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  • 2018 Wine Harvest Report: Napa Valley Wins with a Slow and Steady Year (Wine Spectator)

    After the turbulent 2017 harvest, Napa vintners would have been happy with a simply quieter 2018. Instead, this year delivered an ideal growing season, followed by a long, slow-paced harvest. Winemakers are excited by the potential quality of the young wines.

    Welcome to Wine Spectator's 2018 Wine Harvest Report, our coverage of Northern Hemisphere wine regions. (Our Southern Hemisphere 2018 harvest reports were published earlier this year.) While we won't know how good a vintage is until we taste the finished wines, these reports offer firsthand accounts from top winemakers in leading regions.

    A year for patience

    Last year's harvest was marred by devastating wine-country wildfires, including two blazes that scorched parts of Napa, destroying some wineries, filling the valley with smoke and making it hard for some winemakers to access their wineries during key moments. And while 2018 has brought more fires to California, including this week's deadly blazes in Butte County to the north and Ventura to the south, Napa has been largely spared.

    The near picture-perfect growing season began in late February. Spring was mild, with extended flowering yielding uniform grape clusters. Temperatures remained steady and warm throughout the growing season, without any significant heat spikes, making for a cool, unhurried harvest. The only mildly concerning hiccup came in the form of rain on Oct. 2 and 3.

    For winemakers like Jeff Ames, that unhurried harvest felt like a marathon. In addition to being a consultant for several wineries, Ames is the winemaker for Rudius and Tor, and produces everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon. "The hang time this year was just nuts," groaned Ames. "This is easily the longest harvest I have seen in a long time. We finished picking on Oct. 29—two to three weeks later than normal."

    For sparkling-wine producers like Domaine Carneros, picking started at the usual time, but then just kept going, thanks to cool temperatures that slowed ripening. "Temperature was a defining factor in this vintage," said winemaker T.J. Evans, noting that 2018 was actually cooler than 2011, which many regard as the coolest vintage of the past decade. "I think I will remember 2018 as the year we picked Chardonnay in October."

    Courtesy Duckhorn
    Duckhorn winemaker Renée Ary checks ripening grapes on Howell Mountain.

    In the cellar, Evans said fermentations for both sparkling and still wines were clean, with vibrant flavors. Renée Ary, winemaker for Duckhorn Vineyards, thought highly of their white wines. "Most of our Sauvignon Blanc saw riper flavors at lower alcohols, which is ideal, and the quality is some of the best we have seen in over a decade," she said.

    The extended growing season meant Cabernet winemakers had to cool their heels before seeing any action. "The first 20 days of August were the hottest on record at Larkmead, and the last 11 days were the coolest," said Dan Petroski, winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards. "September remained cool until the 8th, when a warming spell came over the valley, which coincided with the start of our red grape harvesting." They picked all of their grapes over the next 26 days. But Petroski notes that they picked earlier than many because Larkmead is a warm site.

    Other winemakers had to wait until October before things started progressing, and picking did not wrap up until the first week of November. "Patience has been the name of the game this year," said Jeff Owens, winemaker for Odette Estate in Napa's Stags Leap District. "It's been cooler this year compared to recent vintages so I had to retrain myself to think like it was 2012 all over again."

    Promising results

    Owens wasn't the only one to evoke 2012. Many winemakers see 2012 as a benchmark for both quality and quantity. That year also delivered a mild spring and summer and an extended growing season, and the resulting wines showed balance and good concentration. Winemakers are seeing similar results in 2018. "Wines coming out of the fermentors are imbued with incredible flavor and density on the palate," said Petroski.

    Ary at Duckhorn echoed Petroski's remarks, particularly regarding Merlot. "The Merlots are incredibly polished and focused," said Ary.

    Owens at Odette agreed. "The color and texture are magnificent, with a great sense of freshness. I think it's one of the better lots of Merlot we've seen yet off of the property."

    Yields have been down for several vintages, due to several years of drought conditions. For 2018, winemakers reported that yields were much closer to normal averages.

    Vineyard crews pick grapes in the early morning hours.

    The improved yield was largely attributed to larger grape clusters. "Usually when we're thinking about doing crop-load estimates, the average Cabernet cluster weight is somewhere around 0.25 pounds per cluster," said Daniel Ricciato, who oversees 60 sites for winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown. "This year's clusters are clocking in at around 0.5 pounds to 0.6 pounds per cluster." Ricciato noted that they saw the large clusters coming, even before bloom, but despite aggressive thinning, some crop loads were still upwards of 40 percent above average.

    While it will be some time before the finished wines can be judged, vintners are pleased so far. "We are very optimistic about the 2018 vintage in Napa Valley," said Ary.

    Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

  • Tweaking Tradition: Carla Hall's Thanksgiving Menu (Wine Spectator)

    At one point in Carla Hall's life, she was afraid to be labeled as a certain type of chef. Growing up in Tennessee, the Emmy-winning TV co-host, two-time Top Chef competitor and former model developed a love of soul food, which embodies "the stories of her heritage." But Hall strayed from being associated with the cooking style. "I just didn't want to be typecast," she says.

    Competing on Bravo's Top Chef in 2008 changed things. "I started to just embrace it," she recalled. "Now I want to show that soul food is much broader than people think it is."

    That's the aim of her newest cookbook, Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration. Hall wants her recipes—ranging from ideas for a holiday spread to a quick Monday-night meal—to be relatable to home cooks of any background, even if they feel the need to tweak the directions or substitute a spice they're more used to cooking with. "Even though it’s a dish that might be from another culture, [it's about finding] what makes it unique to your culture."

    For a celebration like Thanksgiving, however, the desire for simplicity is universal. "When I think about Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving), people want to take something that travels well, something that is super-easy," Hall says.

    She falls back on her tomato pie as a good side for this reason, as tomatoes are easily accessible year-round. For this recipe, use whatever variety of medium-sized tomatoes you can find, whether hothouse-grown or sun-ripened on the vine, or swap in a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes.

    A staple in the South, tomato pie has many variations. Hall chooses a lighter style, incorporating a simple garlic-bread crust so that "the tomatoes really get to shine." It makes for a welcome companion to a classic Thanksgiving turkey, which Hall elects to break down into eight parts like a chicken, cooking the white and dark meat two separate ways.

