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Wine Fills America's Cup

Plus, a Master of Wine and mountains, the California condor gets a lift from the vineyard, and California's newest batch of AVAs

Posted: October 3, 2013

• Unless you've been sailing under a rock, you're well aware that defending America's Cup yachting champion Oracle Team USA just pulled off an astounding comeback victory over Emirates Team New Zealand last week, winning eight straight races to retain the Auld Mug. But you may not have known just how prominent a role wine places in the whole affair. Wall Street Journal readers may have seen the full-page Penfolds ad congratulating Oracle Team USA on its victory—considering the American team was comprised almost entirely of Australian sailors, Penfolds was a logical choice as the team's official wine supplier. Emirates Team New Zealand's official wine supplier is Marlborough-based Mud House. Sonoma's Dry Creek Vineyard even created a special Sailors' Cuvée to celebrate its sponsorship of the Artemis Racing team (representing the Royal Swedish Yacht Club) in the Louis Vuitton Cup races, which determined Oracle's challenger. There was even an official pop-up America's Cup Sports Bar at San Francisco's Pier 27 at the America's Cup Basin this summer serving more than 30 Napa Valley wines. The official sparkling wine of the 34th America's Cup was Mumm Napa, and Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill popped magnums of Mumm Napa Brut Prestige after retaining the Cup.

And now, thanks to Australian vintner Robert Oatley, the 35th America's Cup should be even more wine-soaked: Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club racing team, led by Oatley, has been confirmed as the Challenger of Record for the next Cup race. Oatley's super-yacht Wild Oats XI has won the Sydney to Hobart race six times.

• Sailing isn't the only adventure sport that attracts wine lovers, of course—the Explorer's Club and its astronauts, mountain climbers and deep-sea divers have long appreciated pairing their exotic cuisines with wine. Unfiltered talked to one adventure-loving wine pro this week, Master of Wine James Cluer, who curates the wine list for Qatar Airways and also recently climbed up to basecamp at Mt. Everest. Since he was climbing Everest anyway, Cluer did what any self-respecting wine lover would do: He brought along a few bottles—Krug Champagne, Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Red Mare Napa Cabernet and Yquem—to see how altitude affected taste. "The Champagne was definitely much more effervescent—the bubbles were huge—and the wine came spewing out," Cluer said of the Krug, which had arrived at basecamp several days before him thanks to the help of a speedy Sherpa guide. "Altitude definitely seems to have an effect on the effervescence of the Champagne." Cluer said the reds tasted more tannic at altitude, and the white Burgundy's complexity was muted. So how does Cluer factor altitude into making selections for an airline? "At 35,000 feet, with cabin pressure, it's much harder to get the same intensity of the wine, partly because of the dryness in the cabin … so we go for wines with a lot of aromatic intensity, lots of richness, nothing too severely tannic—wines with roundness and suppleness … and nothing too, too alcoholic!" Cluer laughed. Check out Cluer's "Judgment of Everest" video on Vimeo for highlights from his climb and tasting with the Sherpas.

• Recent studies have indicated that climate change may put new vineyards in conflict with existing wildlife, including adorable pandas, but wine and the wild can work together as well. 10Span Vineyards’ partnership with the Ventana Wildlife Society is aiding the fight for the California condor, which has been extinct in the wild since 1987. The bird is the inspiration behind the brand name: 10Span refers to the condor's impressive 10-foot wingspan. The vineyards are located in Santa Barbara County, and 10Span released its inaugural vintage this past April with a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris. 10Span winemaker John Clark, along with his wife, Kelley, is the proprietor of Brophy Clark Cellars, and he formerly worked at Corbett Canyon and Concannon. His idea was to help the Ventana Wildlife Society reintroduce the California condor to its natural habitat by donating a percentage of the proceeds of 10Span wines to the charity. “In our launch year we anticipate donating approximately $60,000 to Ventana Wildlife Society," a 10Span spokesperson said. "VWS is an important cause we're proud to support, and we anticipate increasing the donation in 2014.”

• When the federal government shut down “nonessential” agencies earlier this week, it included the arm of the government that regulates wine and other alcoholic beverages, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Its closure will impact wineries that are waiting for their wine labels to be approved. Why does that matter? Without an approved label, a wine can’t be sold. Yes, it’s scary. The good news is that the TTB made some important rulings before they had to go home. First off, they took the next step to approving the division of Paso Robles into 11 subappellations, which is now open to public comments. And four brand-spanking-new viticultural areas have been approved in California. There is now a Moon Mountain District of Sonoma County; Lake County now has Big Valley-Lake County and Kelsey Bench-Lake County (subsequently modifying the existing Red Hills Lake County viticultural area); and Ballard Canyon was approved in Santa Barbara County. Grower and winemaker Wes Hagen called the Ballard Canyon news a “hat trick” of micro-AVAs within Santa Barbara, along with the previous approvals of Sta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon. “Certain winegrowing regions define themselves,” wrote Hagen.

Napa Valley Vintner Assoc
Napa, CA —  October 3, 2013 6:48pm ET
While many America's Cup teams secured individual wine sponsors like those noted above, Napa Valley was the official wine region of the overall 34th America's Cup.

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