News and Notes from the World of Wine

Bond Has License to Thrill
Harlan project releases new single-vineyard Cabs

California’s royal family of cult Cabernets just got a little bigger. In May, wines under the new Bond label hit the market. This new brand, from Harlan Estate owner Bill Harlan, is unique in several respects.
According to Harlan and his longtime winemaker, Bob Levy, Bond will consist of several Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, all bottled under the Bond label, but with differing vineyard designations.

The first two Bond releases, both 1999s, are Vecina, from a vineyard near the Harlan Estate in the Oakville hills, and Melbury, from a vineyard southeast of St. Helena. About 2,400 bottles of each were produced.

A third wine, St. Eden, from the 2001 vintage, will follow. The total number of vineyards to be branded under the Bond umbrella will be no more than five, Harlan says.

Levy says the Bond concept is "very similar" to that of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the famous Burgundy estate of six vineyards. Harlan does not own the Bond vineyards, but contracts with their owners, who have to be invited to join the stable of thoroughbreds. At the current time, he adds, he and Levy are considering several other additions to the club.

Levy makes the wines at a facility on the Harlan Estate property, and Harlan handles the sales. The first Bond wines were offered to the several thousand people on Harlan Estate’s waiting list, on the condition that they buy a bottle of both Vecina and Mulbery at a price of $150 per bottle.
A few bottles, says Harlan, will find their way into selected restaurants and shops.
The word "Bond" comes from its meaning as a covenant, says Harlan.

"This is a covenant between us and the grower, to produce a wine that brings out the best expression of that particular site." Planning for Bond began in the 1980s, "and we plan on being around for many generations," Harlan adds.

Levy already is searching for a young protégé to take over the winemaking reins at Bond for the day when he retires. "[Levy] needs to have someone…to be able to begin to pass on the things that he’s learned over the next 10, 15 years," Harlan declares.

Wine deemed not suitable for Bond will go into a second wine, called Matriarch, which will be a blend of fruit from the Bond vineyards. The 1999 Matriarch costs $50 a bottle.

For Editor at Large Jeff Morgan’s tasting notes on the 1999 Bond Vecina and Bond Melbury, see this month’s Buying Guide.

—Steve Heimoff


Out Of The Closet, Into The Bottle
Rainbow Ridge Winery debuts Lodi Alicante Bouschet

California’s—and probably, the world’s—first gay-themed wine is out, so to speak, and its marketing strategy is hardly subtle. Rainbow Ridge Winery’s label features a rainbow-swirled grape cluster; their advertising motto is "We’re Coming Out!" The new winery also vows to contribute to charities such as the Gay & Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada and the AIDS Project Los Angeles.

"Why not have a gay company?" asks co-founder Dennis Costa. In fact, when Rainbow Ridge goes public and issues stock later this year, it will be "the first gay company IPO" in history, he adds. It may also be a shrewd business move. For years, the alcoholic beverage industry has poured more and more money into advertising geared toward the gay market. Advertising in gay media is one of the fastest-growing niches in publishing, and the average income of gay consumers, more than $57,000, is nearly double that of the average U.S. wage earner. Gays also tend to be more brand-loyal than other consumers, and studies suggest they are more likely to buy gay-friendly products and services.

"With all these corporate companies like Smirnoff and Absolut coming after our gay dollars, why shouldn’t we have a gay company going after our own dollars, and giving back to the community?" Costa asks.

But Rainbow Ridge is meant for everyone, not just gays, he insists. "The company happens to be gay, but we make good wine. A lot of our investors are straight, and we have spillover into the mainstream."

The only Rainbow Ridge wine produced so far is a $20 Alicante Bouschet, but Chardonnay and Merlot will follow, Costa says. All of the grapes come from a vineyard in Lodi that’s owned by Costa’s cousin. Before Costa started the winery with his business and life partner, Tom Beatty, the grapes were sold to Gallo and the Bronco Wine Company.

Gay-themed or not, the Alicante Bouschet is quite good—one of the best of that variety I’ve ever had. I gave it a 91-point rating on Wine Enthusiast’s 100-point scale. Costa says Rainbow Ridge started with Alicante because "it was something different and unique, like us gay people." Only 2,000 cases of the 2001 Alicante were produced, but Costa says Rainbow Ridge is aiming at producing 24,000 cases, of a range of varietals, by next year, with all of the grapes coming from his cousin’s vineyard.

Costa and Beatty, who reside in Las Vegas, are not shy about their ambitions. Estimating the size of the gay market at $800 billion, Costa says, "I’d like to get a half-percent of that. Is it a reality? Who knows. But we’re going after it!"
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—Steve Heimoff

Q&A Wolf Blass Maker of wine, lover of women (and screwcaps)

Wolf Blass is the man who almost single-handedly started Australia down the road toward wine respectability. Born in the former East Germany, he studied and practiced viticulture and winemaking in West Germany for eight years before emigrating first to England and then to Australia, where he served as a "roving wine consultant" for five years, working for $2.50 per hour and traveling the nation in an old VW Beetle.

