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When Jailhouse Wine Goes from Bad to Poison

Plus, Siduri's Adam Lee takes a winemaking gig in Willamette Valley, and the Official Champagne of (almost) everything takes on New Year's Eve

Posted: December 19, 2013

• Prisoners, not so unlike you and us (and exactly like Unfiltered's loyal incarcerated readership—Hi guys!), enjoy their wine, and much like many respected wines, prison wine (called "pruno" in the western U.S.) contains a number of additives mixed in during the winemaking process. Additives like grapefruit, oranges, canned pears, canned peaches, ketchup, "juice mix" and two-week-old baked potato stored in a jar. The "old potato" is a cutting-edge innovation that, according to a recent study of a 2011 incident in Utah, still has some technical issues. According to the report, "The prisoner’s rationale behind using a potato was that he thought it would 'accelerate fermentation,' and he was 'experimenting.'" Unfortunately, whatever its effects on fermentation, it also hospitalized 12 prisoners with a bad case of "jail hangover," aka botulism, manifesting itself a few days after ingestion and causing muscle paralysis, resulting in difficulty swallowing and speaking, double vision, general weakness and even respiratory failure. Some of the patients stated that they consumed more than 2 gallons of pruno, and similar outbreaks of pruno fever have occurred recently in Arizona and California as well. Despite the whole "severe poisoning" thing though, prisoners were reportedly most disappointed that the wine was simply fermented canned fruit and rotten potato instead of 1929 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, as the new prison wine broker had led them to believe.

Adam Lee, owner and winemaker of California’s Siduri and Novy Family Wines, has been appointed winemaker at Hawks View Cellars, a boutique estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Santa Rosa-based Siduri produces between 17 and 26 different Pinot Noir bottlings annually, depending on the vintage, and including single-vineyard releases from coveted fruit sources such as Pisoni and Hirsch vineyards. In addition to working with five California American Viticultural Areas, Lee has vinified Siduri Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley fruit since 1995. “I began making Oregon Pinot Noir with three difficult vintages, 1995, ’96 and ’97,” Lee told Unfiltered. “I became a far better winemaker than I ever would have been had I never experienced Oregon’s conditions.” Although he already makes up to 25,000 cases annually under his own two labels, Lee is undaunted by the prospect of a second job in a neighboring state. The peripatetic winemaker already sources fruit from the 50-acre Hawks View Vineyard, as well three additional vineyards in the Willamette Valley’s Chehalem Mountains subappellation. Hawks View Cellars, founded in 2007, currently produces 2,500 cases annually. With a roving outlook that’s similar to the Siduri model, the winery utilizes estate fruit but also works with Pinot Noir and Syrah from California as well as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington. “With his voluminous experience, I would be remiss not to ask for his opinion every time Adam calls me from California,” said Hawks View general manager and co-owner A.J. Kemp. “For me, there was no other choice than Adam.” Hawks View’s outgoing winemaker, Ryan Harms, is leaving to focus full-time on his fast-growing négociant business, Union Wine Company, which made 85,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay under the Underwood, Kings Ridge and Alchemist labels this past year.

• It's been an official Champagne of pretty much every big event where people drink Champagne: The Oscars, the Golden Globes, the U.S. Open, Fashion Week … so what's next for Moët & Chandon? The granddaddy of them all, of course, New Year's Eve. Moët announced this past week that it has been named the official Champagne of Times Square New Year's Eve, presented by the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. "Now the world's most loved Champagne will be linked with the most famous New Year's Eve celebration in the world," said Thomas Bouleuc, vice president of Moët & Chandon USA in a press release. "There is a reason that Champagne is the favorite way to ring in the New Year—it elevates and enhances any occasion." We can get behind that last sentiment, as Unfiltered knows well that sparkling wine should be a year-round treat, but we love it on Dec. 31 too. To get revelers excited for Moët's involvement in this year's year-end extravaganza, a special 11-foot-tall bottle of Moët & Chandon Imperial was commissioned, and it's already set up in the Times Square Visitors Center for photo ops for those of us who would rather be anywhere but Times Square when the ball drops.

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