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Gone in 500 Seconds: A Bordeaux Smash and Grab

Plus, more fallout follows Brunello vandal attack, a winemaker-turned-bread baker, toasting Australia's first Masters champ with Penfolds Grange, John Salley promotes Vegan Vine wines and more

Posted: April 25, 2013

• At 4:16 a.m. on April 10 in Listrac-Médoc, thieves rammed a vehicle into the solid oak doors of Château Fourcas Dupré's cellar, smashing through within seconds. Eight minutes later, when co-owner Patrice Pagès arrived with his vineyard manager, the crooks were gone, disappearing into the Médoc countryside. Sadly, it's quite possibly a new world speed record for a Bordeaux wine heist. The loot included 258 bottles of Château Fourcas Dupré, mainly the 2010 vintage, one case of 1997, and 78 magnums of the second label 2006 Château Bellevue-Lafont, valued at about $10,000. All of the wine was labeled, boxed and ready for shipment. “We don’t think they were professional criminals, but the police have taken all the evidence necessary to catch the robbers,” said co-owner Ghislain Pagès, who was asleep in the château at the time of the break-in. Local gendarmes were first on the scene, followed by a tech crew from the Bordeaux HQ to take DNA samples in case a new gang of wine thieves is afoot. Other recent robberies: In October 2012, Carrefour négociant Maison Johanès Boubée lost 50 cases of 2012, including 4 cases of Château Margaux second label Pavillon Rouge, valued at more than $15,000; in August 2011, several hundred bottles were stolen from St.-Emilion Grand Cru Château Millaud Montlabert; this past February, 318 bottles were stolen from Château Palmer, valued at nearly $100,000, and were recovered by police investigating another crime ring.

• Meanwhile in Italy, a recent instance of Brunello vandalism has been upstaged by the snowballing reactions of its victim and the Brunello di Montalcino Consorzio. In December, Gianfranco Soldera's Casa Basse lost a major amount—some 80,000 bottles—of the past six vintages when a disgruntled former employee opened the taps on 10 large casks of aging wine. In March, a court sentenced the perp to four years in prison. Looking to help out their victimized neighbor, the Brunello Consorzio offered to donate wine to Soldera from member properties so he could create a "solidarity Brunello" cuvée and recover some of his losses. Soldera gratefully accepted, and it ended there. Soldera, presumably hoping to extend his pity party, took to the papers and blasted the gift as "inadmissible and offensive, a fraud to consumers," and for good measure announced his intention to resign from the Consorzio. Consorzio members shrugged, but what can you do about a proud man still licking his wounds, and it ended there. The Consorzio, presumably unfamiliar with the high road, responded by suing Soldera because, as president Fabrizio Bindocci put it, "the producers have called for a strong gesture toward those who offend the honor and the work of each of them." As reported in Corriere Della Serra—where Soldera made his initial remarks—Bindocci stated that the lawsuit is very, very necessary because "the tone used by [Soldera] and the baseless allegations made in the course of that interview have considerably damaged the image of Brunello and of its territory, one of Italian excellence in the world." Unfiltered is just thankful to have something other than Bordeaux futures to talk about … so sue us.

• Historically, few pairings can compete with bread and wine (see: Holy Communion, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, countless still-life paintings, and every dinner table in France and Italy). Yet it’s rare to find a grower-producer who works in both mediums. Enter Central Coast winemaker Sashi Moorman and his wife, Melissa Sorongon. The pair have added boulanger to their vigneron credentials. And, in a hyper-artisanal twist, they’re growing their own wheat and milling their own flour. The couple organically farms 15 acres of heirloom Durum, Sonora and Red Fife wheat in Solvang, across the road from Stolpman Vineyard, where Moorman also works as winemaker. Sorongon sells the loaves, under the New Vineland label, at farmers’ markets in Montecito and Ojai, as well as at the couple’s Piedrasassi tasting room, located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto in California’s Sta. Rita Hills. Working with homegrown wheat, Moorman told Unfiltered, increases the complexity and vintage variability of the bread, in the same way that a grower Champagne can be more distinct than a négociant-style Grande Marque. And his reliance on wild yeasts in the bakery has convinced him to entirely eliminate sulfur from his winery. Alas, like boutique wines, the über-artisanal loaves aren’t cheap: Since everything is done by hand and New Vineland’s brick-and-mortar oven (fueled by locally sourced walnut and oak) takes approximately 30 hours to heat and bake, prices range from $5 to $9 per loaf. Also note: Despite their vintage-specificity, these loaves don’t improve with age.

• It's well-known that golfers love wine and wine lovers heart golf. Logically, Unfiltered was glued to a barstool as the Masters went into a rainy playoff between Argentina's Ángel Cabrera and Australia's Adam Scott earlier this month—whoever won, there would surely be a fine homeland wine to celebrate with. We're not sure what Scott popped after becoming the first Aussie to don the green jacket at Augusta National, but one of his fellow countrymen and former Masters runner-up Steve Elkington had no trouble deciding what to reach for: “I opened a bottle of 1986 [Penfolds] Grange Hermitage, one of the best bottles of all time,” Elkington told one of Unfiltered's little birdies. “I’d been saving it up for a special occasion.” Elkington paired his big Shiraz with a steak, of course. “Cabrera’s shot on 18, that to me was one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen, and all of a sudden it looked like we might not have the Masters,” said Elkington. “That drama, and Jim Nantz making it clear on the CBS coverage how strongly Australians thought about the elusive victory at Augusta National, and Adam referring to Greg [Norman] as a pioneer—it was all great.”

John Salley’s long limbs earned him the nickname “The Spider” during his 15-year NBA career, but it’s his expansive love of wine and his far-reaching concern for animal rights that’s putting him in the headlines these days. When he’s not participating in blind tasting challenges at the Wine Spectator New World Wine Experience, he’s promoting The Vegan Vine, the San Martin, Calif.-based wine label, of which Salley is co-owner. Produced by Clos LaChance, The Vegan Vine fines its wines with bentonite rather than with traditional fining agents like egg whites, casein (a milk derivative), gelatin or isinglass (obtained from fish bladder). Last week, Unfiltered caught up with Salley at Café Blossom in New York for a dinner featuring four vegan courses paired, respectively, with The Vegan Vine’s Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and eight-variety Red Blend. What’s next for The Spider? Expanding national distribution of Vegan Vine Wines, Salley said, and spreading the word that your food and wine consumption “shouldn’t have to harm anything else.”

• New York wine lovers have a chance to taste more than 500 wines (if you can taste more than three wines per minute), some of the best available in the state, for charity next week. The members of the New York Alliance of Fine Wine Wholesalers, a collection of 11 New York City-based wholesalers, are each presenting 50 of the best wines in their portfolios to help raise awareness of New York's small wholesalers and, during the public tasting from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m on May 1 in SoHo, support victims of Hurricane Sandy. Food will be provided by the BLT family of restaurants. Tickets to the public tasting are $50 (rsvp at nyfwatastingforsandy.eventbrite.com), and 100 percent of proceeds will be donated to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

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