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WineSpectator.com: News & Features
  • A Clash Between Cotton and Cabernet? (Wine Spectator)

    The Texas High Plains has the potential to be a grapegrower's paradise. This plateau near the New Mexico border is now home to nearly 5,000 acres planted to wine grapes. Summer delivers warm days and cool nights, and dry winds make fungal diseases a non-issue.

    This is traditionally cotton country, yet with recent drought conditions and a growing recognition of the economic possibilities of wine, vine plantings in the region have exploded over the past 10 years. The second-largest appellation in the state, the Texas High Plains AVA supplies approximately 80 percent of the grapes used by Texas wineries.

    But now there's a conflict between cotton and grapes. Many Texas High Plains growers say they've been hit by "pesticide drift"—strong chemicals are being sprayed on neighbors' cotton fields, then carried by wind into their vineyards. The resulting damage can be devastating. According to Pierre Helwi, Texas A&M University AgriLife viticulture specialist, farmers are experiencing deformed leaves, reduced crop yield and even dying vines.

    "It's huge," said Bobby Cox, vineyard consultant and winegrower at Pheasant Ridge Winery in Lubbock. "It's the biggest threat that I've seen and I've been farming grapes here for over 40 years."

    Drifting trouble

    The conflict between cotton and wine is rooted in current conventional cotton farming methods. Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have developed pesticide-resistant corn and cotton seeds that farmers purchase in tandem with very heavy-duty chemicals such as Monsanto's Roundup. The idea is that farmers can plant resistant crop varieties and then spray their fields with the appropriate chemicals, killing all troublesome weeds and insects, but sparing the resistant plants.

    Unfortunately, the weeds have grown resistant to Roundup and other sprays. Agricultural companies have responded with herbicides that pack a bigger punch, including Monsanto's Dicamba and Dow's 2,4-D. But those more powerful sprays appear to be impacting vines too, drifting into neighboring fields. Numerous grapegrowers have reported damaged vines. Dicamba makes leaves curl up, while 2,4-D makes leaves fan out at an awkward angle and develop odd bumps. Either way, it saps the plant and the ripening fruit of needed energy.

    "Dicamba damage even affects fermentation and the way the wines taste," said Cox, who had many vines damaged from pesticide drift in 2016. "They're not exactly bad, they are just different in a very definitive way. All of the winemakers I've worked with could easily make that identification. It doesn't take a supertaster to recognize them."

    Pesticide drift is by no means confined to Texas. In 2004, California vintners Chuck McMinn of Vineyard 29 and Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars claimed that sprays being used in a state park caused widespread damage to their vineyards, killing vines and spoiling fruit, and ultimately causing as much as $500,000 in loss of small-production wines. Turley claimed that "drift from the spray came down the highway, obliterated fruit from my vines and nuked the crop off my olive trees. It killed the vegetable garden at my house, my hydrangeas, privet, roses and anything that's fast-growing."

    While state parks officials admitted to a massive spraying, they denied any wrongdoing, claiming that park employees applied the product strictly according to instructions on the product label. Ultimately the Napa County Department of Agriculture levied a $4,000 fine upon the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and recommended that Turley and McMinn "drop fruit and seek compensation," which amounted to pennies on the dollar.

    A report published last month by the University of Missouri, suggests that drift of Dicamba this year has damaged over 1 million acres of vulnerable crops across the country. When asked how big a threat pesticide drift is to wine grapes in Texas, Helwi, who monitors vineyards throughout the region, says he's seen drift damage in 90 percent to 95 percent of the vineyards in the region.

    Collaboration over confrontation

    Katy Jane Seaton is executive director of the High Plains Winegrape Growers Association, and like many grape growers in the region, she also grows cotton. She says that this is "not necessarily a farmer-on-farmer issue. The railroad and the Texas State Department of Transportation regularly spray 2,4-D, as do private venues, city and county agencies, and landscape companies to name a few. We haven't had a chemical inspector in Terry County for more than a year."

    Culpability in pesticide drift cases is often hard to prove. "We've got 5 million acres of cotton and just 5,000 acres of grapes," said Seaton. "Chemical companies have us outgunned financially, legally and legislatively. I think they have a responsibility in this that they aren't quite claiming yet. We need to encourage discussion about how we're gonna make it work for all of us."

    Some authorities believe that the problem lies not so much with the pesticides themselves, but in improper application methods. "Texas A&M has done many trainings in the proper application of herbicides," said Helwi. "We've got high winds here, so it's especially important to observe label directions when applying pesticides." Texas A&M's "Hit the Target" program allows farmers to register the location of their fields, the type of crops being grown in them, and any particular pesticide sensitivities so that others can avoid accidentally damaging a neighbor's crops while spraying.

    "We are all trying to be the best stewards that we can," said Seaton. "Nobody gets up in the morning wanting to harm their own crop, their neighbor's crop or make a negative impact on the environment."


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  • Wine Talk: Josh Groban's Pinot Noir Philanthropy (Wine Spectator)

    Note: This interview has been updated from its original version, which appeared in the Oct. 15 & 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator, "New York City: A Wine Lover's Guide."

    With worldwide album sales surpassing 30 million copies, four Grammy nominations and consistently sold-out shows on some of the world's biggest stages, Josh Groban has been a star vocalist since his teens, with singles like "You Raise Me Up" making him a household name. Since then, he's been adding even more titles to his impressive résumé, including actor, philanthropist … and vintner.

    Groban's big wine break came in 2017 when he met Sonoma boutique winery owner Ross Halleck, who offered to make a limited-edition wine to benefit Groban's arts-education charity, the Find Your Light Foundation. Since then, the original 2014 vintage and current 2015 vintage of the Find Your Light Pinot Noir have together raised $125,000 from 250 cases produced.

