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Cognac Honors Carmelo's Cause

Plus, a $467,000 wine heist in the U.K., a new study examines why we like celebrity wines, a Goldschläger-inspired sparkling wine and more

Posted: August 22, 2013

• Cognac house Hennessy bestowed its 10th annual Privilege Award on New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony in a ceremony at The Griffin in New York earlier this week. The Privilege Award, so named for Hennessy Privilège Cognac, honors individuals who, according to senior vice president Rodney Williams, “echo [Hennessy’s] passion and have made extraordinary contributions to society through leadership and service.” The All-Star small forward (and two-time Olympic gold medalist) now joins a list of past honorees that includes Magic Johnson, Patti LaBelle and Kanye West for the work of his eponymous Carmelo Anthony Foundation, which provides relief supplies for natural disasters, sends food to hungry families during the holidays and runs community outreach programs for disadvantaged children. Toasting Melo at The Griffin was director Spike Lee, another former Privilege Award recipient and a permanent fixture of courtside seats at Knicks games, as well as Saturday Night Live comedian Jay Pharaoh and hip-hop star Fabolous. In fact, Hennessy’s legacy of outreach in the African American community extends far beyond the past decade of Privilege Awards: In 1896, the company’s then-president, William Jay Schieffelin, befriended Booker T. Washington, founder of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. Not only did Schieffelin join Tuskegee’s board of directors, but in 1928 he organized a train ride from New York to Alabama to educate many of his friends in the north—Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain and Thomas Edison among them—about the work of the institute.

• Ain't too much Unfiltered's jaded eyes haven't seen when it comes to wine crime. From cat burglars infiltrating a château through the roof, Mission Impossible-style, to reapers stealing grape crops right off the vines to that whole high-end auction forgery racket, well, there's not much that surprises us. But while it's not the most brazen raid in the history of wine crime, what went down this past weekend in a Scottish haulage yard is one of the most high-dollar pinches in our recent memory: 50,000 bottles valued at over $467,000. The thieves broke into a truck yard near Glasgow, hooked up their own cab to a lorry full of wine and off they went. It's a crime so deceptively, elegantly simple that it almost makes one think security should be better at a facility where a half-million dollars' worth of luxury inventory is gathered in one place, a place that already has wheels attached to it. Detectives are on it, reviewing security footage and interrogating the townsfolk, but Unfiltered's been at the figurative scene of enough wine crimes that we'd focus on the truck driver and security guard who didn't show up for work the next day, but also check any soirées being thrown in the trailer of a semi-truck just to cover the bases.

• Do you rush to clear out your local shop's shelves of any wine you hear a celebrity endorses? Of course: They are celebrities, endowed with taste and judgment beyond our capacity! If Justin Timberlake endorsed pencils, Unfiltered would throw all our pens in the trash. But are all celebrity endorsements equal? That is what researchers Sarah Clemente, Eric Dolansky, Antonia Mantonakis and Katherine White, of three Canadian universities, set about figuring out, with the results published in the August issue of the journal Marketing Letters. The experiment was simple enough: three cups of wine, three celebrity athletes and two groups of taste-testers, "high-knowledge" and "low-knowledge." Subjects were told the wines were of the same variety (they were in fact the same wine), but one was endorsed by golfer Vijay Singh, a second by speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon and the final tickled the senses of wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

It's possible that in real life, Vijay, Jeremy and The Rock hang out at the same themed tasting group each week, but the perception of the athletes is what matters here. Using fancy formulas, the researchers determined Singh's "congruence" with wine to be high—i.e., he plays a gentle, mannered sport for rich people, so he would be a wine guy. "Participants perceived Singh to be the best match with wine and The Rock to be the worst match, with Wotherspoon in between," as the paper put it. The subjects tasted the wine and then evaluated on merit and willingness to buy. "Intuitively, it may seem that consumers would provide higher taste evaluations when the product's extrinsic cues fit in a congruent manner (e.g., Pelee Island label vs. Fat Bastard label)." But the mind plays tricks! It turns out that there's a thing called "moderate schema incongruity effect" (MSIE), which causes us to be delighted when we like something we sort-of didn't expect to like. The low-knowledge drinkers, having no expectations, rated the three athlete wines the same. But the high-knowledge participants confirmed this: Lacking any other info to base their taste on, they preferred the Wotherspoon wine. They did not wish to smell what The Rock was vinting, though no less than Vijay's cup. So Unfiltered readers, the bad news is you may have a severe case of MSIE. But the good news is, you may find much to like in the next celebrity-endorsed wine you try. May we suggest a bottle of Blue Ocean Floor?