    Melissa Hom
    Carla Hall's cookbook looks back to her Nashville roots, but aims to speak to everyone with a blend of modern and traditional recipes.

    For dessert, pecan pie is a no-brainer. "There's nothing like those toasted pecans with the perfect crust," she says.

    One of the most important additions to Hall's pie might come as a surprise to some, but it prevents the dish from being "cloyingly sweet," a trait she dislikes in many pecan pies. The secret ingredient? Vinegar.

    "Even if it isn’t in the recipe, just take the recipe that you have and then pour a little bit of vinegar," Hall says. "Start with a little bit, then taste it. That acid sort of balances the sweet, and it becomes more interesting."

    While Hall takes the lead on most of the family cooking decisions, her husband, Matthew, who describes himself as "an enthusiastic enophile," handles the wine pairings. For the tomato pie, he suggests a creamy white that backs lush fruit with the vibrant acidity of the Roussanne grape variety, such as the 2014 Eric Texier Brézème Cotês du Rhône. For the rest of the meal, he chooses a versatile cru Beaujolais, the 2009 Jean-Paul Domaine de Terres Dorees Morgan. With its light tannins, juicy fruit and touch of spice, he says, it can carry all the way through the meal to the pie. It’s a perfect fit for people who prefer dry reds to sweet wines, as it won't exaggerate the tannins of the nuts and the richness of the filling. (However, he also enjoys the pie with Madeira.)

    Below, Wine Spectator suggests 11 similar recently rated wines that should hold up well to the full spectrum of flavors and textures on the holiday table. The mix includes additional Rhône white blends and cru Beaujolais, as well as alternatives: bright Chardonnays from Burgundy and Tempranillo-based reds from Spain's Rioja region, which balance moderate tannins with fresh acidity.

    Hall emphasizes that sharing her traditions doesn't mean she's implying they are for everyone. Instead, she hopes they might inspire "the curiosity of finding your own personal terroir."

    Recipes reprinted by permission from Carla Hall’s Soul Food by Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko. Copyright 2018 by Carla Hall. Published Oct. 23, 2018 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

    Tomato Pie and Garlic Bread Crust

    Gabriele Stabile
    The beauty of tomatoes is that "you can get them anywhere, anytime," says Hall.

    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more forbrushing
    • 1/2 loaf country bread
    • 5 ripe medium-sized tomatoes
    • 3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
    • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
    • Kosher salt

    1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Brush a 9-inch square metal cake pan with oil.

    2. Cut four 1-inch-thick slices from the loaf. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the pan. They should cover the bottom. If they don't, cut more slices to fit. Brush the bread all over with oil. Bake until the bread is golden brown and well-toasted, about 5 minutes.

    3. Meanwhile, core the tomatoes. Trim the very tops and bottoms, then peel the tomatoes. Cut each in half through its equator. Mix the garlic and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl.

    4. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer over the bread. Gently smash them into the bread, then brush with the garlic oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Tear the remaining bread into 1-inch chunks and toss in the garlic oil until evenly coated. Scatter the torn bread and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme leaves over the tomatoes.

    5. Bake until the top is golden-brown and crisp and the tomatoes are juicy, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then cut into squares and serve. Serves 6

    Pecan Pie

    • 1 disk Carla's Classic Pie Dough (see recipe below), fitted into a deep-dish pie plate and frozen
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 3 large eggs, beaten
    • 1 cup dark corn syrup
    • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon Bourbon
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 2 cups chopped pecans, toasted

    1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

    2. Line the frozen dough with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until dry and set, about 25 minutes. Remove the foil with the weights and bake the dough until golden-brown, about 5 minutes longer. Let cool completely, then place on a half-sheet pan.

    3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.

    4. Cream the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon until smooth and fluffy. While beating, add the eggs in a steady stream, then beat in the corn syrup, vinegar, salt, Bourbon and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the pecans and pour into the cooled pie shell.

    5. Bake until golden-brown and mostly set but still a bit jiggly, about 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes one 9-inch pie

    Carla's Classic Pie Dough

    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
    • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
    • 1 cup (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

    1. Dissolve the sugar and salt in 1/3 cup water and chill until cold.

    2. Pulse the flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture looks like coarse meal with some pea-size pieces. Add the 1/3 cup water all at once and pulse until the dough almost forms a ball. Divide the dough in half and flatten into two disks.

    3. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day. Makes two 9-inch crusts

    Note: You can freeze the dough for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling.

    11 Recommended Thanksgiving Wines

    French Whites

    DELAS Crozes-Hermitage White Les Launes 2017 Score: 91 | $21
    Creamy in feel, with alluring melon, pear and brioche flavors laced with a light verbena thread on the finish. Flash of macadamia nut adds a flattering hint. Drink now through 2019. 1,000 cases imported.—James Molesworth

    CHÂTEAU DE LA GREFFIÈRE Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes2016 Score: 90 | $18
    A lush, ripe expression of apricot, golden apple, pastry and mineral flavors come together, focused by the bright structure. It's tangy and lingers on the finish. Drink now through 2022. 1,250 cases imported.—Bruce Sanderson

    JOSEPH DROUHIN Pouilly-Fuissé 2016 Score: 90 | $29
    Bordering on creamy in texture, here is a vibrant white that exhibits peach, apple and pastry flavors. It converges on the finish with a mouthwatering sensation. Drink now through 2022. 3,500 cases imported.—B.S.

    M. CHAPOUTIER Côtes du Roussillon White Les Vignes de Bila-Haut2016 Score: 90 | $15
    A creamy, broad white with fresh peach and melon notes woven together with lanolin and blanched almond details backed by a solid acidity. Spice notes linger into the finish flanked herb and mineral accents. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Macabeu and Marsanne. Drink now through 2020. 10,000 cases imported.—Gillian Sciaretta


    BODEGAS ONTAÑON Tempranillo-Graciano Rioja Reserva 2010 Score: 91 | $28
    This red is fresh and lively, with a core of black cherry and plum accented by licorice, tobacco and mineral notes. The tannins are light but firm, the balsamic acidity bright, focusing the polished texture through the smoky finish. Drink now through 2022. 6,000 cases imported.—Thomas Matthews

    BODEGAS RODA Rioja Sela 2015 Score: 90 | $35
    This firm red shows black cherry, plum, licorice, smoky and underbrush flavors, supported by well-integrated tannins and orange peel acidity. Has depth and focus. Drink now through 2027. 8,000 cases imported.—T.M.