    Groban, 37, now regularly visits Halleck's Sebastopol, Calif., winery himself to learn more about winemaking—and make his wine. In May, he was on hand to help assemble the 2017 Find Your Light blend, made primarily with grapes from the Haas Vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA.

    With his new album, Bridges, and Netflix show with Tony Danza, The Good Cop, both set to come out Sept. 21, Groban spoke with assistant editor Lexi Williams about learning the tricks of blending after a few vintages' experience, how he caught the wine bug, and what wine and food sacrifices he has to make on tour.

    Lysbett Valles
    Josh Groban on a May 2018 visit to Halleck, when he helped blend the 2017 Find Your Light Pinot Noir.

    Wine Spectator: When did you first get into wine?
    Josh Groban: Uh, when I was 16 years old—is that illegal? No, I'm just kidding. I guess in my mid-20s. I had a lot of people around me, people that I worked with, that were really knowledgeable about wine. I enjoyed hanging with sommeliers and asking them endless questions.

    WS: How did you become more deeply involved to the point where you wanted to try actually making wine?
    JG: There are a lot of parallels between the wine community and the music community—the attention to detail, the importance of the craft of it and the way in which it's made. I started to connect with [the wine] world just as an amateur wine-loving fan. I would drive up to Napa with my dog and meet with people who were, at the time, [starting] new wineries. And it's fun, because those wineries wind up becoming, you know, Hourglass and D.R. Stephens, and a lot of other places. It's been a lot of fun to learn about wine, to collect, to get involved. It's a passion.

    [The Find Your Light collaboration] happened as sometimes the most serendipitous things happen. My manager was talking to a friend, and that person mentioned Ross and his winery. We found out that he was an amazing guy and that he shared a passion for arts education. We reached out to him and asked if there was any way he'd like to collaborate, and he stepped up.

    WS: Now that you've had two blending sessions under your belt for the 2016 and '17, do you feel like your winemaking know-how is improving?
    JG: The blending this time around was quicker, because we went through such an exhausting blend the first time around, where we had 15 glasses laid out, and we really tried so many different percentages and so many different types of barrels and different vineyards and different lots. I was so interested, [and] because it was my first time doing it, I think I kind of exhausted myself in the process. I was trying to drink it all in, literally and figuratively.

    This time around, because of the experience that I've had with Ross and [winemaker] Rick Davis doing it the last time, [we knew] what we wanted it to taste like. [My] palate is a little more knowledgeable. You kind of know what you want to achieve, and you also know what it is you're tasting for—not just what you're tasting in that moment right out of the barrels, but what you're tasting for two years from now.

    WS: You're about to embark on an international arena tour in October. Will you have wine stocked on your tour bus?
    JG: Right now I'm dreaming of wine and not drinking a whole lot of it. Alcohol just dries out your vocal cords. Cheese is another one! I love cheese, but I can't really eat it while I'm on tour. You kind of have to shelve some of your food and drink loves in order to do your job the best that you possibly can. And then when the tour's over, you go buy as much wine as you want. I think when you give it up for a minute, it makes it that much more enjoyable when you finally get to open that bottle that you've been saving.

    WS: Do you plan to pursue wine any further?
    JG: That is definitely a goal. One thing that I've learned from working with Ross and meeting so many incredible winemakers and proprietors around the country, specifically around the area where we have made Find Your Light, is that so much goes into it. You need to have not just an excitement for wine—there's an expertise and a passion that takes so much energy to really make great wine.

    My quick answer would be yes, it has been a dream of mine to continue to collaborate with great winemakers and continue to learn more … That would be a great way to continue my journey through this love of wine that I have. But it takes a lot of work. So right now, I'm very happy doing this for the foundation and fulfilling a lot of the checkmarks I have inside for the things that I love.

  • Unfiltered: Wine Smugglers' Lair Found? Hidden Doorway, Bottle Stash Uncovered in Scottish Castle Caves (Wine Spectator)

    Culzean Castle is a picture-perfect fairytale edifice atop bluffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde, a 1792 masterpiece of neo-romantic architecture even gracing the Royal Bank of Scotland's 5-pound note until recently. But under the veneer of respectability—literally under—the occupants of the property, Scottish earls of Clan Kennedy, likely conducted less savory business in a series of caves beneath the castle. An archaeological dig last month revealed a previously hidden doorway to one of the two caves, as well as a trove of 18th-century wine-bottle fragments and other goodies, possibly obtained through the dubious channels of smugglers.

    Derek Alexander/NTS
    The previously hidden doorway through which many a keg may or may not have been rolled.

    "The width of the newly discovered door suggests it is wide enough to roll barrels through," Derek Alexander, lead project researcher and head of archaeological services for the National Trust for Scotland, told Unfiltered via email. "And I imagine that wine (claret and Port) and spirits (brandy) were transported in these (both legally and smuggled?)." The Kennedys occupied the tony property on the Ayrshire coast (it's pronounced "cull-lane") and oversaw construction of the present-day castle by architect Robert Adam, but the current Lord Kennedy "freely admits" that his ancestors were frilled-collar criminals whose taste for the finer things was rivaled only by their distaste for paying taxes on them.