In 1966, Blass produced his first vintage of 3,000 bottles; in 1973, he started his own winery with $2,000, 2.5 acres and an old army shed. By the mid-1970s, Blass was already winning awards for his wines and was well underway in his quest to revolutionize the way Australians both made and drank wine.

Wine Enthusiast: Are you more Australian or are you German?
Wolf Blass: Oh, I’m bloody Australian all right.

WE: Any German bones still in you?
WB: No, not really. But I’m very proud that I have been educated in Germany. My final wish will be to bring out a Riesling in combination with one of the leading wine companies in Germany, to promote Riesling for the benefit of Riesling, which the Germans have been unable to do. I think that we Australians can turn the bloody thing around.
WE: How do you feel about the real cork versus fake cork versus screwcap controversy?
WB: For Riesling, that’s already been decided. There will be no more Riesling coming out of Australia or being drunk in Australia with cork. It’s compulsory, take it or leave it, full stop.

WE: How does the marriage of food and wine motivate your winemaking philosophy?
WB: This hogwash that the French are going to tell you, that ‘this is the best for that and this is the best for that’—I don’t believe in that. If you want to drink a red wine with your fish, that’s good enough for me.
It’s also the company that’s important. If you have a beautiful woman next to you, it’s what the woman wants to drink, not what you want to drink. You keep her happy. If you can’t keep a woman happy, you may just as well bloody give up.
WE: Say you meet a 35-year-old woman who has never before tasted wine. What do you serve her?
WB: That’s a good question. I believe that a very flirtatious white wine is going to be the stepping stone to get a nondrinking female into wine.

WE: Same question, but for a man?
WB: He’s a bloody fool if he doesn’t drink wine.

—Stephen Beaumont

Wine Enthusiast Toast Of The Town 2003
Wine and food create beautiful music at Lincoln Center

New York’s Lincoln Center was the setting for Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town, the annual event that brings winemakers, chefs and the wine-loving public together for a glittering, unforgettable evening.

On May 19th, more than 1,200 Big Apple enophiles converged on the New York State Theater promenade and its outdoor terrace that overlooks the Center’s famous fountain. In this spacious and graceful setting, representatives of 60 wineries from all over the world poured samples of their wines, and chefs from 26 New York-area restaurants offered plates of their fine cuisine. The music of a jazz ensemble mingled with the excited conversations and laughter, and a great time was had by all.

View our slide show



Pulling the Tab on Wine?

Aussies bring wine in a can to U.S. market

The days of lugging bottles and corkscrews could be a thing of the past. This month, thanks to Australia’s Woomba Wines/ Gowrie Mountain Estates, consumers can belly up to the bar and order a can of Bud…and a can of Chardonnay.

Simply called "Aussie Wine," Woomba’s wines, packaged in 250-ml aluminum cans, will be sold retail at liquor stores and some supermarkets, as well as in cafes, pubs and bars. In stores, the wine will be sold in 1-liter boxes, each containing four cans. In bars and pubs customers can purchase single cans of the Chardonnay and Cabernet-Shiraz.

"Aussie Wine will be suitable for home use when…there is no need to open an entire bottle" of wine, says James Newbury, marketing director of Woomba Wines. But in this "fast-paced world where convenience is a critical part of day-to-day life," we need to remember the simple pleasures, he says.

Does wine in a can taste good? You’d be surprised. The Chard is especially nice, with white stone fruit flavors and a chalky mouthfeel. The Cab-Shiraz is a good quaffing wine with caramelly accents, but also has slight herbal and metallic notes, despite the cans’ "revolutionary" lining, designed to keep them tasting fresh rather than metallic.
The real question is, will wine lovers give up the cork (or the screwcap) for a pull tab? Only time will tell.

Aussie Wine retails for $8-10 for a one-liter box (four 250-ml cans).

—Phillip Morson

Jean-Pierre Moueix Dies

Jean-Pierre Moueix, one of the most important and influential—and least known—personalities in the Bordeaux wine trade, died on March 28 at the age of 89.

Moueix, by far the leading fine wine merchant of Pomerol and St.-Emilion, had acquired Château Pétrus in 1969, and was also the proprietor of several other Pomerol chateaus, including Trotanoy, La Fleur Pétrus and Lagrange, as well as Magdelaine in St.-Emilion.
"My parents owned Chateau Fonroque, in St.-Emilion, where I grew up," Moueix recalled in a conversation some years ago, "and, like the good peasant that I was, I took my valise and my umbrella and traveled to northern France and Belgium. Soon my neighbors asked me to sell their wines, too, and I founded Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1937, when I was 23."