    MAISON L'ENVOYÉ Morgon Côte du Py 2016 Score: 90 | $20
    Plush tannins hug the cherry tart, red plum and spice box flavors of this medium bodied red with a fresh acidity highlights details of licorice, herb and mulberry on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 1,200 cases imported.—Gillian Sciaretta

    BODEGAS PALACIO Rioja Glorioso Crianza 2015 Score: 89 | $14
    Smoky and cedar notes wreathe black cherry, mint and mineral flavors in this sinuous red. Firm tannins give it structure and lively acidity gives it energy. Drink now through 2025. 150,000 cases imported.—T.M.

    VIGNOBLES BULLIAT Morgon Cuvée du Colombier 2016 Score: 89 | $20
    Light-to-medium bodied with woodsy undertones to the cherry and boysenberry fruit, this red offers spice box and floral aromas with lavender and mulberry flavors on the lightly tannic finish. Drink now through 2023. 5,000 cases imported.—G.S.

    CHÂTEAU DE PONCIÉ Fleurie Le Pré Roi 2016 Score: 88 | $20
    Fresh and focused with a nice stream of cherry, black raspberry and anise flavors that are lined with floral and mineral details. Clean, with light-to-moderate tannins on the finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,000 cases imported.—G.S.

    VIGNOBLES DES ROCHES Morgon 2016 Score: 88 | $18
    Nicely focused with cherry, apricot and red currant fruit detailed with woodsy spice and zesty accents. A juicy acidity and light, fleshy tannins offer support on the clean finish. Drink now through 2021. 2,600 cases imported.—G.S.

  • Unfiltered: Mouse Wine? Frog Juice? New 'Disgusting Food Museum' Delights, Disgusts (Wine Spectator)

    In Malmö, Sweden, people are lining up to peep at bull testicles, get a whiff of Thailand's notoriously stinky durian fruit and even try a bite of surströmming, the local fermented herring. No, it's not an audition for Fear Factor: Chef's Table; it's part of a new (and straightforwardly named) pop-up exhibition, the Disgusting Food Museum.

    Featuring 80 repulsive so-called foods and drinks from around the world—many of which can be smelled and some of which can be sampled by guests—the museum aims to make visitors question commonly held beliefs about what they think is "gross." On display are real foods that are either eaten today or have historical significance somewhere in the world: casu marzu, maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia; cuy, roasted guinea pigs from Peru; hákarl, fermented shark from Iceland; and root beer, the sassafras soft drink from the U.S. that apparently is widely hated elsewhere!

    Anja Barte Telin
    "O come, all ye queso, joyful and quite pungent …"

    There's truly something to disgust everyone—enophiles will be particularly intrigued to find a Chinese delicacy mysteriously billed as "mouse wine" among the displays, while libations thrillseekers on the trail of the next winebeer shouldn't miss kumis, a Central Asian horse-milk-… beer(?). Pair with a selection offered at the Altar of Stinky Cheese.

    The idea for the project came from psychologist and the museum's "chief disgustologist," Samuel West, whose earlier curatorial efforts resulted in the internationally traveling Museum of Failure. West teamed up with Andreas Ahrens, a tech investor and economist, to make the latest collection a reality.

    Anja Barte Telin
    Once you surströmming, you just keep going!

    "The research was extensive and we involved Lund University," Ahrens, who serves as the museum's director, told Unfiltered. "Sourcing the unusual foods was and still is a huge challenge. You should see my credit card bill—I’ve ordered stuff from all over the world!"

    But the museum isn't just a freak show of food for fun's sake: "Our current meat production is terribly environmentally unsustainable, and we urgently need to start considering alternatives. But many people are disgusted by the idea of eating insects and skeptical about lab-grown meat, and it all boils down to disgust," West said. "If we can change our notions of what food is disgusting or not, it could potentially help us transition to more sustainable protein sources."

    Anja Barte Telin
    Note: Some editors felt this placement deserved.

    The museum opened on Halloween and runs until Jan. 27, 2019, but may soon come to befoul a city near you, considering its success in Mälmo. "We have triple the expected number of visitors!" West said. "Two have vomited."

    Château de Beaucastel Unveils Sharp Plans for New Cellar Powered by the Winds and Rains

    Château de Beaucastel, elite estate of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and anchor of a Rhône mini-empire, is getting an $11.4 million cellar renovation and reimagination, a project that attracted bids from 400 architects around the world. Ultimately, the owners, the Perrin family, chose a design presented by Studio Mumbai with an emphasis on earth materials, a natural landscape and sustainability as the guiding ethos.

    Perrin Family, Château de Beaucastel
    Beaucoup Beaucastel: The new cellar plans

    "I think whatever we do in architecture, we shouldn't compromise the environment of our children and grandchildren," said architect Louis-Antoine Grego of Studio Mumbai, in a recent presentation unveiling the design.

    Described as more green than just tech-y, the design will rely on capturing the mistral—the fierce wind blowing two out of every three days in the Rhône—to provide natural air-cooling. "This is a system that's been used in Iran for 500 years, probably much more, and it still functions in those old buildings," said Grego. "Today it's used all over the world. We will adapt it to the conditions in the Rhône at Beaucastel."

    And all the facility's water needs will be met by a roof catchment and filtering system, with the water stored below the underground cellar. The building material for the above-ground structure—compacted clay—will come from the 49-foot-deep hole dug to make room for the new cellar, as will the sand mixture used for the underground construction.

    Vintner Charles Perrin reflected on the admiration he and his family felt when they opened a bottle of Beaucastel made by previous generations. They hope to inspire the same respect farther down the line. "We're building to impress our grandchildren."

