News and Notes from the World of Wine

Style Comes To Rioja
Architect Frank Gehry with a model of the new building he has designed for Marques de Riscal

Two years from now the sleepy Rioja Alavesa wine village of Elciego will probably never be the same. That's when world-famous architect Frank Gehry's addition to the winery complex at Marqués de Riscal is scheduled for completion.

Marqués de Riscal, one of the grand old Rioja wine houses, has contracted with Frank O. Gehry & Associates to build a futuristic administration building on a grassy plot above the cluster of winery buildings, some of which date from 1860. According to sources at Rioja's oldest winery, the firm wanted a building that "breaks drastically with the image of the traditional Rioja cellar."

In early June, the owners of Marqués de Riscal invited 300 people, including government officials, local dignitaries, the Spanish national press, and a group of Spanish and foreign wine writers, to the winery for the unveiling of the model for the building and to meet Gehry, who is revered in Basque country for what his Guggenheim Bilbão Museum has meant to the region's economy and cultural status.

The 33,000-square-foot building will feature a shiny, undulating, aluminum-and-titanium roof over a stone building, and will house the winery's main offices, a reception center for visitors, a winery shop and a museum. The building will also have a first-rate restaurant that will seat more than 100 diners. José Luís Mugiro, the commercial director at the winery, says the winery will hire a top Spanish chef, who will almost surely be drawn from the Basque country's coterie of Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Riscal project is part of a trend that may draw more visitors to northern Spain. Two distinguished Spanish architects, Santiago Calatrava and José Rafael Moneo, are also designing new wineries in the area. Commissioned by the Bodegas y Bebidas Group (Campo Viejo, Las Campanas and others), Calatrava, a bridge architect born in Valencia, has drawn up plans for a dazzling new winery (now under construction) only ten minutes north of Marqués de Riscal. Located just outside the walled village of Laguardia, the new winery, with its distinctive undulating roof, will likely be as interesting to the eye as the Gehry building at Elciego. Calatrava is also the designer of the pending new addition to New York's Pennsylvania Station.

The new Bodegas Julián Chivite winery at Arínzano was designed by Moneo, a native of nearby Tudela. The former chairman of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Moneo is the architect of Madrid's Atocha railway station and the $50 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. In a stunning mountain setting along the banks of the Ega River, Moneo's Chivite winery surrounds an old hermitage and will incorporate guest housing and a winery shop.

The star-architect-as-winery-designer phenomenon does not seem to be unique to Spain. Gehry is already designing another winery, his first in his native Canada, for a 35-acre project on the Niagara Peninsula called Le Clos Jordan, a Franco-Canadian joint venture between Boisset of Burgundy and Vincor, Canada's largest wine company.
—Gerry Dawes


$9.5 Million in bids at 20th-anniversary auction shatters previous record!

Christie's auctioneer Barbara Strongin eliciting another bid.


Industry News
Wine and spirits powerhouse Seagram has been acquired by French media conglomerate Vivendi, largely for Seagram's extensive entertainment holdings. Word is the wine and spirits division, which includes such brands as Sterling Vineyards, Mumm Napa Valley, and Barton & Guestier among the wines, and Crown Royal, Chivas Regal, and Absolut among the spirits, will be sold off.

The USDA has declared an agricultural emergency in response to the vineyard devastation threatened by the spread of the glassy-winged sharpshooter through California's viticultural areas. The department has earmarked $22.3 million for control and eradication of the pest, which is a major vector for Pierce's disease. The bacterial disease typically kills vines within five years of infection (often quicker), and at this point there is no known cure.

BRL Hardy, the Australian wine giant, is broadening its horizons while staying close to home, acquiring control of New Zealand's Nobilo Wines. Hardy previously owned 40% of Auckland-based Nobilo.

Napa Valley's Vineyard 29 has been sold by owners Tom Paine and Teresa Norton. Silicon Valley exec Chuck McMinn, chairman and CEO of Certive, Inc., plans to build a 5,000-case winery on the site. Winemaker Philippe Melka is expected to stay on; he replaced Heidi Peterson Barrett in time for the 1999 vintage.

Domaine de Lagrézette, the well-known Cahors estate, has launched a négociant line of wines under the Castel Montplaisir label. Superconsultant Michel Rolland is advising the new company on vineyard management and vinification, using the classic Cahor varieties of Malbec, Merlot and Tannat.

People in the News
Quinta do Noval manager Christian Seely is taking over for the retiring Jean-Michel Cazes at the head of AXA-Millésimes, the wine-estate portion of global insurance giant AXA. In addition to Noval, AXA-Millésimes controls five other properties: Chateaus Pichon-Longueville, Cantenac-Brown, Petit-Village and Suduiraut in Bordeaux, and Disnókö in Hungary.

