Log In / Join Now

'Escape the Room' Game Comes to Wineries, Locking Visitors Away in Cellar

Also in Unfiltered, three strikes of wine and whisky crime, Margaux 2015 gets a special label, and we check out food dances inspired by The Ballet Cook Book
Photo by: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/Newscom
In France, the "room" is existential, and there is but one escape.

Posted: November 16, 2017

"Wild West." "Zombie attack." "Pirate adventure." "Overslept." If you're like Unfiltered, you've played all these themes of the super-popular "escape room" game phenomenon, in which players use their wits and skills to solve a series of puzzles, to escape the room before the clock runs out. But have you played "escape the chai"?

From Boreal Berry Farm Winery in Ontario, Canada, to Ridgewood Winery in Pennsylvania all the way over to Pierre et Bertrand Couly in the Loire Valley's Chinon region, wineries have been repurposing their vat rooms and event spaces as prisons from which visitors must solve riddles and unlock clues to find a way out—with, of course, a celebration or consolation pour waiting on the outside.

Sopexa
An "Escape the Chablis" room Unfiltered recently escaped. Clues were based on the names of the region's crus, like Grenouilles, which means "frogs."

"Like any escape room, there is a little backstory before entering, and players are given two clues," Greg Melien of Boreal told Unfiltered via email. The participants are locked in the vat room, "stripped of all cell phones, tape recorders, pens, pencils, markers, paper, lighters—nothing that can record or create light … After that it's all up to them." Melien and his wife (a Mensa member, he noted) created the game a few years ago and, well, no one has ever escaped. (If this sounds like the "Cask of Ontario," Melien assures us that once the clock runs out, players are eventually freed from the dark, damp, cold cellar over which he rules.) "The general consensus from most when they come out of the room is, 'Can we go back in right now?!'" which certainly doesn't sound like a famous mentality hostages are known to develop.

Ridgewood told Unfiltered they began contracting a third-party escape-room design company this year; so far they've hosted an Alice in Wonderland–themed game, with a Beatles game coming up. In the Couly cellar, according to the website, "you will be confronted with impossible puzzles, indecipherable codes and unfeasible brain-teasers"—a convincing simulation of growing Cabernet Franc.


Château Margaux Dresses Up 2015s in Special-Edition Bottle

It's a very promising vintage all over Bordeaux, but 2015 holds special significance at first-growth Château Margaux: The maison turned 200 that year, and it was the final vintage made by late general manager Paul Pontallier, who ran the estate from 1989 until his death in March 2016. In homage, owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos has unveiled a special-edition bottle for the 2015 vintage of the estate's grand vin.

“Paul wanted to celebrate 200 years of architecture—it was his idea,” Mentzelopoulos told Unfiltered. Since fine tannins are the building blocks of an ageworthy vintage, she explained, “wines are built like architecture.”

G. de Beauchene
The 2015 makes a splash.

It was also an important vintage for the literal architecture of Margaux: The iconic Neo-Palladian edifice was constructed in 1815, but the winery got an update in 2015. Mentzelopoulos chose a contemporary design by leading architect Lord Norman Foster, who added new cellars, a glass-enclosed tasting room, underground vinothèque and a research and development lab.

Saison d'Or
Built to age: the Norman Foster cellar

The bottle is also an opportunity for Mentzelopoulos to shine the light on the estate's next generation. Her daughter, Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, helped design it, choosing black glass and a silk-screen printing of the château and the cellars, superimposed in gray and real gold. At the bottom of the bottle on the front, there’s a tribute to Pontallier, and on back, a tribute to two centuries of architectural heritage.


Wine (and Whisky) Crime Watch: Aussie Vandal Sentenced, Rare 'The Squirrel' Whisky Is on the Loose After Heist, and Hipster Winecriminal Hits Lake Tahoe

Finally, some closure on the curious case of spilled Australian Chardonnay. In 2015, an intruder entered Kellermeister Winery in Australia's Barossa Valley and drained about 25,000 liters—or more than an estimated $200,000 worth—of the winery's 2010 and 2011 Chardonnay. According to Australian press, the vandal also dumped some Shiraz belonging to Fox Gordon Wines, which was being stored at Kellermeister's Lyndoch, South Australia, property.

This month, winemaker Trevor David Jones was sentenced for the crime. Jones, who went to court for the crime back in 2015, is a former employee of Kellermeister, which was once owned by his father, Ralph Jones. Though the 2015 case was dismissed due to lack of evidence, Jones was called back to court. This time, with celebrity chef Maggie Beer on his side as a character witness, he pleaded guilty.

