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Celebrating Celebrity Vineyards (the Book)

Plus, chef Emeril Lagasse honored for taking charity up a notch, Paris' Elysée undertakes wine austerity, Napa's philanthropic 1 percenters, and more

Posted: May 2, 2013

• "When they showed up, I just thought they were hard-up for celebrities," joked Robert Kamen at the April book launch of Celebrity Vineyards at the Bowery Hotel in New York. Kamen protested to Unfiltered that, as a screenwriter—albeit the screenwriter of the Karate Kid series, Taps and A Walk in the Clouds—he just sits in a darkened room writing stuff all day (celebrities: They're just like Unfiltered!), and pardoned himself to sign a copy of the book "for a minute while I be a celebrity." But Kamen was a vintner before his fame, purchasing 280 acres on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma with the money from his first screenplay, in the late 1970s. "What can I do with all the money I make as a screenwriter? I bury it in the ground."

While Kamen's story goes back further than that of most of the celebrities in the book, all were selected, according to author Nick Wise, because they were "serious about some parts, whether picking the vineyards or the final blends." Other famous vintners profiled in Celebrity Vineyards: Francis Ford Coppola, chef Charlie Palmer, Dan Aykroyd, Antonio Banderas, Fess Parker, race car drivers Mario Andretti and Randy Lewis, coach Dick Vermeil and Natalie Oliveros, perhaps better known to Unfiltered readers as adult-film phenom Savanna Samson. "They have to bring out the whole 'Savanna Samson' thing, but I do make the wine," Oliveros said. "I was there every month in 2012." Oliveros is co-owner of Brunello estate La Fiorita with Roberto Cipressi; the 2006 riserva earned a classic 95 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. Wise, who has worked as a wine merchant and entertainment writer, mused that winemaking is an attractive second profession to "a lot of technical people, a lot of golfers and race car drivers. That translates into the technicality that goes into wine—what pH, what tannin level." As for Kamen, his approach began with slightly less precision: As he tells it, his "dope dealer" in the '70s dreamed of planting an organic vineyard on North Coast slopes, but no one would bite at the time. Kamen took a chance and was among the first to go organic in the state. His original viticulturist is still on staff.

Many great chefs begin cooking because they enjoy making people happy–offering the pleasure and sustenance that only food can deliver. Emeril Lagasse has made a lot of people "happy happy," as he would say, in the past 20 years, but he's also worked to improve lives. This year, the James Beard Foundation is recognizing that by awarding him its Humanitarian of the Year Award on May 6, recognizing his decade of work through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which supports nonprofit groups and educational initiatives for children. Since 2002, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has granted over $5.3 million to children’s education and culinary arts programs in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and the Gulf Coast. Its work has ranged from creating an outdoor classroom and gardens to a fresh foods cafeteria. In March 2011, Emeril dedicated the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Culinary Arts Studio at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, which offers high school students a four-year culinary arts program with a first-of-its-kind master-apprentice curriculum, developed in partnership with Emeril’s alma mater Johnson & Wales University. "I founded the foundation with the hope of giving back by exposing young people to the culinary arts—especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds," said Lagasse in a statement. "I'm incredibly proud of the work we've done, the lives we've touched, and I’m deeply grateful to my many friends who have contributed their support along the way."

• Faced with plummeting popularity and a fragile economy, France’s socialist president Francois Hollande is cleaning out his wine cellar and trading down. The French Elysée palace is selling 1,200 bottles from its cellar on May 30 and 31 through auctioneers Kapandji Morhange at Hotel Drouot in Paris. Elysée sommelier Virginie Routis culled the wines from the 12,000-bottle presidential stock. “They are single bottles or wines in too small a quantity to be useful for official receptions,” Drouot's Catherine Delvaux told Unfiltered. The collection reflects the tastes of past presidents and the nuances of diplomatic schmoozing where wines are chosen according to the menu as well as the relative importance of the guests. Heads of state and monarchs might get d’Yquem, but French senators will be served "discovery" wines from little-known vignerons. Price estimates range from $20 to $2,900, but there should be many wines with a hammer price in the $100 range. On offer will be a cornucopia of France’s famed terroirs, including 1985 Krug Champagne Clos du Mesnil, 1982 La Mission Haut-Brion, 1990 Château d’Yquem,1990 Margaux, Burgundies from Romanée-Conti, Montrachet, Chablis, Corton, Meursault and Puligny, and Côte-Roties and Châteauneufs from Guigal and Vieux Télégraphe. On the budget end, bidders will find fine Alsacian vintages from producers like Hugel, Trimbach and Weinbach and modest Loire labels like Châteaux de Suronde, Domaine de la Taille aux Loups and Domaine Huët from Vouvray. Profits will be used to self-finance the Elysée cellar, focusing on more modest crus in keeping with leaner times. The auction catalog will be available online at kapandji-morhange.com.

• One of Napa's more popular wineries, as well known for its art collection as its Cabernets, is helping put the term "1 percenter" in a new and entirely positive light. The Hess Collection is a member of the global 1% for the Planet program, a nonprofit organization that encourages businesses to donate 1 percent of sales to environmental programs. This year, The Hess Collection donated more than $11,000—1 percent of sales from its Small Block Series wines—to the Land Trust of Napa Valley, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Napa wildlife habitats. In all, Hess has donated more than $50,000 to environmental programs through 1% for the Planet. Other wineries that have signed on with the 1 percenters include California's Big Vine Wines, Cultivate Wines, Grassi Wine Company, Home Team Wines, Lucas J. Cellars, Massican, Paradigm Winery, Shypoke Vineyard, Spottswoode Winery and Steelhead Vineyards, as well as Florida's One Green Liter, Italy's Il Palazzone and Portugal's Jean Hugues.

• In other charity wine news, a new project from winemaker Charles Bieler (Three Thieves, Gotham Project), Scottish Master of Wine Norrel Robertson and Olé Imports founders Patrick Mata and Alberto Orté will debut in the U.S. market this month. Liquid Geography is a 100 percent Monastrell rosé from the Bullas region of southeastern Spain priced at around $9 per bottle, with 100 percent of the profits donated to the TJ Martell Foundation for cancer research. The first run of 3,000 cases for the 2012 vintage is expected to generate $27,000 for the charity.

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