    Derek Alexander/NTS
    A smattering of wine-bottle shards

    Evidence suggests the caves are where castle staff received, sorted and stored supplies and sundries from ships arriving on the beach, away from the prying eyes of the crown's revenue collectors. Once inside, "wine and spirits may then have been recanted into bottles," explained Alexander. "I imagine that more expensive items would have been transferred up to the castle quickly." The wine bottle shards found during excavations are "generally dark green glass from hand-made blown bottles," said Alexander, which means they predate the mid-19th century. "There is a range of shapes and sizes, but some appear to be quite stumpy mallet-shaped bottles with short necks, while others are taller and more cylindrical."

    The discovery of the conveniently-barrel-width doorway fills in a picture of the caves' structure and function. The doorways could be locked and guarded, and a stone hearth in one cave may have been where the guards and watchmen cooked their own nosh while keeping sentry over their bosses' duty-free comestibles. But the caves attracted dwellers and lurkers long before even the castle and Kennedys came along, according to radiocarbon dating: Fish bones and shells indicate people were slinking around (and snacking) down there as early as the Iron Age, around 2,000 years ago.


    Jackson Family Wines Throws Environmental Charity Extravaganza with Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Jane Goodall, Edward Norton, Sofia Loren

    The 20th anniversary celebration of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation on Saturday arrived with no shortage of fireworks: Jackson Park Ranch, the Sonoma home base of Jackson Family Wines was transformed into a series of garden-themed rooms to host a lengthy A-list of environmentally engaged entertainers who helped raise $11 million in grants for the foundation, which funds research and conservation projects in eco-spheres from wildlife protection to green energy.

    Courtesy of Getty Images
    Katie Jackson (left), Julia Jackson and beloved silver screen icon Mark Ruffalo

    Leo himself and cohost Laurene Powell Jobs, along with luminaries like Edward Norton, Tobey Maguire, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Dakota Johnson, Catherine Deneuve, Mark Burnett, Mark Ruffalo and Sophia Loren descended upon Santa Rosa for an evening of food, Jackson Family wines, art and speeches. Co-chair and Jackson Family second-generation proprietor Julia Jackson explained the partnership to Unfiltered via email: "I’m inspired by the work Leonardo and his foundation do to support global projects that protect the earth from climate change and environmental crisis"; she sought out DiCaprio after seeing his climate change documentary Before the Flood.

    Courtesy of Getty Images
    Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Goodall monkeying around

    Guests snacked on greens, herbs, eggs and more from chef Kyle Connaughton's SingleThread Farms and the Kendall Jackson Estate in a "zero waste" reception (leftovers went to Sonoma Family Meal charity), and bid on art like Wayne Thiebaud's Mountain Split, gaveled off for $4 million alone, while sipping Stonestreet Estate Aurora Point Sauvignon Blanc, Gran Moraine rosé from Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, Cambria Estate Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, Hartford Family Winery Four Hearts Chardonnay, and, in the starring role, Vérité La Joie 2006.

    Wine folks in attendance included JFW chairman and 2017 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner Barbara Banke, CEO (and sometime Undercover Boss Rick Tigner) and VP of sustainability and external affairs Katie Jackson, who told Unfiltered, “Our partnership with LDF is a natural fit and stems from mutual respect and our shared desire to protect the natural environment …. At Jackson Family Wines, our sustainability efforts are designed to make wine according to our values and long-term vision, and to look at how we can minimize our environmental footprint."

    For all the glamour and gastronomy, Julia Jackson told us her highlights were the speeches, especially from legendary primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall and Amazon preservation activists Nemonte Nenquimo and Flor Tangoy. The night marked the LDF's total impact surpassing $100 million, but the Jackson partnership continues: They're now the foundation's exclusive wine sponsor and will be supporting a new "Art and Environment" series of events and exhibitions.


    One Small Step for Mumm, One Giant Leap for Wine-Loving Astronauts (and Usain Bolt)

    Champagne house G.H. Mumm pushed its experiments in zero-gravity Champagne even further this month, hosting VIP (g)astronauts Mumm “Chief Entertainment Officer” Usain Bolt and “Master of Celebrations” actress Minnie Dlamini on a zero-G airplane flight and tasting above the vineyards of Reims to inaugurate the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar, the space-ready bottle the house has designed.

    Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist, naturally took the occasion to attempt a sprint sans gravity, as he already holds the land speed records for the 100 and 200 meters.

    The Champagne house announced the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar in June, after a three-year-long quest with design agency Spade to make zero-gravity wine a reality. The resulting unique bottle expels the Champagne, and special flutes collect the floating foamy spheres through the physics of capillary action. If such antics can be replicated beyond the stratosphere, Mumm may be on track to stock the minibars of the first wine hotel in space.


    Jennifer Hudson, Chef Christopher Kostow, Help Staglin Raise $6 Million at Party for Brain Health

    The North Bay, it turned out, was a real hotbed of wine and showbiz star power on Saturday. Over in Napa Valley, Staglin Family Vineyard was throwing a charity fête of its own this weekend. Some 500 guests flocked to the 24th annual Music Festival for Brain Health on Sept. 15, hosted at the Rutherford winery. With a performance by Grammy Award–winning musician Jennifer Hudson, tastings from more than 75 wineries across the country (including Napa's own Abreu, Harlan, Joseph Phelps, Mayacamas and Screaming Eagle, poured in the Staglin’s caves) and a goal of advancing toward cures for brain-related diseases, there was something for every kind of wine lover in this pairing of hedonism and philanthropy. To cap it off, chef Christopher Kostow of Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the Restaurant at Meadowood cooked up dinner.

    Flying Pig Studio
    Jennifer Hudson gets the crowd going.