    Artist-Label, Porcelain-Bottled Champagne Is the, Uh, 'Champagne' of Amphora Wine Movement

    Humans have been storing wine in pottery since they learned how to make wine, and pottery, at least 8,000 years ago. Winemakers have lately brought back paleo-retro-trendy "natural" vinification in clay amphora and qvevri, and the latest region to run with the kilnware movement is none other than Champagne.

    But the jars and ditches and funky bacterial effluvia stuff they dig on in the Caucasus don't quite translate to Champenoise. Instead, Cuvée Sensorium presents the first-ever porcelain-packaged Champagne, a 70/30 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay non-vintage wine from grands and premiers crus vinified by the house Edouard Brun and bottled in vessels crafted by the historic German porzellanmanufaktur Reichenbach, an esteemed name (as you know) in Thuringian porcelain. But … why?

    Cuvée Sensorium
    The James Rizzi Experience

    "The material porcelain brings optimal conditions for Champagne," Joi Regestein, Sensorium CCO and partner, told Unfiltered via email. "Porcelain offers optimal cooling conditions. The Champagne stays longer [at] the optimal temperature." The feldspar, quartz sand and kaolin used to make the porcelain, Regenstein noted, are "very environmentally friendly raw materials." Each bottle must be cast in a mold from the raw clay stuff that becomes china, to a specific thickness, then dried, fired to 1740 F, hand-glazed, fired again to 2550 F, painted, and then fired a third time. It's a lot of stress, all that getting fired, which makes the porcelain strong enough to contain Champagne.

    For an even headier experience, Sensorium is releasing "Art Edition" 6-liter bottles to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the Brun house, each wearing a fanciful illustration of "Champagne Dreams" from the late American pop artist James Rizzi.

    "James Rizzi was a very cheerful and positive artist," explained Regenstein of the choice. More artists will adorn future bottles, but archaeologists of 4018 should have plenty to chew on when they turn up Rizzi's anthropomorphic technicolor houses and grinning cartoon sun-moon-bird creatures.

    Vintner-Restaurateur-Hotelier Gavin Newsom Is Headed to the California Governor's Mansion

    We're always pleased to hear when a local wine boy or girl makes good, so congratulations to Gavin Newsom. The owner of San Francisco wine shop PlumpJack became a Napa vintner in the mid-'90s with the purchase of an Oakville winery, and soon would become a restaurateur, hotelier, sustainability champion, 2006 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner, San Francisco mayor, lieutenant governor of his state, and as of Nov. 6, the governor-elect of California.

    "If I'm correct, I think he's the first governor-vintner-restaurateur to run one of the largest economies in the world!" Newsom's business partner John Conover told Unfiltered; the general manager of PlumpJack and sister wineries Cade, Odette and the recently acquired Ladera property had attended Newsom's celebratory fête on Tuesday, but by Thursday, we reached him up in the crosswinds on Howell Mountain on the final day of harvest for the season.

    "It's a great American story, a California wine story, in that a young man—he was in his mid-20s when he started the wine shop—went from being a small entrepreneur and wine shop owner to being the governor," Conover said of his partner.

    Newsom won the Distinguished Service Award in part for his early championship of progressive practices like using screwcaps on premium wine and, later, achieving the LEED Gold sustainability certifications for two wineries. He will be sworn in on Jan. 7, 2019.

    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.

  • Napa Valley Vineyard Owner Al Frediani Dies at 96 (Wine Spectator)

    Al Frediani was known for his love for his old vines, his meticulous farming and his sharp sense of humor. Born on his family's Napa Valley farm, he spent his life working on the property. Frediani died Oct. 18, 2018, a month shy of his 97th birthday.

    The 20-acre Frediani vineyard, tucked away in the northeast corner of the valley on a quiet road near Calistoga, is planted to prized Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Valdiguié (a French variety locally dubbed "Napa Gamay") and Petite Sirah, which Frediani called by its old winegrowers' nickname, "Petty Sarah." Producers including Relic, Conn Creek and Stags' Leap Winery have purchased his grapes. The nearest neighbor is the famed Eisele Vineyard, which was purchased in July 2013 by the owners of Bordeaux first-growth Château Latour.

    "Al was in love with his vines and loved spending time in the vineyard," Relic winemaker Mike Hirby told Wine Spectator. "He farmed the old way, which meant dry-farming and organic farming of the simplest kind. He let the vines do the rest, which is what it is all about."

    Frediani's father bought and planted the site after emigrating from Italy in the early 1900s. Frediani was born there Nov. 23, 1921, and was raised on the land, helping his father in the vineyards as a child and then returning to the property after serving in the Army during World War II. Since then, not much has changed in the way the land has been farmed, except that tractors have replaced horses, much to Frediani's dismay.

    Hirby says Frediani liked to talk about those horses. "He got his first tractor in 1953, and how he missed working the horses, although they kicked him and ran away often. He was a gentle spirit with a lot of heart and a great sense of humor, always happy."

    Frediani did not irrigate and he didn't believe in spraying pesticides in his vineyard. If he saw a weed, he would simply pull it out with his bare hands. Even when his age slowed him down, he continued to do as much in the vineyard as possible, with help from his son Steve, who lives in his own house on the property.

    Winemaker Jeff Cohn says he will remember Frediani as a "true character." Cohn said, "The first time I met him was in the front of his home. He was skinning a jackrabbit to use [as bait] to attract the yellow jackets [away] from his house. It was a good-sized knife."

    "Grape sampling with Al was always interesting," added Cohn. Frediani had an old Coke can with the top cut off. "He would take a bunch of berries, crush them up [in the can] and use an old refractometer to see the Brix. I have a feeling this refractometer had not been calibrated since John F. Kennedy was in office. It used to amuse me, how close his numbers were to what I would get at the lab."

    The vineyard's old, gnarled vines were scattered among piles of wood, old cars, washboards and buckets of walnuts from a handful of trees Frediani planted years ago. "That was a mistake," Frediani told Wine Spectator about the walnuts in an interview in 2014. "They don't pay much."

    Frediani's hard work and commitment to his vineyard was as legendary as his grapes. "I feel so lucky to have been able to work with him over the last decade," said Hirby. "He taught me so much about what is important in vineyard work, wine, and in life."