At the time, the wines of Pomerol and St.-Emilion were not widely known. A significant turning point occurred in 1947, when Moueix was granted the exclusive representation for Château Pétrus and began to establish the chateau’s reputation in England and the U.S. Pétrus, with Moueix promoting the wine, became—to use the French expression—the locomotive that pulled the rest of Pomerol behind it.
Another important milestone for Moueix resulted from a severe frost that hit Bordeaux in February 1956.

"No one paid much attention at the time," Moueix remembered, "but a knowledgeable friend of the family examined the vineyards and announced, "You will never have a harvest." I bought everything I could find of the 1955 crop, and three months later my stocks tripled in price." As it turned out, the total 1956 crop in Pomerol was fewer than 1,500 cases. That year, Moueix acquired Duclot, a négociant business in Bordeaux that gave him an important presence in the Médoc and Graves.

Moueix was a tall, imposing figure with formal manners, a deep voice and a somewhat theatrical way of speaking. He entertained visitors at his home, Château Videlot, which overlooks the Dordogne river, and is perhaps even more famous for its revolving collection of 20th-century art than for its wine cellar. Over the years works by Picasso, Vlaminck, Derain, de Stael, Lichtenstein and Warhol have been on display there. More recently, the collection featured a number of paintings by Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon, including a triptych portrait of Moueix commissioned by his sons. Christian has been in charge of the vineyards since 1970 and runs the Moueix firm in Libourne; Jean-Francois is director of Duclot in Bordeaux.

Although Moueix began his career as a traveling wine salesman, in later years he rarely traveled on business. Once, when I mentioned this, Moueix replied, "You know, I have been very fortunate. Sooner or later, everyone comes to see me at Videlot."

—Alexis Bespaloff

Read Between The Guys

Italian sommelier-publisher’s newest vino da leggere dedicated to gay culture

If "flinty" and "slatey" apply equally to Clint Eastwood and certain dry whites, then a smooth, full-bodied yet bold Nebbiolo called "Rosso Gayardo," the first wine dedicated to gay culture, is surely the Rock Hudson of wines.

The producer is Roman sommelier-publisher Roberto Massari, who says he’s not gay but calls himself an "escapee from conformity."

"I’ve always been close to the gay movement and published books about gays," says Massari. "This wine has been my dream for years."

"Gargliardo," the Italian word for "bold," sounds like "gayardo" when spoken with a Roman accent. The wine, which sells for 10 Euros a bottle, is the latest of Massari’s playfully titled line of literary wines called "Vini da Leggere," or "Wines to Read." In Italy, Massari’s labels are legally classified as books, and are sold in bookstores.

"The front and back labels are equivalent to cover and text," he explains. "In Italy, one page qualifies as a book."

The first 160 bottles sold immediately, prompting a second run. His compass points toward profits and California, the critical market for success. Gayardo isn’t available in the States yet, but expect it to come out soon.
For more information, visit erre-emme.

—Angela Frucci


Pennsylvania Opens Its Doors to Great Wine Second annual event high on big-name winemakers, top bottlings

The Second Annual Philadelphia Wine Festival, held this past May 1,
may be one of the newest festivals in the country, but it’s becoming one of the best. The 800 wine lovers who snapped up tickets to the festival’s grand tasting lingered over 1993 vintages of Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild; 1997 Château Margaux, 1999 Gaja Barbaresco, and bottlings from 95 other wineries pouring 316 different vintages. And they didn’t have to climb over other festival-goers to sample them.

"I went through all these [wineries]…to make sure that the wine lover was overwhelmed by the choices here," explained Jonathan Newman, chairman of Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board, who also put together an on-site shop where tasters could purchase their favorite wines on their way out. "I doubt that there is any other event in America that has this many of the greatest winemakers in the world in one place."

Indeed, the wines being poured, and the sea of famous faces, were both overwhelming. What brought Michael Mondavi, Gina Gallo, Dick Cakebread, Warren Winiarski, Walt and Joan Flowers, Renzo Cottarella, Mario Andretti, and four dozen other wine luminaries from around the world, to a city that’s not exactly acknowledged as America’s wine cellar? Newman himself, it seems, who is called both a "visionary leader" and "one of the great merchants" by his colleagues.

Since assuming the chairmanship last August, Newman and the PLCB have been instrumental in persuading the state to rescind legislation prohibiting Sunday sales; the PLCB has also introduced premium collection wine departments in stores across Pennsylvania. The festival also marked the first in-store sparkling wine tasting the state’s had in over 80 years. Again, Newman’s doing.

"Would you believe that this was even possible five years ago?" asked Michael Mondavi.

The week’s festivities kicked off on April 26, with a series of seminars and winemaker dinners held throughout the week; the grand tasting was reprised in Pittsburgh on May 2. Next year, says Newman, expect the tasting to be held in a bigger venue.

—Daryna McKeand

Published on July 1, 2003