    “The Music Festival for Brain Health allows us to champion finding the causes of, and cures for, brain illness, which effects everyone in the wine industry and the world either directly or through family and friends,” owner Garen Staglin told Unfiltered. The event raised $6 million to benefit the mental health organization One Mind—contributing to the $380 million total raised by Staglin's festival since its 1995 inception. By all accounts, the festivities were pretty epic: “After a day beginning at noon, at 10 p.m. the ‘party’ was still going strong, with after-dinner dancing, cigars and specialty-crafted bourbon,” said Staglin. “Where else do you get to dance on the stage with Jennifer Hudson?”


    Dragon Boats and Dirt Candy Feature at 'A Second Helping of Life' New York Breast and Ovarian Cancer Charity Bash

    The 15th annual “A Second Helping of Life” event in New York City brought together women chefs, actors, journalists and 750 attendees on Monday for a night of breast and ovarian cancer advocacy, organized by the national nonprofit organization SHARE. The night kicked off with a walk-around tasting featuring international cuisine—from lobster rolls to braised brisket tacos—washed down with myriad pours donated by more than 15 wineries, from Valdo Prosecco to Cesari Mara Valpolicella.

    SHARE
    Some fuel for the dragon-boat race?

    “It’s a high-energy event,” SHARE executive director Jackie Reinhard told Unfiltered. “It’s an incredible commitment that these individuals make, and we’re just grateful for that.” Bites were contributed by participating Big Apple chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy and Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread. The latter portion of the night was dedicated to the event’s honorees, including 48 members of the Empire Dragons—a dragon boat–racing team of breast-cancer survivors. A live auction topped off the festivities, where guests claimed lots like a trip to Paris, contributing to the total of about $500,000 that the event raised. “There’s such a sense of pride,” executive chef of the event Barbara Sibley told Unfiltered. “It’s been a commitment that has really shown to have such a positive impact on so many women.”


    Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

  • Unfiltered: Emmy Wines Behind the Scenes: Stars Dish on Awards Drinks (Wine Spectator)

    Last night's Primetime Emmy Awards featured some familiar honorees—Game of Thrones, 96-year-old national treasure Betty White, and Napa's Sterling Vineyards and Italy's Ferrari Trento costarring as the official still and sparkling wines of the Emmy Awards Season.

    But the night wasn't without primetime-style twists, and the best of them were accompanied by a glass of wine in hand. Here's the scoop on what (wines) went down at the 70th Emmy Awards.

    Sterling Vineyards images from Vince Bucci/Invision/AP; Ferrari Trento images courtesy of Ferrari Trento

    Vince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APVince Bucci/Invision/APCourtesy of Ferrari TrentoCourtesy of Ferrari Trento

    The cast and crew of newcomer The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had a lot to celebrate, taking home the big Outstanding Comedy Series win. One immediate perk: Mrs. Maisel herself, Rachel Brosnahan, was one of the first people to get a taste of the yet-to-be-released Sterling Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 after receiving her own statuette for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, a Sterling rep informed us.

    Awardees George R. R. Martin, Bill Hader and Henry Winkler were also given their own customized bottles of Iridium. “I love Sterling—this is a great wine," first-time winner and longtime nominee Winkler was overheard saying. "But I’ve never had a bottle with my name on it!”

    Director and producer Glenn Weiss certainly earned his personalized bottle, and plenty of occasion for popping it: Upon taking the stage to accept his Emmy for directing … the Oscars (meta), Weiss proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen. Unfiltered does wonder what would've happened if he hadn’t won or she hadn't said yes, but thankfully for everyone, he did and so did she, and the showbiz mogul toasted both his exciting milestones later on with his own bottle of 2015 Iridium.

    In celebration of the awards show's platinum anniversary, the Governor's Ball after-party—typically a formal sit-down dinner in a ballroom—transformed into an outdoor rooftop bash, complete with more than 35 different plates from Patina Catering, directed by chef Joachim Splichal of Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Patina restaurant in Los Angeles. The 4,000 attendees noshed on dishes such as bamboo-spiked prime short rib, "favacado" toast, and their own creations from a DIY baked-potato bar.

    As for the party's booze, Ketel One vodka guest-starred with three Emmys-themed cocktails: "Radiance," "Enlightenment" and "Restoration," which required some 6,000 pounds of ice, 75 pounds of strawberries and 2,400 edible flowers throughout the night, among other garnishes. In addition to Iridium, Sterling also poured its 2015 Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay and 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. On the bubbly side, Ferrari greeted Gov's Ball guests upon arrival with glasses of its Brut Trentodoc, and posted up at its own "Ferrari Bar" to pour its full lineup, including the Brut, Brut Rosé, Perlé 2012 and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2005.

    "We are honored to have been chosen once again as the toast of excellence in television entertainment," Ferrari president and CEO Matteo Lunelli said in a statement provided to Unfiltered. "We are also delighted to bring a touch of Italian lifestyle to this glamorous season of celebration." Cin cin to all who put on the night's memorable performances, both on the stage and behind the bar.


    Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

  • Wine Spectator’s 2018 Video Contest Winner: The Soul of Barolo (Wine Spectator)

    On a summer trip to Piedmont in Italy, Seattle-based filmmaker Will Miceli fell in love with the abundance of great wine and food in the region. But the story of the Abbona family, the owners of Piedmont’s Marchesi di Barolo winery, was what truly won his heart. When it came down to choosing a subject for Wine Spectator’s 2018 Video Contest, spotlighting these vintners was a no-brainer.

    “I [wanted] viewers to get a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the family when they let their guard down,” Miceli told Wine Spectator. “It's cute how they interact with each other, especially while watching a Juventus soccer match in the family room.”