    Frediani is survived by six children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

    Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

  • Contemporary dining on an Australian vineyard (Wine Spectator)

    Overlooking Australia's Willow Creek Vineyard in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula wine region, Doot Doot Doot celebrates terroir through seasonal cuisine and a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence–winning wine program. The restaurant is housed in the Jackalope Hotel, a sleek, contemporary destination with dramatic art pieces including a glass-enclosed working cellar at the center of the lobby. Doot Doot Doot’s 250-selection wine list highlights Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, showcasing plenty of local examples from the property's vineyard and beyond. When it comes to sourcing global selections, head sommelier Marcus Radny generally restricts himself to vineyards that are the same size or smaller than Willow Creek Vineyard, which is 27 acres, though he does make exceptions for rare labels. Like the wines, the five-course tasting menu for $80 celebrates the region, offering an array of local specialties. Chef Martin Webster changes the menu every two weeks, and the wine pairings—which cost an additional $146—change with it, creating a hyper-seasonal experience.

  • Turning Tables: The Upcoming NoMad Las Vegas Restaurant Is the Final Piece of the Destination's Puzzle (Wine Spectator)

    The Restaurant at NoMad Las Vegas Opens Next Week

    After its hotel and bar opened last month, NoMad Las Vegas will debut its restaurant Nov. 14. The NoMad Hotel, a collaboration between restaurateur Will Guidara, chef Daniel Humm's Make It Nice Hospitality Group and the Sydell Group, has two other locations with Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. Make It Nice also includes Grand Award winner Eleven Madison Park.

    "We're trying to keep the DNA of what we did in New York and L.A. as a common thread, but also really embracing the fact that we're in Las Vegas and people want to go a little bit bigger," wine director Thomas Pastuszak told Wine Spectator.

    The wine list will have a core focus on cool-climate, mineral-driven and high-acid wines from regions such as Champagne, Burgundy, Piedmont, the Finger Lakes and the Northern Rhône. Pastuszak will also showcase California wines, playing off the menu's roasted meats with plenty of spicy, robust reds. The restaurant will open with about 700 wine selections, but NoMad Vegas' storage space will allow for substantial growth, with the potential to exceed the 1,900 and 1,700 selections offered in New York and Los Angeles, respectively.

    Overseen by chef de cuisine Mike Rellergert, the menu will highlight luxury ingredients like foie gras and truffles. Vegas exclusives include tuna and steak tartares made tableside, and a raw seafood platter to share. Pastuszak wants to cater to locals as well as visitors. "What we're really passionate about, and we try to really do it in New York and in Los Angeles, is embrace the neighborhood," he said. "And I think that Las Vegas is an amazing community of people who really want to eat and drink well."

    The bar, which opened with the 239-room hotel Oct. 12, offers a more casual dining experience, with a wine list of about 50 selections all under $200, and more than 20 wines by the glass.—J.H.

    D.C.'s Fiola Opens Second Location in Miami

    Courtesy of Fiola
    Red King prawn bucatini at Fiola Miami

    A second location of the Washington, D.C., Best of Award of Excellence winner Fiola opened its doors in Miami Nov. 1. It's the first venture outside of the capital for restaurateur Fabio Trabocchi. "I guess it's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge," wine director Casper Rice told Wine Spectator. "I think our product attracts people everywhere."

    The new restaurant will offer more seafood than the flagship D.C. location, but its 850-selection wine list will maintain Fiola's focus on Italy, Bordeaux and California. "The cellar space in Miami is in my favor, with very big storage space for wine," Rice said. "We have a great opportunity in Miami in that we have big shoes to fill, and we'll slowly fill them in."—B.G.

    David Grutman and Pharrell Williams Open Two New Concepts in Miami

    Morelli Brothers
    Swan's space was conceived by designer Ken Fulk.

    On Nov. 7, Miami entertainment mogul David Grutman and musician Pharrell Williams opened dual dining concepts in Miami's Design District. Grutman's Groot Hospitality Group includes Award of Excellence winner Komodo.

    On the first floor of the new two-story space is Swan, a restaurant and bar with a garden and a D.J. booth. Upstairs, Bar Bevy has lounge-style seating with another D.J. booth and an outdoor terrace, and serves small bites and shareable plates. Chef Jean Imbert executes the menus for both concepts.

    Wine director Collin Bleess told Wine Spectator that both Swan and Bar Bevy will have an abbreviated version of Komodo's 360-label wine progam, similarly geared to Miami's high-end clientele, with 120 selections. The list emphasizes American, French and Italian wines while also representing other major regions around the world such as Spain, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Expect several first-growth Bordeauxs and other premium wines. There are currently 15 by-the-glass options, and Bleess hopes to add eight to 10 more in the next month or two with the rollout of their Coravin program.—J.H.

    Il Fornaio's San Francisco Location Closes

    The San Francisco outpost of Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana closed Oct. 28 after 30 years in business. A press release cited a challenging economy and the neighborhood's "overall declining business occupancy" as reasons for the closure. The restaurant was known for chef Francesco Gazzana's Italian cuisine and its 90-selection wine list with strengths in Italy and California. Il Fornaio still has 19 Restaurant Award–winning outposts across California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington.—J.H.

    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.

  • John Fetzer Sells Mendocino’s Saracina Vineyards to the Taub Family’s Heritance Vintners (Wine Spectator)

    The Taub family, owners of Palm Bay International, one of the nation’s leading wine importers, is expanding its presence in California. The family’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon brand Heritance has purchased Saracina Vineyards in Mendocino from John Fetzer and his wife, Patty Rock. The deal, which closed in early October, includes a winery, 250 acres of land with 100 acres planted to vines, along with the Saracina brand and its second label Atrea. The sale price was not disclosed.

    The deal gives the Taub family an established winery and a foothold in Mendocino. They plan to move production of their Heritance, Au Contraire and Angry Bunch brands to Saracina’s winemaking facility. Winemaker Alex MacGregor will continue to make the Saracina and Atrea wines.

    Marc Taub, CEO of Taub Family Companies, which includes Palm Bay International and Taub Family Selections, had been looking for a home for his growing roster of California brands. “With the acquisition of the Saracina Ranch, I am proud to establish a foundation for my family in a region that I believe has vineyards of historic proportions," Taub told Wine Spectator. "The estate will become the home base for the production and cellaring of our California wines, and we will develop the property over the long term for strategic growth and expansion.”

