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Blaze-y Days of Summer Return with Fires Threatening Mount Eden, Bien Nacido

Also in Unfiltered, Big Cork winemaker gets big, cork portrait, tequila's a Patrón of Guillermo del Toro's art and cheddarcrime slices English village
Photo by: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Man, it's a hot one! Firefighters to the rescue in Santa Barbara: The Alamo Fire was successfully contained.

Posted: July 20, 2017

The past two weeks have made California firefighters—and vintners—sweat. With at least 15 fires still burning or recently contained, temperatures regularly hitting triple digits and more than 8,000 firefighters on the job, it must be summer in the Golden State! So far, thankfully, no vineyards have been scorched, but there have been close calls up and down the Central Coast, from Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley to Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The largest of the fires, the Alamo Fire, started on July 6 in southern San Luis Obispo County, burning into northern Santa Barbara County. Michael Brughelli, sales and marketing manager at Bien Nacido, felt the heat, and described the scene for Unfiltered: “The fire approached the ranch from the west, north and east. We worked around the clock to maintain and create fire breaks while supporting backfiring operations that were led by the Fire Department.” The fire actually singed Bien Nacido property, but buildings and vineyards escaped damage, and no one was hurt. “On-shore winds pushed the smoke up the hillsides and away from the vineyards,” explained Brughelli. On July 19, the fire was declared 100 percent contained—28,700 charred acres later.

While the Alamo fire was burning from the north, a newer fire, dubbed the Whittier fire, threatened from the east, forcing officials to close Highway 154, a byway between Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley, for eight days. On the afternoon of July 17, yet another fire imperiled vines in the foothills around Saratoga, burning toward Mount Eden. Local fire officials said the vineyards—being less combustible than surrounding flora—actually served as a firebreak and helped contain the blaze.

Things are getting heated elsewhere, too: Emergency evacuation centers have been set up in Kelowna, the center of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region, as more than 150 wildfires have roared throughout the province over the past few weeks, fanned by high winds and temperatures. It's shaping up to be yet another banner month for climate change on the West Coast.


Big Cork Winemaker Gets Big, Cork Portrait

One argument often lost in the Great Closure Debate between screwcaps and corks: If caps win out, what will become of the burgeoning art of corking a canvas with scenes of whimsy and fancy? Consider artist Scott Gundersen of Grand Rapids, Mich., who uses thousands of corks to create portraits. A high-school art teacher by day, Gundersen started experimenting with the medium back in 2007. “Every cork has a story to tell,” Gundersen told Unfiltered. “One day, after a dinner party, I was gathering up the four or five corks that were left behind on the table, and I was noticing how the different wines left different stains on the cork.”

In the years since, Gundersen has cortrayed Courteney Cox on a billboard for the show Cougar Town; famed writers Gabriel García Márquez, Federico García Lorca and others for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and the King and Queen of Spain. But until last week, Gundersen had never done a winemaker portrait. “I’ve done about 30 portraits, but I’ve never made a winemaker for a winery, so having the subject matter of the portrait so closely tied to the medium, the wine corks, I thought it was the perfect fit,” said Gundersen.

Big Cork Vineyards
"Man with Winemaker Beard and Hat"

And so from July 8 to 16, Gundersen camped out at, appropriately, Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Md., with winemaker Dave Collins in the role of Mona Lisa. Curious visitors stopped by to watch the artist in action and can now see the finished work—all 15,000 corks of it—on display.


With Guillermo del Toro, Tequila is a Patrón of the Arts

In Unfiltered's last tequila hallucination, Puerto Rican artist Enoc Perez' paintings of iconic modern buildings and landscapes adorned bottles of 1800 Tequila. Now, Oscar-nominated Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro has unveiled his own tequila craftwork, with a collection of limited-edition Patrón bottles. The "Patrón x Guillermo del Toro" bottle and box art was purportedly inspired by the scene of Mexican agave harvesters, but there’s also a pretty evident spooky skull and skeleton motif going on. Maybe a nod to Día de Muertos, but it sure seems that whether it's Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, the forthcoming The Shape of Water or a bottle of tequila, everything del Toro touches turns to monsters.

Patrón Tequila
¡Dios mío!

The set includes two bottles of aged tequila and a mini bottle of orange liqueur, and at $400, it will put a fright in your bank account, too.


Taylor Fladgate Celebrates 325 Years with Boat and Bottle Cosplay

Taylor Fladgate, a right old Port house, recently released a limited-edition bottle of their own, to celebrate the firm's anniversary—it's 325th. The festivities for the three-and-a-quarter-century bash kicked off in May with a reenactment of Taylor’s first-ever shipment of Port, made to fill an order placed in 1692. Helmed by pro Portuguese yachtsman Diniz Ricardo, the boat―christened #Taylor325, just like the original―charted the course of English merchant Job Bearsley from Douro to London.

Taylor Fladgate
Your grandpa's Port.

Now, Taylor’s 325th Anniversary Reserve Tawny Port has set sail for the U.S., with an expected arrival of late July. The bottle design is also a 17th-century reenactment: “We wanted to share the celebration worldwide by creating a bottle that is a replica of one of the original Taylor’s bottles from the late 17th century and producing a special blend from our extensive stock of aged tawnies, in the Taylor’s style,” managing director of Taylor Fladgate, Adrian Bridge, told Unfiltered via email.


Thieves Roll Away with Champion Cheddar

Rich Clothier went from feeling Gouda to blue this past weekend when his recently crowned “Best in Show” cheeses were stolen at an agricultural show in Somerset, England—just the latest slice of rindcrime 2017 has served up. After taking top honors in the competition, the two blocks of Wyke Farms vintage cheddar—weighing nearly 45 pounds each—were on display in the show’s cheese tent when they were pilfered overnight. Clothier, who is the managing director at his family-owned dairy farm, is understandably saddened by the heist, though not totally shocked. “Our vintage cheddar is made to Grandmother Ivy’s recipe and we believe it to be the best-quality cheese available,” he said in a press statement. “A 20-kilogram block of it is extremely tempting!” Wyke Farms is offering a $650 reward for any information that leads to the recovery of their prized cheeses—that’s a lot of, um, cheddar!


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