    He captured that vision in “The Soul of Barolo,” the winning video in this year’s contest, chosen by a vote of WineSpectator.com visitors. Running a family business is no small feat, as Miceli makes evident, and Ernesto and Anna Abbona and their adult children, Valentina and Davide, all live busy lives. But the family makes time to catch up over lunch on the terrace.

    “We all gather together around the table to eat, chat about our lives and make new plans—a very Italian concept and a special family time with which we grew up and that we truly cherish,” said Valentina. “That’s why we recreated that moment of pure magic on film.”

    When Miceli wasn’t behind the camera to capture those moments, he was joining the Abbonas for meals. It wasn’t long before they deemed him an honorary member of the family.

    “Davide makes the best tiramisu, my favorite dessert,” said Miceli. “I also got to sit in [Ernesto’s] seat, eat his food and, best of all, drink the 1958 Barolo. It was like a dream.”

    Miceli has won two full weekend passes to Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience, where the video will be screened for more than 1,000 of the event’s attendees.

    The second-place winner, “I am Brian Benson,” keeps family at the forefront. Benson of Brian Benson Cellars shares the story of how he went from helping at his grandfather’s vineyard as a kid to running his own winery in California’s Paso Robles region alongside his wife.

    “I want viewers to see Brian as an interesting and very passionate winemaker by the choices in quality of fruit and his process,” filmmaker Eric Paczkowski told Wine Spectator. From the Los Angeles area, Paczkowski met Benson during a wine-tasting trip to Paso Robles with friends several years ago and thought he would make an inspiring subject.

    The theme of family, mixed with romance, carries through to the third-place winner, “Amore Amarone,” which takes viewers on the journey of a husband and wife as they leave the kids at home to take their dream vacation. After years of promising to take the trip, the couple finally ventures to Italy to rekindle their passion, for each other and for the country’s wines.

    “Going to Italy as a 10-year wedding anniversary did wonders for our marriage,” said Duane Fogwell, an Australian film editor now based in Los Angeles. “We learnt to slow down from our hectic lives, and that it’s OK to have a glass or two of Amarone at lunch.”

    There’s something for everyone to enjoy amid the 2018 contest finalists and honorable mentions: They will make you laugh, feel nostalgic (and perhaps inspired), and might teach you something new about the world of wine. Watch all the winners, finalists and honorable mentions share how wine won their hearts.

  • Unfiltered: Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union Crush It in Napa (Wine Spectator)

    Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, celebrity power couple on court, stage and crushpad, had a Napa-good time this week when they came to town to blend a new 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon for Wade Cellars, the veteran NBA All-Star's winery partnership with the Pahlmeyer family.

    While in the valley, Wade made the most of his trip, checking in on the vineyards where he sources his grapes with Wade Cellars winemaker Jon Keyes. "We spent some time walking the rows, eating grapes off the vine, and discussing vines and vineyards in general," Keyes told Unfiltered. "[Wade] has been super interested in the process from vine to bottle, and he got to experience a lot of it! He even got to drink a birth-year wine, 1982 Cos-d’Estournel."

    The jaunt was more than just business for the wine-loving basketball star (or is he more basketball-playing vintner?). Wade and Union—actor, author of memoir We're Going to Need More Wine and herself a sometime cellar-dabbler—also paid visits to other nearby wineries, including Futo, where they took in a leisurely wine-tasting tour, and Failla, where they got put to work. Union showed off her skills at the sorting table, while Wade fulfilled a longtime off-court bucket-list item by stomping some rookie Pinot Noir grapes.


    Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger Sip Wine, Saber Bottles in Napa

    New Hollywood lovebirds Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger also hit up and lit up Napa wine country this week on a VIP visit to Rutherford's Round Pond Estate. Pratt (Andy from Parks and Recreation; gruff reluctant hero/dinosaur guy in Jurassic World) and Schwarzenegger (eldest scion in the Terminator/governor line of Schwarzeneggers) tasted wines and snapped some pics with friends and family.

    Courtesy of Round Pond
    The couple, bubbly

    In town for Sunday's Mayor's Gala Benefiting the Leaven, which helps bring after-school mentoring and tutoring programs to low-income neighborhoods, the Schwarzenegger-Pratt posse visited the Napa winery on the recommendation of a friend.

    According to Round Pond co-owner Miles MacDonnell, the group kicked off the visit with a toast of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, followed by a tasting of a variety of Round Pond offerings, including the Rosato di Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc and “Gravel Series” Scholar's Gate Cabernet Sauvignon. The Guardians of the Galaxy star even tried his hand at sabering a bottle, though the first attempt was, in his words, an "unprecedented failure." (He got it right eventually.)

    "They were incredibly gracious guests and an absolute blast to spend time with, not to mention unbelievably sweet with our kids (who were all in awe of Star-Lord)," MacDonnell told Unfiltered. "We are looking forward to their next visit."


    For (RED) Charity Bottle, Artist Laolu Senbanjo Thinks in Black and White

    Champagne vending machines? How embarrassingly 2017! New York Fashion Week is here again, and while some may have opted for the classic effervescent wine accessory this fall, vodka house Belvedere took advantage of the occasion to unveil a new bottle design that just might rival this season's looks on the runway: a limited-edition get-up with a full sleeve of artwork by Nigerian artist/designer Laolu Senbanjo. (You might recognize his African tribal-style body art from Beyoncé's Grammy-winning Lemonade album-length video.) “When I find a new project, I search to reveal the inner beauty within each subject, and by stripping it down, anything can be my canvas,” Senbanjo told Unfiltered.

    Courtesy of Belvedere
    Mood: Poland?