    Fetzer and Rock will no longer be involved in the winery, but they have retained part of the Saracina property, including a residence. The eldest of 11 siblings, Fetzer launched Saracina in 2001—nearly a decade after his family sold Fetzer Vineyards to spirits company Brown-Forman (Fetzer and its affiliated brands are now owned by Chile’s Concha y Toro). The couple built a tasting room and wine cave on the 600-acre former Sundial Ranch near the town of Hopland, and tapped MacGregor and consultant David Ramey to make the wines.

    Saracina makes wine from a variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc from its sustainably farmed estate vineyards and purchased grapes. The winery produces around 7,500 cases of wine annually.

    Once one of the foremost dynasties in California wine, the Fetzer family has been divesting its wine holdings in recent years. In 2017, the family sold its 80-acre ranch in Redwood Valley, the site of the original Fetzer winery, to cannabis distributor Flow Kana. The Saracina sale leaves third-generation vintners Jake and Ben Fetzer as the only family members with their own wine label, Masut, in the Eagle Peak appellation of Mendocino.

    Marc Taub’s father, David, who passed away in 2012, launched Palm Bay in 1977, importing Italian wine. The family now imports and produces nearly 90 wine and spirits brands from 17 countries around the world, with a focus on Italy. In 2014, Marc turned to California, launching Pinot Noir brand Au Contraire in Sonoma. They later added Heritance, which was founded by wine-industry veterans Bernard Portet and Don Chase.

    The Taub family doesn’t plan to make any change to the Saracina wines but they will add new projects down the road. “We definitely want to take advantage of what [Fetzer and Rock] have been doing here,” said Bethany Burke, senior vice president of corporate communications at Taub Family Companies. “Marc is looking at this as a long-term opportunity to lay down roots for his family.”

    Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

  • 2018 Wine Harvest Report: Bordeaux Breathes a Sigh of Relief (Wine Spectator)

    Bordeaux winemakers hoping for a big harvest in 2018, after France's cataclysmic frosts of 2017, were disappointed. Heavy rains early in the season led to mildew, while hail in some areas also thinned the crop. Then, the weather dramatically changed course. "Sun, sun, sun," is how Christian Moueix, who oversees several estates on the Right Bank, described the summer, citing data showing record levels of solar exposure.

    While the growing season was challenging, ideal weather late in the season ripened the crop well. Quantity may be low, but vintners have high hopes for quality.

    Welcome to Wine Spectator's 2018 Wine Harvest Report, our coverage of Northern Hemisphere wine regions. (You can find our Southern Hemisphere 2018 reports here.) While we won't know how good a vintage is until we taste the finished wines, these reports offer firsthand accounts from top winemakers in leading regions.

    Too much rain, too much sun

    The first half of 2018 was about protecting vines from disease triggered by heavy rains. To combat aggressive mildew, growers across the region were forced to take added precautions. Some were luckier than others. Although not unscathed, Moueix was fortunate. "Mildew affected only a few blocks, but since it was before crop thinning, it did not affect the final yield," he said. Vigilant crop management was essential, so that his teams could prune off infected clusters in time, he added.

    And those wineries who employ either organic or biodynamic farming faced even bigger challenges, since they have fewer options for fighting mildew. Justine Tesseron, whose family owns Château Pontet-Canet, reports that yields were down at the Pauillac estate, which has practiced biodynamic farming for more than a decade now. "Our viticulture is not the easiest because it is based on the natural balance of the vines."

    During the dry, summer months, reserves from the spring rains were critical. Soil type and vine age were both factors. Damien Barton Sartorius, co-owner of châteaus Langoa Barton, Léoville Barton and Mauvesin Barton in the Médoc, notes that when it came time to harvest, "We started with the younger plants that struggled from drought, as their roots are not long enough to reach underground water."

    Philippe Dhalluin, who oversees Château Mouton-Rothschild and two other properties in Pauillac, added, "Estates located on deep gravelly soils like Mouton or d'Armailhac got very small berries and consequently very low yields." Conversely, "an estate like Clerc Milon with subsoil slightly richer in clay had better yields."

    Beautiful fall

    With the exception of sweet-wine producers, most vintners were grateful when summer conditions continued into autumn. Mild temperatures and little rain gave growers flexibility in timing their picks based on each grape variety's ripeness levels.

    At Château Lynch Bages in Pauillac, harvest progressed quickly. The team began picking white grapes on Sept. 5. "After a relatively late bud burst, the vintage never stopped gaining [speed], resulting in a rather early picking," said proprietor Jean-Charles Cazes.

    Courtesy Léoville Barton
    Crews pick Cabernet Sauvignon at Château Léoville Barton.

    Château Angélus in St.-Emilion was in no rush to pick—harvest lasted from Sept. 24 to Oct. 11. "September was a very mellow month, allowing us to pick the grapes slowly at perfect maturity," said public relations manager Victoire Touton.

    Promising quality

    There were worries that the drastic weather reversal would hurt thin-skinned Merlot grapes, but all varieties excelled this year, vintners say. Thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon proved fairly resistant to spring mildew, and slow-ripening Petit Verdot benefited greatly from the extra weeks of warmth.

    The outlook for white wines is equally positive. Pascal Chatonnet, who owns four Right Bank properties, admits that he was skeptical about this year's Sauvignon Blanc crop when harvest began, but within only a few hours, "Fermentation had revealed the potential of the vintage."

    The challenging weather made life more difficult in dessert-wine regions, however. Hailstorms pummeled Sauternes during the summer. François Amirault, technical director at Château de Fargues, reports that they lost 80 percent of the crop. Additionally, drought extended into fall, hindering botrytis development until much needed rain and humidity arrived in late October. "We were approximately three weeks behind our average harvest start date," said Aline Baly of Château Coutet in Barsac.

    Overall, the Bordelais are optimistic, despite the setbacks. Although the year's weather conditions are reminiscent of the less-than-remarkable 1962 vintage, many believe the potential quality of the wines could be on par with classic vintages such as 1990, 2005 and 2010. Bordeaux's farming techniques have come a long way since 1962, after all.