But sometimes, even if you admit to the winecrime, you don't always get locked away in the no-escape room. An Adelaide district court sentenced Jones to three years and seven months jail time, but the judge suspended the terms and placed Jones on a two-year good behavior bond. Case finally closed … with an extra-tight twist of the cap.


On Sunday, two thieves were caught on security cameras breaking into famed Parisian liquor store La Maison du Whisky. They reportedly took off with about $800,000 worth of high-end sauce, including a bottle of Karuizawa 1960, an ultrarare Japanese whisky, and the oldest ever made by the now-shuttered distillery. According to a press release from La Maison du Whisky, there were only 41 bottles of the single-malt ever released, and much like ultracollectible wines have fun nicknames ("Old Sparky," "Grange"), collectors call this bottling "the Squirrel." French news outlets estimated the value of that bottle alone to be around $230,000.


Across the pond, an American thief proved yet again that everything is classier in France, even crime. Last month, 55 bottles of high-end wine was stolen from a Raley's Supermarket in a town on Lake Tahoe. According to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, a man took more than 50 bottles, valued at approximately $15,000, including 23 bottles of Caymus 2013 Special Select Cabernet and two bottles of Stag's Leap 2014 SLV Cabernet. The sheriff's office asked the public's help in identifying the suspect and released stills from security camera footage that show the suspect, decked out in a vest, scarf and flip flops, with several bottles of wine in his shopping cart. If they don't get him, maybe the Fashion Police will.


New York City Ballet and the Guggenheim Celebrate 50th Anniversary of 'The Ballet Cook Book' with Zany Memories and Food-Themed Dances

Earlier this month, Unfiltered waltzed over to the Guggenheim Museum, where a presentation from the Works & Process series welcomed current and retired members of New York City Ballet to discuss the late Tanaquil Le Clercq’s The Ballet Cook Book, published 50 years ago. Le Clercq was a principal dancer and wife of New York City Ballet cofounder, dancer, choreographer and epicure George Balanchine when she contracted polio during the company’s 1956 European tour (tragically, Le Clercq had declined to receive the Salk vaccine provided to the dancers before embarking on the tour). Paralyzed from the waist down, Le Clercq turned to her passion for writing, and The Ballet Cook Book, featuring hundreds of recipes from leading dancers, was her biggest hit. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, two of the book’s major contributors, elder states-dancers Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise, joined moderator and event organizer Meryl Rosofsky to discuss Le Clercq’s legacy, and their dishes, punctuated by performances by current dancers.

Works & Process at the Guggenheim/Jacklyn Meduga, November 2017
Do not do the 'Mashed Potato'! A scene from 'Gluttony,' an act in the ballet 'The Seven Deadly Sins,' performed during the event.

In those days, dancers were glamorous gourmands who did not refrain from the finer things, and the book is by no means a "ballerina diet" guide. D’Amboise recalled a favorite meal in Bordeaux, on Balanchine’s recommendation, that inspired his recipe for béarnaise sauce. “We had chateaubriand … you knew it was a restaurant for people who loved to eat, because they had special stools for people with gout!” he laughed. “And we drank the best wine: Château Mouton-Rothschild.” Le Clercq also noted other dancers’ fine-wine preferences in her book. Dancer Anthony Blum’s recipe for shrimp gumbo calls for a Pouilly-Fuissé pairing; French ballerina Janine Charrat’s daily ritual included a steak and a large glass of Bordeaux after rehearsals (she lived to 93). Select dishes from The Ballet Cook Book were served at the Guggenheim’s restaurant, the Wright; the special menu items will be available again Nov. 19 during another event highlighting the Sarasota Ballet. Rosofsky is hoping to line up a publisher to rerelease the book, with proceeds benefiting dancer charities, in the coming year.


What Burgundy Definitely Needs: More Appellations

In a brilliant show of French meritocracy, two new areas in Burgundy have been lifted up from the anonymous flows of régionale wine to more prestigious ranks of AOC classification. Welcome, Bourgogne Côte d'Or and Vézelay! (Please clap.)

The effort was 20 years in the making, but winegrowers from the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits finally have a joint regional appellation: Bourgogne Côte d'Or. The production area will encompass both côtes (or 1,247 climats wearing one big coat, if you prefer), for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is a "complementary geographic designation" similar to Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise.

The former Bourgogne-Vézelay now gets (has?) to shed the larger regional modifier and stands alone as Vézelay. It's a tiny appellation located just south of Chablis. It is one of the smallest in Burgundy, with just over 160 acres planted and around 20 winegrowers. However, a further 370 acres have been designated for planting for the AOC with this new promotion. It is dedicated entirely to making white wines from Chardonnay.


Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.