    At Belvedere’s recent launch party for the new bottle at the Whitney Museum, Unfiltered had an up-close-and-personal view at the artist's many varied canvases—from the bottles on display to the models wearing his motifs. Sales of the Senbanjo-clad Belvedere ($30), will benefit the non-profit (RED) organization that raises money for the Global Fund to help HIV/AIDS relief efforts in Africa. “Before becoming an artist, Laolu was a human rights attorney in Nigeria focusing on AIDS atrocities against women,” Belvedere CEO Rodney Williams told Unfiltered. “We knew right away he’d be the perfect fit due to our shared beliefs.”


    New York Fashion Week's Hottest Accessory: Rosé Bubbly

    Art bottles are one thing, but other quarters of New York Fashion Week aren't exactly known for exhibitions of sensible style. But there's at least one other #lewk from this season's festivities Unfiltered can get behind. Wearing an outfit straight from the designer Brandon Maxwell's runway show, which she had walked in the night before, supermodel Gigi Hadid showed up to Sunday night's Business of Fashion 500 gala sporting a clear plastic purse that seemed to only contain one item: a bottle of sparkling rosé.

    Instagram / @brandonmaxwell
    Nothing is blind in fashion, even wine tasting.

    No word on what kind of sparker it was, or who made it. (The label reads "Brandon Maxwell Spring Summer 2019," so you know it's part of the outfit, not just a BYO attempt gone wrong.) Here's hoping that Hadid at least shared the contents of her bag with other fashion-forward partygoers, and perhaps that Maxwell can create a custom tote for fellow designer and notorious wineglass "borrower" Rihanna.


    Wine Australia Shoots for Social Media Stardom with Chinese Twinfluencers

    If you think you've seen a lot of Australian wine on the airwaves and interwebs lately, you're not crazy. First, Wine Australia tried going viral in the U.S., assisting with a Crocodile Dundee remake/spoof and Late Night segment wooing Amber Ruffin with Moscato and marmite. Now the organization's spendy creatives are training their sights (and a recent $50 million Australian grant for promoting Oz wine) on connecting with China's cool kids, through social media influencers the Chufei Churan twins, Yoni and Joyce, sometimes billed as the "Chinese Kardashians."

    For the occasion of Chinese e-commerce platform Tmall's 9.9 Global Wine and Spirits Festival, Yoni and Joyce were flown Down Under to put in the yeowoman's work of showing off Australia's wine wares to their 1 million followers on networks like Weibo (Chinese Instagram/Twitter/Myspace) and Taobao (Chinese eBay/Etsy/… Craigslist?). They hit up locales like the Sydney Fish Market and Koi Dessert Bar to taste everything from Yellow Tail bubbly to St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet, but a planned tour around vineyards in South Australia had to be scrapped over “extreme weather” concerns, as Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark explained to Unfiltered via email (it’s not harvesttime down there, at least). “Australian products are so premium,” the pair said in a statement provided to Unfiltered, of the trip. “Everything is such good quality, like the wine, food and even the water—it is so clean.”

    Wine Australia
    In the Southern Hemisphere, all selfies capture in portrait mode. Chufei (center) and Churan (right).

    While no influencer in the Middle Kingdom has more sway than the government over which wines get big sales and which get you sent to prison, Wine Australia's latest gambit goes well beyond squeezing its products into selfies with internet celebs and koalas: Tmall is an e-commerce outlet of Chinese retail giant Alibaba, which also owns Taobao. Australia sold $806 million US worth of wine in China in the past year, and Alibaba is one of the biggest retailers—and companies, full stop—on the planet. The two parties inked a deal at Vinexpo in May for a campaign to capitalize on "the strong engagement of Chinese consumers in online retail and their growing interest in Australian wine," said Clark. Kangaroos and "Kardashians" may prove to be the beginning of beautiful friendship.


    Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

  • Restaurant Spotlight: Formel B (Wine Spectator)

    In Denmark’s charming, residential city of Frederiksberg, Formel B champions regional cuisine and French wines. Owners Rune Amgild Jochumsen and Kristian Arpe Møller both play hands-on roles: Jochumsen serves as wine director and Møller helms the kitchen. The frequently changing menu includes about 20 small plates—ideal for sampling an array of flavors—that showcase seasonal Danish cuisine with the help of French techniques. The Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning wine list offers 800 selections with strengths in the Rhône, Bordeaux and Italy, but Formel B’s main draw is its Burgundy collection. Here you’ll find numerous impressive verticals from producers like Domaine Leflaive, Comte Georges de Vogüé and Philippe Pacalet, plus more than 20 labels from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. For an even more wine-centric experience, try to snag the table that sits on a glass floor looking down into the wine cellar.

  • Turning Tables: D.C.'s Masseria Chef Opens Sprawling Italian Concept; New Chef at Galatoire's in New Orleans (Wine Spectator)

    Renowned D.C. Chef Opens Ambitious Italian Concept

    Washington, D.C., chef Nicholas Stefanelli is opening Officina later this month, a three-story destination for Italian cuisine in the city's massive new waterfront complex, the Wharf. Officina will occupy 14,000 square feet, with a market on the first floor, a trattoria-style restaurant on the second floor and a rooftop bar with an adjacent private-event space. The market will include a wine shop, butcher, bakery, pizzeria, gelato bar and more.

    Stefanelli is known for the elegant Italian tasting menus at his Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner Masseria, but he's bringing a more approachable vibe to this project. "It's simple, it's beautiful, it's rustic, and it's a place that you could eat at every day," said Stefanelli.

    The trattoria will serve grilled meats, classic pastas and more, using ingredients from the purveyors in the market downstairs. Beverage director John Filkins built the 550-selection wine list, which is entirely Italian with the exception of a Champagne section. The list will also be available on the rooftop bar.