    Jean-Michel Laporte, director of Château Talbot in St.-Julien, is hesitant about making judgments just yet. "It's too soon to compare it with another great recent vintage, but it tastes really good, and looks incredibly promising."

    Château Margaux's managing director, Philippe Bascaules, was more unabashedly confident. Like many others, Château Margaux suffered low yields in 2018. But, said Bascaules, "In terms of quality, no doubt, this vintage will be among the greatest vintages produced at Margaux."

    Courtesy Château Coutet
    Botrytis-affected grapes await a ride to the winery at Château Coutet in Barsac.

    Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

  • Vintage Wine Estates Buys Qupé Wines from Terroir Life (Wine Spectator)

    Vintage Wine Estates announced today that the company has acquired Santa Barbara, Calif.–based Qupé from Terroir Life. The deal includes the brand and inventory. Founder and winemaker Bob Lindquist will stay on as consulting winemaker. The price of the purchase was not disclosed.

    “Qupé has a great history of producing Rhône-style wines that resonates with consumers,” said Pat Roney, CEO for Vintage Wine Estates. “We are looking forward to honoring that legacy.”

    Searching for capital and a long-term financial partner, Lindquist sold the brand in 2013 to Charles Banks and Terroir. Lindquist told Wine Spectator that the partnership with Terroir quickly deteriorated after Banks’ legal woes began. A former financial advisor to professional athletes who made a big splash when he got into the wine business and began acquiring small and medium-size producers in California, South Africa and New Zealand, Banks was convicted in 2017 of defrauding one of his former clients, NBA star Tim Duncan. Currently serving a four-year sentence in federal prison, Banks left his position at Terroir, and the company has been trying to rebuild.

    “Banks seemed like the ideal partner, at the time: He had an upstart company with cool wineries and seemingly lots of resources,” said Lindquist. “Once Banks was no longer in the picture, the mojo seemed to be gone, and Terroir began looking for a good fit for us.”

    Lindquist founded Qupé in 1982, making his first wines for the project during a short stint at Zaca Mesa Winery, before breaking out on his own the following year. As production grew, he focused on Rhône varieties, but also produced Chardonnay due to its popularity at the time. Today, Qupé produces around 30,000 cases annually.

    In 1989, Lindquist and friend Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat partnered to build a winery under a lease agreement with the prized Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley, which became a key source for some of Qupé’s wines. Lindquist was among the first to advocate for Syrah and other Rhône varieties in California, and has been a leader in the movement ever since.

    Lindquist says that with each sale, the goal has been to keep the winemaking consistent with what he’s been doing for 36 years, including the vineyard sources. “I’m happy to move on to a company that has clout and resources,” said Lindquist. “I can’t make all the wine and sell it too.”

    Santa Rosa–based Vintage continues to expand its winery holdings, now with more than 30 brands in its portfolio representing roughly 2 million cases of annual production. Earlier this year, it purchased Washington’s Tamarack Cellars.

    Roney noted that the acquisition of Qupé is part of a larger overall strategy to focus on the Central Coast. “That’s another reason why it made a lot of sense for us, as we begin to put a group of additional winery acquisitions together.” Along with Qupé, recent Central Coast acquisitions include Clay House and Layer Cake.

    Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.

  • Sommelier Talk: A Day in the Life of Brooklyn Restaurateur Alex LaPratt (Wine Spectator)

    10:00 a.m. Class Is in Session

    Alex LaPratt believes you shouldn't have to leave Brooklyn to experience top-notch wine and dining. However, though both his Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning restaurants—Atrium Dumbo and Beasts & Bottles—are in his borough of choice, today his workday begins in Manhattan. One of the adjunct wine faculty members at the International Culinary Center (ICC), LaPratt, 37, teaches courses within the school's 10-week intensive sommelier training program. So after waking up bright and early in his Brooklyn Heights apartment, he's off to ICC's SoHo campus to teach today's lesson: red Burgundy.

    "Buckle your seatbelts," he tells his class of 10 aspiring certified sommeliers. "We're gonna talk about the Holy Grail of wine."

    LaPratt sips an iced coffee and sits among his students in ICC's small auditorium as he covers everything from the history of Burgundy to the region's top vintages and producers to the meaning behind all the double-barreled place names and designations (Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, etc.).

    "It's kind of like an appetizer," he warns of the lesson, which is just a taste of one of the wine world's most notoriously complex regions. "The main course you're going to have to cook yourself. You're going to have to do some research, you're going to have to read some stuff, you're going to have to drink even more."

    Arielle Figueredo for the International Culinary Center
    ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program includes a combination of lectures, tastings, food pairings and service technique lessons for aspiring wine pros.

    LaPratt interjects his own wine wisdom throughout the two-hour lecture. On the legend of how Corton-Charlemagne became dedicated to white grapes: "Charlemagne—what is that, King Charles the First, or whatever? He saw this hillside and planted it red. But as he got older, his beard turned gray, and apparently his wife said, 'We should change your wine because of your beard.’ And so he decided to plant Chardonnay as well on the hill, and this is what we get. There are all kinds of weird legends that aren't necessarily true, but they like to come up with this crazy stuff. You can tell guests this, but it's absolutely ridiculous."

    12:30 p.m. Teaching Tasting, Part One

    "All right, I'm going to need a few volunteers to open these, present them and then pour them," LaPratt calls out when the class reconvenes after lunch break, which LaPratt spent fielding work calls and emails. He points to the eight bottles of Burgundy he's lined up near his podium. One by one, students come up to pop corks and practice showing the selections to LaPratt as they would to their guests in a restaurant.

    The group then tastes through the lineup, which includes Cyprien Arlaud Nuits-St.-Georges Les Porrets St.-Georges 2014, Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Volnay 2014, Jean-Noël Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru 2015 and other Burgundy Pinots. With LaPratt's guidance, the students take turns talking through the wines, including commentary on the sight, nose, structure and flavor elements of each.

    Lexi Williams
    A lesson in tasting, service and great wine

    LaPratt is so wrapped up in the tasting that class runs 10 minutes over. "Hopefully, if I did my job well, you'll leave with more questions and more curiosity than when you came to class today," he says. But there's no time to bask in the glow of his lecture right now. He's running late.