• When describing the clarity of a wine, Unfiltered is pretty excited to use the term "flaky" once again. XXIV Karat Grande Cuvée, a sparkling wine infused with 24-karat gold leaf—about 5mg, or 50 cents' worth—is the brainchild of business partners Kegan Klein and Nicolas Cowherd, who met each other while attending Arizona State. (Unfiltered readers will recall that Hundred Acre's Jayson Woodbridge gave this a try with still wine back in 2005 with Gold Barossa Valley Chardonnay.) “Sparkling wine and Champagne have become the choice of our generation. We find it to be a way to express yourself, be indulgent, and emulate the image we see throughout pop-culture and on MTV Cribs,” said Klein. The grapes used for their cuvée are sourced from a vineyard in Mendocino, Calif., and the bottling facility is located in Lodi. XXIV Karat Grande Cuvée is made in an extra-dry style and the golden flakes are certified 24 karats of real gold. Currently, the Grand Cuvée ($35 retail, starting next week) is only available in nightclubs, bars and gentleman’s clubs in Scottsdale, Ariz., but Klein expects the wine to hit local retail stores and supermarkets in the coming months. Portfolio expansion of the 24 Karat Wines brand is already on the duo's minds with plans to develop a rosé for Valentine’s Day 2014. With that being said, Unfiltered couldn’t help but ask if these two are Goldschläger fans. Klein admitted, “Yes we were, and we still drink it from time to time. Goldschläger built a great brand and we would be honored to one day be on that level.”

• Jackson Family Wines hasn’t acquired much in California lately, but this week they made another big move in Oregon, buying a production facility and 35 acres of vineyards from well-regarded Pinot Noir producer Soléna Estate. The sale price of the 15,000-case winery, located in the Yamhill-Carlton district of Willamette Valley, was not disclosed. The Soléna brand will be retained by owners Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus Montalieu, who are moving to a nearby facility. Earlier this year, Jackson Family (the parent company of Kendall-Jackson Vineyards) purchased three vineyard properties in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “We need a winery capable of producing artisan wines,” Hugh Reimers, Jackson Family COO, said. “The Soléna winery is beautifully designed for boutique, small-lot winemaking.”

• Napa’s Cleavage Creek, the cheekily named winery that featured breast cancer survivors on its labels, is getting a new lease on life from a group of Chinese investors. Hong Kong-based FCC North American Investment, LCC, purchased the defunct winery for $4.95 million in late July. The sale included the brand, a 6,700-case a year winery in Pope Valley and 19 acres of vineyard planted mainly to Cabernet Sauvignon. The group pursued Cleavage Creek because of consumers’ familiarity with Napa Cabernet. “They are going to use it to build a knowledge base for the Chinese,” said Scott Bergman of Bergman Euro-national, the brokerage firm that represented the buyers. But don’t expect to see the Cleavage Creek wines on store shelves in the U.S.—they'll be marketed to Macau going forward. “They want to build a wine brand that’s going to be marketed specifically to the Chinese market,” Bergman said. The group is also developing a new brand called Calla Lily to be sold in China and is interested in purchasing another winery in the Russian River Valley to add Pinot Noir to its portfolio. Cleavage Creek closed its doors in 2011 after former owner Robert “Budge” Brown died in a plane crash. Brown was initially drawn to the brand’s name after losing his wife to breast cancer in 2005. He purchased the winery and bottled the wines with photos of breast cancer survivors such as TV host Carson Daly’s mother, Patricia Daly Caruso, donating 10 percent of the sales to breast cancer research projects. Bergman said the new owners haven’t discussed whether Cleavage Creek will be a benefit brand going forward.

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