous years. "If this were the stock market, we'd call it a correction," said Florida wholesaler Jimmy Mancback of Southern Wine and Spirits.

"Prices are more in line with market reality," added retailer Mark Pope, of Bounty Hunter in Napa. "Not every night is Saturday night for all wine drinkers. And that's what we're seeing today."
Nonetheless, the day's total bid was impressive. But it was partly due to the fact that there were 20 more lots offered than last year, the result of a surge in new small wineries.

Among them was Husic Vineyards, which garnered $13,000 for a 5-case lot of Cabernet Sauvignon. "We haven't even released our first wine yet," noted Julie Husic. Her husband, Frank, a San Francisco investment manager, was pleased by the bid. "As rookies, it's enormously exciting."

The auction culminated in another premiere of sorts. After the final gavel, bidders were invited next door to the new Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies to attend a dedication of the Napa Valley Vintners tasting and teaching room there. "A half million dollars from this event will go to support the Rudd Center," said Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff. She toasted the occasion with a cool, refreshing glass of sparkling rosé made by Schramsberg, the only winery to present an alternative to red wine at Premiere Napa Valley 2004.

—Jeff Morgan


Q&A Count Gelasio Gaetani d'Aragona Lovatelli, skydiver, aristocrat, wine consultant to the stars

Count Gelasio Gaetani d'Aragona Lovatelli never refers to the people he works with as clients. Instead, they are "close friends." With an impeccable noble pedigree, the silky-voiced, long-haired count has emerged as Italy's most respected—and certainly most visible—wine consultant to the stars.

His aristocratic roots have been grafted to the vine for five centuries. Andrea Franchetti, of the exclusive Tenuta di Trinoro, is a cousin. His ex-wife, countess Cinzano of the vermouth dynasty, runs Argiano, producer of prized Brunello di Montalcino. The 49-year-old count has personally worked every part of the wine chain, from growing grapes to importing.
Along with his consultancy work, the count is dedicated to exploring the metaphorical depths of "vertical tasting." An avid parachutist, he has logged in 2,000 jumps and enjoys tasting wine while plummeting to the earth at 300 kilometers per hour. This month, the count will freefall over Umbria and land near the Arnaldo Caprai winery, just in time for a televised toast.

Wine Enthusiast: How can you pour wine while freefalling?
GGAL: I uncork the wine before jumping. To pour, you must stick the bottle deep inside the glass, otherwise the wine nebulizes, or flies away in millions of tiny drops. Thanks to various forces, the wine stays safely inside the glass but you need to bring your mouth to it, not the other way around.

WE: You have worked as a wine consultant for Sharon Stone, Don Johnson, Ivana Trump, Gianni Agnelli, Bvlgari and Valentino. How did this come about?
GGAL: I am from an old, historic Italian family and my parents moved in certain circles. I have always frequented the so-called VIPs and I worked in the wine industry. Consulting was a natural evolution.

WE: Do you find that stars know a lot about wine?
GGAL: They are good at French and California wine, but Italian wine is a sudden revelation. Take Don Johnson. He is not a wine expert, but he was very curious and positively attracted to Italian wine, and drank a lot of it. I remember one night he spent $15-16,000 on wine [in cases to send back to the U.S.]. Another time we took his private jet to taste Sicilian wine for the day, and he bought more.

Sharon Stone is one of your best clients. What have you helped her buy?
GGAL: Last year a bottle of Sagrantino di Montefalco was being auctioned at a benefit in Florence. She knew nothing about the wine. It was a double magnum and wrapped in leopard skin packaging done by designer Roberto Cavalli. She was intrigued and paid roughly $6,000 for it.

How about Valentino?
GGAL: I've known him since childhood. In 1997, he bought a castle outside Paris and asked me to create the most beautiful cellar of Italian wines in France so he could show the French that Italians are good at making wine, maybe even better.

What did you put in it?
GGAL: Some Brunellos, and some Sicilian wines like Rosso del Conte by Tasca d'Almerita. Old Barolo Cordero di Montezemolo and Ceretto, such as the 1975, 1978 and 1980 vintages. Valentino loves a Pinot Nero called Il Pollenza made in Le Marche, and he buys it every year.

You made a wine for Ivana Trump, too?
GGAL: Yes, it was called "Ivana." It was a 100-percent Sangiovese, and her picture was on the label. [At the time] she was my brother's girlfriend.

If you helped someone invest $10,000 in a cellar today, how much would it be worth in 20 years?
GGAL: About $100,000. But if you have a nice cellar you should drink wine, not keep it.

—Monica Larner

Amateur Chefs Whisked off to Florence

Six grand-prize winners of the first annual Santa Cristina Cucina Toscana Cooking Contest got a taste of the good (Italian) life in February, when they were given a seven-day dream trip to Antinori's Tuscan and Umbrian estates. For information about how to enter the contest (and to view the winners' recipes), email

Chuck Ortman Debuts His Own WinesMeridian's former owner now bottling under Ortman Family label

Chuck Ortman, a respected California winemaker who rose to fame in Napa Valley and then went on to found Meridian Vineyards on the Central Coast, has just released the first wines under his Ortman Family Vineyards label.

The 64-year old veteran's first winery job was as a cellar rat at Heitz Wine Cellars, in 1967. From there, he went on to serve as winemaker or consulting winemaker at some of Napa's most prestigious properties: Spring Mountain, Far Niente, Shafer, Fisher, Cain Cellars and St. Clement.