Tim Bell has been named winemaker at Freemark Abbey in Napa Valley. Bell joined the winery in 1996, following a stint at Arroyo Seco Vineyards.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates has tapped veteran Randy Ullom to head up its South American wine program. Ullom will oversee winemaking at Calina in Chile and Tapiz in Argentina.
Tom Rinaldi, executive winemaker at Napa's Duckhorn Vineyards, has left his post there to become winemaker and general manager for Chalone Wine Group's new Napa-based red-wine program.


Cult wines ruled on a warm California weekend in early June, as this year's 20th annual Napa Valley Wine Auction blew away all previous bidding records: total money raised for charities, the highest price ever paid for an individual bottle of wine, highest bid on a single lot, and highest cumulative individual total.

For proof that times are good in the infant stages of the new millennium, one had only
to witness the seven-hour live-auction marathon—the Saturday main event—which provided a front-and-center stage for a half-dozen high rollers to aggressively compete for trophy lots from the likes of Araujo, Colgin, Dalla Valle, Harlan, and Screaming Eagle.

If any one lot captured the mood and excitement of the event—and that's what the Napa auction has become—it was the six-liter bottle of the inaugural vintage of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, arguably the wine currently sitting atop the cult heap. The Screaming Eagle ignited a take-no-prisoners bid-a-thon between Texas steakhouse magnate Dee Lincoln, last year's top bidder, and newcomer Chase Bailey, who triumphed with a jaw-dropping bid of $500,000, on his way to more than $1.7 million in purchases and the all-time individual donor record.

"There was no limit on the Screaming Eagle," Bailey later confirmed. The retired co-founder of SGI and Cisco Systems explained that "this auction falls right into our two loves—charity and wine. My wife [Susan] and I have the money and we love spending it on great wines and the charities this auction supports. It just makes you feel good. And you can't take it with you."

But the Baileys, who reside in Incline Village, Nevada, did take the Screaming Eagle with them, and what a rare wine it is. It's one of only two six-liter bottles from the winery's first vintage (1992), and owner Jean Phillips insists that its mate will never be sold or auctioned off. Gazing admiringly at the Bailey's prized bottle, one wag observed, "I just hope it isn't corked."

"Kaleidoscope 2000," from the Greek for "beautiful form," was the festive theme of this year's auction, chaired by Nancy Andrus of Pine Ridge. From the writhing, twisting, multicolored installations by Northwest glass master Dale Chihuly that graced the grounds of Meadowood, the auction's perennial host, to a high-decibel Friday-night performance by Patti LaBelle, to countless nibbles, noshes and Napa wines, this auction once again proved that the art of gracious living is alive and well in the heart of California wine country. A total of $9.5 million was raised for various Napa health care charities, simply a staggering amount when you consider that the first auction, in 1981, raised $140,000.

This year's staging of the world's largest charity wine event (attendance topped 2,000 people) hewed close to tradition, while still managing to embellish the tried-and-true formula with inspired new touches. The official kick-off, Thursday's barrel tasting and auction, held at Silverado Vineyards, invited strolling, munching, and sipping amid the cool barrel rooms of the winery. Inside, bidding on case lots gleaned from half-barrels donated by 66 wineries got off to a raucous start. (Advice to newcomers: Arrive early and hit the barrel tasting room first, before the crush arrives.) It's a great opportunity to chat with some of the world's best winemakers while sipping their crown jewels right out of the barrel.

Among the stellar wines being sold and sampled from the barrel this year: the sensuous 1999 Dalla Valle Maya (which ultimately brought in a record-breaking $33,000 for the first case, and $198,000 for the ten-case "barrel"); a dense, spicy 1998 Joseph Phelps Auction Reserve Insignia; and a stunning 1997 Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon (which sold for $131,500, down slightly from last year's $161,250). Clos Pegase winemaker Steve Rogstad was pouring his 1998 Hommage Artist Series Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which will be bottled this fall with the same label as the original 1988 wine. That controversial image, a reproduction of Jean Dubuffet's brightly tiled nude male, was censored by the BATF. "This time," promised Rogstad, "we'll reissue it in the 'Full Monty' version."

Also on display Thursday were smaller lots in the silent Cellar Builder and Private Donor auctions, open for bidding at the barrel tasting for the first time. They ranged from the simple (Lot 401, a single bottle of 1995 Screaming Eagle, which ultimately sold for $9,000) to the sentimental (Lot 407, a signed vertical of all of the Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard Cabernets from the original, prephylloxera plantings) to the sensational (Lot 413, a mind-boggling collection of 107 magnums, which went for $50,000).