    Officina will host various events and programs throughout the space, such as a wine-dinner series highlighting different Italian regions. This is all part of Stefanelli's goal to create a go-to spot for every occasion, from grabbing groceries at the market to enjoying a full dinner in the restaurant.—J.H.

    New Orleans' Galatoire's Welcomes New Chef

    Best of Award of Excellence winner Galatoire's in New Orleans has a new executive chef, Phillip Lopez, who now helms the kitchen at both the Louisiana institution and its sister restaurant, Galatoire's 33 Bar and Steak.

    Co-owner Bill Kearney told Wine Spectator that Lopez, who previously worked at the now-closed Square Root, is a "creative culinary genius" with a particularly deep appreciation for wine. Kearney is looking forward to seeing the chef's influence on the wine program as well as the restaurant's regular wine dinners. Lopez replaced Michael Sichel, who held the position for seven years, but diners can still expect favorites like the bouillabaisse and shrimp etouffée.—J.H.

    Boston's Columbus Hospitality Group Opens Bar Lyon

    Courtesy of Bar Lyon
    Traditional, well-executed French cuisine will be the focal point at Bar Lyon.

    On Sept. 14, Boston's Columbus Hospitality Group—which owns Restaurant Award winners Sorellina, Mistral, Mooo and Ostra—is bringing regional French classics to a small space in the South End neighborhood. Bar Lyon will pay homage to the namesake French city, whose cuisine chef Jamie Mammano was inspired by.

    "Lyon is the city where all the legendary chefs came from and really established all the great traditions of that country that have informed the food culture worldwide," beverage director David Borsman told Wine Spectator. "[The team] is harkening back to the foundational aspects of cuisine." The menu will feature quintessential bistro fare like chicken-liver pâté, duck confit and omelets for dinner.

    Borsman says Bar Lyon emulates a "bouchon Lyonnais," which he describes as a "traditional French bistro that you can go to any night of the week, get a delicious classic meal and a beautiful bottle of wine without turning it into an occasion." The all-French wine list at Bar Lyon reflects this, representing a broad range of regions like Burgundy and the Rhône while staying affordable—few bottles cost more than $100, and 18 wines are available by the glass. The restaurant will open with 50 selections and will soon expand with a list called "cellar selections," which will have more depth and an expanded price range, but with some attractive markups in certain regions.—J.H.

    Opening in Chicago: Walton Street Kitchen + Bar

    Neil Burger
    Rabbit two ways with succotash at Walton Street Kitchen + Bar

    Ballyhoo Hospitality, the group behind Award of Excellence winner Coda di Volpe, opened Walton Street Kitchen + Bar in Chicago this week. The two-level concept features a cocktail lounge on the first floor and a restaurant upstairs, serving classic American fare with global touches, led by executive chef Jon Keeley.

    The 110-selection wine list has 17 by-the-glass options, and highlights small-production, family-owned wineries that employ organic practices. "My goal is to present our guests with a list that features excellent examples of wines produced throughout the world—both Old World and New—as well as alternative grape varieties in an effort to encourage them to try wines beyond their comfort zone," said wine director Stephanie Brauer.—B.G.

    San Francisco's Alexander's Steakhouse Now Has a Casual Spinoff

    ALX Gastropub in San Francisco is the first casual concept from the team behind the two Best of Award of Excellence–winning Alexander's Steakhouse locations in California. The kitchen will be headed by executive chef Jessie Lugo.

    Wine director Barry Horton will maintain the restaurant group's commitment to well-curated wine lists with the gastropub's 60-selection, California-focused list, which has 26 by-the-glass options ranging from $12 to $45. "Using our name ALX, I put together a by-the-glass 'Approachable' section, 'Lavish' section and an 'Xtravagant' section," said Horton. "I think we will be seeing a much broader range of people in terms of what they might want for a glass of wine."—B.G.


    Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at wsrestaurantawards.

  • Beloved California Vintner Ulises Valdez Dies at 49 (Wine Spectator)

    Ulises Valdez, who emigrated from Mexico to work as a vineyard laborer in Sonoma County, then rose to become one of California's most renowned vineyard managers and founder of his own family winery, died early this morning of a heart attack. He was 49.

    Valdez was widely considered one of the most knowledgeable and skilled vineyard managers in California. He was equally regarded as one of the most warm and loving personalities in the industry. "He was a brother from another mother," said Jeff Cohn of Jeff Cohn Cellars. "His family is my family, and vice versa; and our relationship has been that way since 1996 when we first met him."

    Valdez was also an example of the American dream in the wine industry. Born in the Mexican state of Michoacán, he was one of eight children. His father died when Valdez was just 8, forcing the resolute youth into the fields around his village to help support his family. Valdez left Mexico at age 16, successfully crossing the California border on his third attempt. He found his way to Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, joining his older brother Nicolas Cornejo, who had come to the U.S. earlier in the year. Together they worked in vineyards.

    Under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Valdez became a legal temporary resident of the United States, and 10 years later he became a permanent resident. In the interim, Valdez returned home to marry his wife, Adelina. Even though he could now travel to California legally, Adelina could not, so Valdez once again braved the journey across the border to bring her back to Sonoma County.

    "He's the poster child for immigration," said Saxon Brown's Jeff Gaffner, who has known Valdez for 20 years. "I knew his uncle when he came here as a kid, and he always worked hard and hustled; his evolution is something our industry should be proud of."

    It didn't take long for Valdez to carve a path from vineyard worker to vineyard manager. He teamed with Jack Florence Jr. to become partners in Florence Vineyard Management Company, farming Florence's father's vineyard. After saving for more than a decade, Valdez bought out his partner in 2003, and changed the name to Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management Inc.