    2:10 p.m. Rush to the Restaurant

    From the backseat of an Uber, LaPratt handles more restaurant business on his phone, occasionally looking up to call out directions to the driver—shortcuts he knows that the GPS doesn't—so he can rush home, change his clothes and get to his next stop of the day.

    His schedule is always packed, he says. "I usually do the things I really enjoy first thing, just to make sure I get them out of the way." Some days, that means an intense workout in preparation for his next big adventure. (LaPratt is an avid cyclist, and he recently climbed Washington's Mount Rainier.) Today, it meant a quick sprints exercise and a bit of guitar practice, a hobby he picked up when he had some free time after earning the Master Sommelier pin—which he now proudly wears on the lapel of his crisp navy suit—in 2014. It's an accomplishment that took years of study.

    But it's not like things have slowed down since. Following the opening of Atrium in 2013, LaPratt and partners chef Laurent Kalkotour and manager Leslie Affre opened their second restaurant, Beasts & Bottles, in 2016. And he drops a hint about the team's next conquest, a restaurant he hopes will "redefine wine excellence for the Miami area," in that city's trendy Design District.

    3:15 p.m. Teaching Tasting, Part Two

    Beasts & Bottles' dining room is modern, rustic, and, for the moment, empty save for a few staff members prepping for dinner service. Scott Lefler, the restaurant's sole sommelier, and Brady Brown, his Atrium counterpart, are both waiting for LaPratt when he arrives. The trio taste through a few Champagnes that importers have dropped off for consideration for the restaurants' wine lists—among them cuvées from Pierre Moncuit, A. Margaine and Agrapart & Fils.

    Adrian Barry
    Beasts & Bottles dining room

    Next? More tasting, of course. Both somms are training for different certification exams within the Court of Master Sommeliers. LaPratt, the resident Master, often helps them out with mock exams.

    "Alex is tractor-beaming us up to the mother ship," Lefler jokes.

    Today, they're doing a "full six," meaning each somm has 25 minutes to blind-taste six wines—three whites and three reds—and identify their grape varieties, countries of origin, appellations of origin and vintages.

    "It’s like the wine Olympics," LaPratt says. "The same mindset as sports, for sure. A lot of visualization. Confidence is key."

    Lexi Williams
    LaPratt gives his somms in-depth tasting feedback: "I've never had a golden plum. Do they actually exist?"

    As each somm takes his turn rattling off the characteristics of the wines in the lineup, LaPratt takes notes at an equally breakneck pace. As they're winding down, all three wine pros seem in need of an energy boost. As if on cue, they're jolted alert by an unexpected visitor.

    "Is that Fred Dex? On his scooter in a Def Leppard t-shirt?" Brown points out the window. Indeed, another Brooklyn-based wine guy, Fred Dexheimer, is wheeling by. LaPratt springs into action, waving his pal in. "Do you guys still have that Champagne? Let's pour him some."

    4:45 p.m. Change of Plans!

    LaPratt is supposed to head over to Atrium for staff lineup—the next item on his uber-structured to-do list—but the opportunity to shoot the breeze with a friend (and fellow Master Sommelier) is too good for him to pass up. The two haven't seen each other in over a year and have lots to discuss.

    From the struggle of being a restaurant owner:

    "People don't understand the financial reality of running a restaurant. And now the government's getting ready to get rid of the tip credit," LaPratt speculates. (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been conducting a review of the provision that allows restaurant owners to pay their employees less than the standard minimum wage as long as the tips earned by a worker bring his or her income up to or above the minimum wage.) "And if you get rid of the tip credit, your employees don't necessarily make more. Often, they make less. We just want to be sure everybody makes enough money. We try to do, like, Manhattan money, but Brooklyn convenience; that's how we try to retain a lot of our staff. It's not easy when it’s all yours and you have a limited bank account," he says, comparing his budget to those of some of the big-ticket restaurants he's worked at in the past, including the French Laundry, Daniel, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges.

    To the sommelier version of the word "swagger":

    "Swagger has to do with confidence, and it's confidence that's earned by sweat and toil over a long period of time," LaPratt says. "Some people say, 'Alex, you're so cocky.' But I'm not cocky, I'm confident. I don't get nervous doing what I do anymore. I can be in a room of 100,000 people, it doesn't affect me."

    But even while kicking back, LaPratt takes care of business: A guest approaches the table where LaPratt is holding court. He's looking for a Northern Rhône red, something refined with some olive notes, around $200.

    LaPratt pauses to mull over his list. He looks up. "I'm going to change your life. Forever." He asks Lefler to open a bottle of the Marcel Juge Cornas 2015. "If this doesn't change you life, you let me know, because I'll come and drink it, and we can get anything else."

    "That's called swagger!" Dexheimer chimes in.

    Chip Klose
    In addition to a 550-selection wine list, Beasts & Bottles offers a French-American menu.

    It's after dark when LaPratt and Dexheimer have exhausted conversation topics—and bottles of bubbly. There's no chance now that he can stop at Atrium like he planned, or even grab a bite to eat. He hustles to call a cab to take him back into Manhattan and get back on schedule.

    Adrian Barry
    LaPratt doesn't make it over to his other restaurant, Atrium Dumbo, but tomorrow's another day.

    8:30 p.m.: Blowing Off Steam, Somm-Style

    Over the bridge, LaPratt has organized a gathering of wine friends in a private room at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a popular sommelier hangout downtown. He makes the rounds greeting his comrades-in-wine—sommeliers from New York hot spots such as Union Square Cafe, Per Se and the University Club, as well as producers, marketers and even an app creator—most of whom seem to have come prepared to impress with their wine selections.

    LaPratt wields his own picks with pride: From the Compagnie wine list, a jeroboam of Karthäuserhof Riesling Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben 2012, and from Beasts & Bottles, a magnum he brought of A. J. Adam Hofberg Riesling 2012.

    "It's good to get everyone out, taste some wine, have some camaraderie," he says. "Everyone is always trying to be all serious. I think we need to take that out sometimes."

    For the rest of the night, LaPratt will stay busy entertaining his friends while keeping their glasses filled, ensuring everyone gets a taste of what he's got to offer.

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