A 1979 visit to the Central Coast, however, set Ortman's sights on the south. That year, he and his wife, Sue, formed their own Charles Ortman label, starting with an Edna Valley Chardonnay.

But it was only after the Ortmans changed the name of their winery to Meridian that the wine world really started to notice. In 1988, Ortman hit the big time, when Beringer Vineyards purchased Meridian and kept him on as chief winemaker. Meridian's wines almost from the start achieved a national reputation for value, and helped to establish the reputation of the Central Coast as a source of top-quality grapes.

Now, Ortman and his son, Matt, 31, have released the first four Ortman Family wines: Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Chardonnay from Edna Valley, Pinot Noir with a Santa Barbara appellation, and a San Luis Obispo Syrah. All four wines were good to excellent on the Wine Enthusiast's 100-point scale. A Sangiovese will be added to the line later. All the wines were made from purchased grapes, and at nearby facilities. Ortman says he has no plans to acquire his own vineyards in California, but he is building a winery in the Edna Valley.

The family recently planted Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the Dundee Hills region of Oregon. Those grapevines should yield their first wines in four years.

Meanwhile, Ortman remains employed by Beringer Blass. Asked why he's beginning a brand new venture at an age when many winemakers consider retirement, he cites two reasons. "First, Matt came to me and said, 'Hey, dad, I'd like to get into the wine business.' And I also still have a lot of energy left."

For reviews of the Ortman Family wines, see the California section of this month's Buying Guide.

—Steve Heimoff

Windy City Woos Wine World

Vinexpo Americas will be held in Chicago at the sprawling lakeside venue, McCormick Place, from June 20 to 22. Open only to industry professionals, the annual exhibition attracts as many 10,000 people from 30 countries. Winemakers, retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, importers, sommeliers and members of the press will convene to sample wines and spirits and examine other products, innovations and trends, visit the 600
exhibitors and attend seminars. For more information, call 800/284-6976 or log on to

Highway 29 Revisited?

Bonny Doon Vineyard's mailing-list recipients have just been sent liner notes for what might be the best wine-country songs (you'll note that the category isn't a wide-reaching one) we've heard all year—and legend has it that Randall Grahm and company sung every last one of them at a Bonny Doon fiasco (that is, party) last winter. Among the 32 tunes crafted by the winery's "Rhônely Hearts Club Band" are ditties that improve upon classics by the Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, and The Kinks. To wit, the first verse of "Oakville, California," to the tune of The Eagles' "Hotel California":

On a wine country highway,
warm wind in my hair
Warm smell of baguettes and chèvre,
rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance I saw a
cute grocery
We were running low on basil-infused oil
And I had to stop for a pee.

You want to download more lyrics, and bring them to karaoke night? Visit

—Daryna Tobey

Our New Favorite

Glasses Without Stems

Riedel's new O Collection glasses may be controversial in the snobbiest circles, where concerns range from fingerprinting crystal to temperature fluctuations, but we love the things. (C'mon, the last time you broke a glass, it was at the stem, right?) We're predicting that these Os—basically just Riedel's Vinum wineglass bowls, sans stems—will be the hottest things to hit wine since the corkscrew, particularly among younger wine drinkers who are pressed for cabinet space and seek glassware that looks a little as possible like grandma's for-holidays-only goblets. Designed by Maximilian Riedel, Georg Riedel's son, the Os come in six bowl shapes, and are priced at $21.95 per pair. To order, call 800/356-8466 or click on

Booker Noe

Frederick Booker Noe II the Master Distiller Emeritus of the Jim Beam Distillery of Clermont, Kentucky, died on February 24. He was the grandson of America's most illustrious whiskey distiller, Jim Beam. Hired in 1950 by his uncle, T. Jeremiah Beam, to work at Jim Beam, Booker Noe was no stranger to the smells, sights and sounds of a whiskey distillery. Said Noe in 2002 of his earliest childhood memories, "My first recollection of Bourbon is when my grandfather took me to the distillery at Clermont. …I was about 10 years old. …I remember sniffing the grain smell."

Under the tutelage of Carl Beam, Park Beam and T. Jeremiah Beam, Booker became first a distiller, and then, in 1960, a master distiller. Over Noe's astonishing 42-year career, production of Jim Beam Bourbon increased 12 times. After his retirement in 1992, Noe directed his attention to his pet project, Booker's Bourbon, Noe's uncut, unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel whiskey.

By the mid-1990s, Noe, an enormous man who stood 6 feet, 4 inches in height and weighed over 300 pounds, had become an icon in the whiskey world as he traveled the world candidly talking about Booker's Bourbon, his grandfather, his unique methods of curing hams, fishing in Alaska, the Prohibition Era and numerous other topics that never failed to enthrall audiences. Viewed as a man of frank talk, robust appetites and a larger-than-life personality, Noe was the quintessential Kentucky whiskeyman whose legend rivals that of his grandfather.

—F. Paul Pacult

Pulling the Wool Over Her Ice

Justin Ramedia and now-fiancée Beth Striplin of Florida are Korbel's Perfect Proposal Contest grand prize winners. Ramedia's proposal idea—getting a team of tuxedo-clad romeos to spell out "Will you marry me?" at New York's Rockefeller Center ice rink—won the pair $10,000 for their wedding, and a Blue Nile signature diamond engagement ring. For more information on Korbel's annual contest, visit

Crossing into Middle Earth

Running with an all-things-Kiwi theme, Marlborough winery The Crossings sponsored the U.S. premieres of the Oscar award-winning Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which was filmed in New Zealand. Left, brand manager Heidi Kluender with Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in the film.

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