    Valdez had learned a lot about viticulture in a short period of time and had gained a valuable reputation in the industry, growing high-quality grapes for clients such as Mark Aubert, Paul Hobbs and Jayson Pahlmeyer. That brought in more business. "He's got exhaustive knowledge of the soils in Sonoma," Aubert told Wine Spectator in 2007. "And he has the understanding [that comes with] making his own wine. He's a rare breed that can balance all the factors."

    Today, the company employs a staff of 100 and farms over 1,000 acres for the aforementioned wineries, as well as Arista Winery, Ram's Gate, Rivers-Marie, Three Sticks, Kosta Browne and countless others. "He was a gem in this industry," said Cohn. "He understood what it took to make great wine, literally from the ground up."

    Valdez will be remembered for the twinkle in his eye, his laughter and his big smile underneath his signature straw cowboy hat. He was a passionate, hardworking and determined perfectionist in the vineyard; as well as a loving, caring father and husband at home. "Conversations always drifted to family, and about his sons and daughters getting involved in the family business," recalled Mark McWilliams of Arista.

    In 2004, Valdez released his first wine under his namesake brand, Valdez Family Winery. He opened his own winery in 2010. Because vineyard land is expensive, Valdez opted to acquire vineyard property via long-term leases rather then buying—the winery now owns or leases 100 acres. His daughter Elizabeth took over winemaking duties in 2016, and her siblings Angelica, Ricardo, and Ulises Jr. are all involved in both the winery and vineyard company.

    Valdez's death comes at the peak of harvest in Sonoma County. McWilliams was shocked to hear the news from Ulises Jr. at 6 a.m. this morning, when the young man delivered grapes to Arista. Numerous local vintners and longtime clients have rallied around the family, offering to lend a hand in the fields, cellar or offices.

    McWilliams said it's what Ulises would have done for them, recalling a story from Arista's first harvest of their estate vineyard in Russian River Valley, which Valdez had planted and farmed. "One of his men didn't fully strap the fruit down, and [when he] came around a corner, half of it dumped onto Westside Road," said McWilliams. Valdez called him crying, and replaced the lost fruit with grapes from his own vineyard at no cost. "He loved his work, and loved being in the vineyards," said McWilliams. "It was what he was meant to do; he's an absolute icon."


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  • 8 & $20 Recipe: Roasted Autumn Vegetable Salad with Balsamic-Walnut Dressing (Wine Spectator)

    Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

    As summer comes to an end, it’s time for fall produce to step into the spotlight. This hearty salad recipe highlights two of my favorite—and perhaps the quintessential—veggies of the season: sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. A high-temperature roast, with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper, lets their natural flavors shine while enhancing their sweetness. If you prefer to swap in something else, most hearty vegetables will roast well at the same temperature for the same amount of time.

    I like to do an easy, single sheet-pan roast: Cooking the vegetables together, along with the chicken thighs, saves time and energy, not to mention dirty dishes. Just use a pan that’s large enough to avoid overcrowding, which can hinder the browning process.

    To achieve tender vegetables with caramelized, lightly crisp exteriors, toss them well in olive oil to start and toss them again mid-roast, to ensure all sides get a chance to turn that flavorful shade of golden-brown. If your veggies roast a little too long, don’t sweat it. A light char can bring pleasant bitterness to accent the honeyed dressing. Fair warning: You may want to roast an extra batch—the veggies make a great snack, even chilled right out of the fridge.

    The dressing brings another fall ingredient into the mix with walnuts, which get a quick toast, releasing the nuts’ natural oils, for more flavor depth and crunch. I use mayonnaise to create a thick-textured dressing, but you can also use plain yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche.

    For even easier weeknight meal planning, most of this salad can be made ahead of time. Prepare the sheet-pan roast and the dressing up to three days in advance, then assemble everything when you’re ready to eat.

    I tasted the dish with a Beaujolais, but I found its bright, juicy red fruit outshone the subtle, nutty sweetness of the roasted vegetables. A clean, Provence-style rosé worked much better, as its fresh acidity and subtle berry flavors complemented both the fresh greens and the richer fall produce without overpowering any element.

    Salad with Chicken, Roasted Autumn Vegetables and Balsamic-Walnut Dressing


    Pair with a Provence-style rosé such as Gérard Bertrand Grenache-Syrah-Cinsault Languedoc Rosé Cote des Roses 2017.


    Prep time: 15 minutes
    Cooking time: 35 minutes
    Total time: 50 minutes
    Approximate food costs: $30

    • 4 cups Brussels sprouts
    • 2 sweet potatoes
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
    • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 6 cups mixed greens (I used a combination of kale and spring mix)
    • Salt
    • Pepper

    1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Slice the Brussels sprouts lengthwise into halves and cut the sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes, leaving the skins on. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a large sheet pan and add the vegetables, tossing to coat in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken thighs on the pan, turning once to coat in the pan’s oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper.

    2. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the chicken and tossing the vegetables halfway through. Set aside chicken and Brussels sprouts and let the sweet potatoes roast for 5 minutes more. Once cooled, cut chicken into bite-sized cubes.

    3. To make the dressing: Toast 1/3 cup of walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally, for about 4 minutes until fragrant, and stir into dressing. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise until smooth and whisk in remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and honey. Stir in toasted walnuts and season with salt and pepper.

    4. Tear the lettuce into bite-sized pieces and toss with desired amount of dressing (you may have some left over) and then toss with roasted vegetables, chicken and remaining walnuts.Serves 4.

 
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