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Monkey Business in South Africa

Plus, atomic wine testing and celebrity chefs get together for a pairing of Pinot Noir, pork and public service

Posted: March 25, 2010

• Napa and Sonoma fear the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the light-brown apple moth, but South Africa has an even bigger vineyard pest: baboons! While it’s not a serious problem so far, it sure is an odd one. Baboons are found throughout most of the southern Cape mountains, and as vineyards expand in the region, the critters have developed an appetite for grapes as they ripen near harvest. La Petite Ferme lost about 3 tons of Chardonnay to the marauding monkeys this year after wild fires in the Franschhoek wine-producing region damaged their usual foraging areas. The baboons are smart and adaptable, and they can Tarzan over electric fences. Growers don’t want to hurt the animals, so they resort to a bag of tricks to scare them away, from hanging shiny CDs in the vineyards to blowing horns and other noisemakers. One vineyard reportedly deploys lion dung, obtained from a local safari park. At Oak Valley Estate, a guard was once employed to throw stones at the baboons when they tried to steal the grapes, but the strategy backfired when the apes started hurling them back.

• Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia have developed the first test that can accurately identify the vintage of any wine produced after 1945. The test, presented at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society and developed by Dr. Graham Jones, a professor of wine and horticulture at the University of Adelaide, measures the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the wine. For most of history, that ratio remained consistent from year to year. However, postwar nuclear testing altered the carbon isotope ratio in the atmosphere in specific, recorded ways. By correlating the ratio of carbon isotopes in a wine to the altered atmospheric carbon ratios that resulted from A-bomb detonations, the University of Adelaide scientists can pinpoint the exact birthday of any wine. Unfortunately, the test requires opening the bottle to remove a sample, so if you plan to head this route, you’ll likely be drinking up your mystery vintage while awaiting the results. Still, not a bad way to pass the time.

• Chef Charlie Palmer’s annual Pigs & Pinot benefit at Hotel Healdsburg was held this past weekend, and tickets sold out in less than an hour when they went on sale in January. The demand was likely linked to Palmer’s appearance on the “Pigs & Pinot” episode of last season’s Top Chef, not to mention a celebrity chef roster that included show finalists Bryan Voltaggio and Kevin Gillespie as well as Tyler Florence and LaFolle’s Roland Passot. Gillespie, who won the elimination challenge for that episode, recreated his winning pork terrine with mushroom salad and pickled cherry. Gillespie even brought his own Southern-raised pigs from Gum Creek Farms in Georgia. "I thought using what was local for me made the most sense," he told Unfiltered. The pork-themed dishes accompanied 50 Pinot Noirs, most of them local, which faced off in a judged blind tasting with Master Sommeliers Keith Goldston, Fred Dame, Drew Hendricks and Aureole Las Vegas wine director William Sherer. In the end, Woodenhead’s 2007 Russian River Valley Buena Tierra Vineyard took home the Pinot Cup. We suspect attendees who made it all the way through to the last maple bacon doughnut took home a full belly, but it was for a good cause: A spokesperson for Palmer’s camp said this year’s event raised approximately $50,000 for charity partners Share Our Strength and local Healdsburg educational organizations. And that’s a good excuse to pig out in Unfiltered’s opinion.

Domingo Rosario
brooklyn, ny —  March 26, 2010 4:03pm ET
very funny the south africa situation with the monkeys,
i wish i was there for the pigs and pinot benefit and have the chance to taste those great chefs food pair with a great pinot noir

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