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Yo Quiero Vino, Taco Bell!

Plus, another round of Lafite vs. Lafitte, new ownership for the Napa Wine Train, and the wine industry comes to the aid of Lake County's fire victims
Photo by: Thinkstock
Taco Bell will soon be a one-stop shop for the full "Fourth Meal" experience.

Posted: September 17, 2015

Now that wine is coming to more than 2,000 Starbucks locations, it's only to be expected that the proud fast-food bastions of the U.S. follow suit. First to run for the wine border: Taco Bell, which announced this week that new Taco Bell "Cantinas" will open in Chicago and San Francisco this month, offering wine, beer, sangria and "Twisted Freezes," along with tapas-style shareable appetizers. The single-serve wine offerings will be Steelhead Vineyards and Stack Wines (as seen on Shark Tank!), and guests can order shots of Captain Morgan, Ketel One or Don Julio to "live mas" with their Mountain Dew Baja Blast.

Considering Taco Bell's open-late "Fourth Meal" menu is widely regarded as an "after-bar" phenomenon for Millenials, Unfiltered imagines the new Taco Bell Cantinas will be extraordiarily convenient for those who need to get into a certain frame of mind before downing a bag of Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos. (Wine Spectator's own Dr. Vinny can help you out with those Doritos flavor wine pairings!)

And officially putting Unfiltered on trend alert, Burger King released a video this week announcing the creation of Whopper Wine, a Spanish Tempranillo aged in an oak barrel toasted—"flame-broiled," if you will—in a BK broiler. Forty bottles of the wine will be given away to Burger King fans in Spain who enter a contest on the chain's Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Target, the go-to back-to-school superstore for stocking up on pencils, lunchpails and Trapper Keepers, will soon become a place for Mom to relax with a glass of wine. A new location in Chicago, slated to open in early October, released the brand’s first liquor license application on Aug. 24, with plans to open an 18,884-square-foot in-store Starbucks and wine bar. The Starbucks Evenings menu will be available, offering small plates with wine by the glass or bottle (think Apothic red blends and bacon-wrapped dates). Patrons will be allowed to carry their adult beverages with them throughout the store while they shop, a sales strategy that could turn out to be a real bull's-eye.


Another Battle Decided for Now in Lafite vs. Lafitte

The decision is in for another round of the dozen-year Château Lafite Rothschild vs. Château Lafitte trademark slugfest. According to Philippe Mengin, whose family owns Lafitte, he learned this month that the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of the People’s Republic of China approved his wine's brand name after years of legal limbo, extended by complaints from the first-growth. Lafitte (pronounced, well, "Lafite") has held its title for 250 years, but only in 2003 did the Pauillac Lafite decide to take a swing at the Côtes de Bordeaux Lafitte (incidentally, that was the vintage when the first-growth doubled its futures price over the previous year).

After a lengthy court battle, a French Court of Cassation called the fight for the underdog. But Lafite spoiled for a rematch in China, where Lafitte sells half of its production, because … well, anyhow, the government there felt the distinction was strong enough. Mengin called it a "long battle," and acknowledged to Unfiltered that, "I think Lafite Rothschild has done these things in China because they're doing it in countries where the story of the wine is something new."

Still, counterfeiting affects his brand as well and, "How can you say a Chinese customer can make a mistake between our brand and their brand? Two totally different products in the way they are designed and the label and the price, of course"—Lafitte is a $35 to $70 wine; Lafite famously commands thousands. Au contraire, argued Christophe Salin, president and CEO of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (e.g. Lafite), calling Mengin "someone trying to confuse the consumer in an emerging market." Mengin thinks he won't have to square off for a third round, since China, not long ago known for a rather spotty record officiating intellectual property, sets a pretty strong precedent with this decision. But Salin told Unfiltered that Lafite is lacing up its gloves again: "We do not consider the matter to be settled. We are pursuing legal action one step forward."


Now Under New Ownership: The Recently Beleaguered Napa Valley Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train rumbled back into the headlines this week: On Tuesday, the owners divulged the sale of the iconic wine-country attraction. The announcement comes just weeks after the Wine Train found itself at the center of the #LaughingWhileBlack controversy. The incident, which sparked the aforementioned social media hashtag, involved the train's removal of a primarily African-American book club for “loud and disruptive behavior."

The new owners, Seattle-based hotel company Noble House Hotels & Resorts and California-based real-estate development and investment company Brooks Street, purchased the 26-year-old traveling restaurant and tourist attraction for an undisclosed sum, but Jake Donoghue, CEO of Noble House, told the Napa Valley Register that the price was "between $10 million and $50 million" (which sounds about as reasonably accurate as Unfiltered's last auto-repair estimate). Wine Train chairman Greg McManus, son-in-law of founder Vince DeDomenico—the inventor of Rice-a-Roni—will step down, but the 150 remaining employees will remain all aboard, including CEO Tony Giaccio, who was at the forefront of last month's controversy. “We are confident that the Noble House family, with its proven hospitality expertise, will not only preserve this wonderful institution, but ensure its continued growth and enhancement,” said Giaccio in a statement.

None of the involved parties addressed the book-club blunder in the announcement, but that doesn't mean we've heard the last of it: The women are considering a racial-discrimination lawsuit, according to their attorney.


Wine Industry Comes to Aid of California's Wildfire Victims

This week, the Napa County Fairgrounds have unanticipatedly become home to more than 1,000 people and more than 300 animals, all escaping the horrific Valley fire in Lake County. And the Napa Valley wine industry and consumers have come through with enthusiasm and generosity to support those fleeing the fire.

E. & J. Gallo announced this week that it will donate $100,000 to the American Red Cross to assist with shelter, food and recovery support for communities impacted by the wildfires.

Calistoga-based Wine Country Animal Lovers, meanwhile, is looking out for the fire's four-legged victims and their owners. “The American Red Cross has been tending to the needs of the people, while the wine industry and local non-profits have stepped in help the animals,” said Pam Ingalls, the charity group's board president. "Sadly, Middletown [one of the Valley fire's worst-hit areas] is big horse country. A lot of people just let their horses go because they didn’t have trailers to haul them out, and there's no water for the horses that are loose … [but] we can’t do anything until the sheriff tells us we can get through.”

Monica Stevens, founder of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, and owner of retailer 750 Wines in St. Helena, whose Wineapawlooza raised $750,000 for animal welfare this year, was on site at the Napa County Fairgrounds with volunteers to lend a helping hand. “We’re the boots on the ground for animals here,” said Stevens. “The fires are still going, so no one has any idea when people will be able to go home or if they will even have homes to go back to. This is the biggest tragedy in Lake County history.” Stevens and a corps of volunteers were tending to the needs of an assortment of dogs, cats, horses, goats, pigs, and chickens. “We’ve got animals that have been lost or found on our [Facebook feed],” said Stevens. “And it's full of people offering to foster animals.”

Both Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch and Wine Country Animal Lovers have set up emergency funds through their websites.

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