On Friday evening, with the sun shining and a breeze wafting across the Meadowood grounds, a tent city was inhabited by a sea of "penguins," as formal attire was in full force for the Vintners' Gala. A brilliant orange-red Chihuly glass sculpture, looking like some huge sea vegetable, dominated the surroundings, with smaller pieces planted in the gardens and floating in the fountains. The artist himself, strikingly attired in a cobalt-blue shirt and lime-yellow pants, provided a kaleidoscopic counterpoint to the tide of black and white. Also breaking the mold was winemaker Robert Sinskey, whose black slacks and jacket only partially covered a luminous tie-dye T-shirt. "I thought they said it was black tie-dye," he joked. (Apparently, Sinskey was still recovering from his own Thursday night party, dubbed the "Electric Pinot Acid Test," for which guests were required to dress as dead rock stars. "We had two Janis Joplins, two Jim Morrisons, a pair of Jimis, a Mama Cass, and me as John Lennon," he reported.)

Friday night's sit-down dinner, ably orchestrated by Holly Mondavi, was followed by a brief, galvanizing performance by the multioctave Patti LaBelle, and dancing into the night.

Unlike last year when Michael Jordan towered over the crowd, celebrities were in short supply, though former Saturday Night Live cast member Rob Schneider was spotted holding court among a group of admirers. Winemaker Michael Martini, whose father Louis was the first auction chairman 20 years ago, noted how the crowd has changed over the years. "It's an evolution. I think we're just starting to become an international auction."

On Saturday morning, party-goers intent on rehydration and fueling themselves on a superb brunch regrouped and reassembled for the main event. It lacked only boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer to declare it a rumble, because bidding at the live auction would be fierce. Lead auctioneer Fritz Hatton of Christie's banged the gavel shortly past noon, opening the proceedings with the energy and gyrations of a human windmill, pointing, pushing, and prodding the crowd into a wine-swilling, paddle-pumping frenzy. Lot 1, a magnum from each of the 66 barrel-auction wineries, went to Lincoln, co-owner of the Del Frisco's steakhouse empire, for a healthy $60,000, and the race for who would be bestowed with next year's paddle number one was on. "It's a long day, there's a lot of heavy hitters in this crowd," said Lincoln, pretty in pink and ready to party. "We're gonna participate, buy smart, and see what happens."

By the time the gavel came down on Lot 10, a ten-year vertical of Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in magnums that went to Chase Bailey for $270,000, it was clear that the week's renewed NASDAQ ebullience was going to carry over into the auction itself.

It didn't take long for Lot 17, a case of 750s and one nine-liter bottle of 1997 Montagia Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon made by Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia and legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, to ramp up to $210,000, especially when dinner for six with the winemakers was tossed in. Lot 25, a six-liter bottle of Colgin Cellars 1997 Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, brought the crowd to its feet with a short-lived single-bottle record bid of $220,000 by Ona Roth of Santa Barbara, who proclaimed it "a damn good wine," and herself "a happy camper."

In between the Colgin and the Screaming Eagle blockbuster there were still more high points: $270,000 for Lot 30, lunch for six at Dalla Valle and eight magnums of Maya—1990 through 1997; $230,000 for the Chair's Lot, which included a large Chihuly bowl and 20 different Pine Ridge Cabernets; $170,000 for Lot 90, dinner for eight at Far Niente with four six-liter bottles of the winery's Cabernet.

As the afternoon began to wear down, big bidders vying for the top spot waited for two trophy lots to come up. Lot 164, a ten-vintage magnum vertical of Harlan Estate in a gorgeous turn-of-the-century leather-bound carrying case, went to B.A. Adams of Patterson, Louisiana, last year's second-place bidder, for an all-time single-lot record of $700,000. The final lot (166), a full-tilt Napa Valley "experience" for two, brought another half-million dollars from Bailey, propelling him over the $1.7 million mark and earning him the rights to paddle number one should he return next year. Will he be coming back in 2001 to defend his title? "I certainly hope so," he grinned, "but we had a hard time getting a ticket this year." Note to auction 2001 co-chairpersons Robert and Margrit Mondavi: You might want to set aside tickets for the Baileys right now.

By any standard the 20th incarnation of this increasingly high-profile gathering was a smashing success. First-time visitor Georg Riedel, the Austrian glassware guru, summed up his feelings this way: "I'm amazed. I've never seen a gathering of people who are so crazy, and blowing all this money for seriously good purposes. It shows that wine has reached a level of perception where there are no limits."

"I'm totally overwhelmed. Never in my wildest imagination did I anticipate this incredible result," said auction chairperson Nancy Andrus. "It reflects the generosity of the vintners, the dedication of more than 1,000 community volunteers, committee members, and the bidders—both longtime supporters and new friends."

As everyone cooled down under clear skies at an event-ending outdoor salmon roast, Robert Mondavi, charged with upping the record again next year, gave the benediction. "I've always said that the difficult things we do right away; the impossible takes a little bit longer. Go home and earn lots of money," he advised all within earshot, "and come back next year [Ed. note: June 7-10, 2001] ready to spend!"

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