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'Late Night' Comedian Amber Ruffin on Australia: Yes to Wine and Baby Koalas, No to Vegemite

Plus, lost sword of Sonoma samurai found in fires wreckage, and cork art now fetching $2,000
Photo by: NBC/Wine Australia
Amber Ruffin becomes the latest American celebrity stolen away by the charms of Aussie wine.

Posted: March 29, 2018

It's been a g'year for Australian wine, and the g'people of Australia's tourism board wanted to share it with NBC Late Night host Seth Meyers. He couldn't make the trip Down Under, but on a segment last week, show writer Amber Ruffin headed south to meet koalas and winemakers (though no koala winemakers).

"It was great to host someone whose focus was more about enjoying the whole life experience of travel, art, food and wine," winemaker Simon Black of Mornington Peninsula's Montalto Vineyard told Unfiltered; according to Black, Ruffin started off with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. For her part, Ruffin described the Chardonnay as, "I'm getting floral notes, and they sound like this," singing, "Bee-bee-bee-boo-boo-I'm-a-flower," before chugging the entire glass and then demanding, "Let's taste more now."

If words like "Montalto" and "Australia" sound familiar to you, thank Wine Australia's "$50m Package," a recent investment by the country's government to promote the local wine biz, equivalent to $38.4 million American. Unfiltered fans will remember that Aussies also recently lured Yankee Danny McBride over to cut that Crocodile Dundee spoof ad featuring Chris Hemsworth and Montalto winery, which is apparently where all the celebrities who aren't currently filming in Napa want to be.

For Ruffin's final tasting flourish, "the film crew mentioned that Amber had a liking for sweeter styles, so I opened a bottle of Moscato, which she loved," Black said. Ruffin's tasting note: "Moscato!!" But don't be fooled by the camera antics: Ruffin's "ability to pick up different nuances in each wine was pretty sharp," the winemaker told us.

The pair ventured into the vineyards after tasting. "We had a bit of fun when I surreptitiously gave her some unripe grapes to taste—as you can imagine, they were pretty sour." Unfortunately for Ruffin, that would not be the last time an Australian gave her something unsavory to eat on her trip. On her visit to Attica, a celebrated restaurant in Melbourne, chef Ben Shewry cruelly served up a dish of vegemite, an Australian "delicacy," on a cracker. Ruffin was not a fan: "It tastes so bad! You’re supposed to be a good chef."


Disney World's Cinderella Castle Sculpture Next Frontier in Cork Art

Unfiltered has seen great advances in cork art recently, the medium of choice for America's cool grandpas. Walter Deuschle, at 89, is the latest to catch our attention, but he's been dabbling in cork for more than 15 years, cork-sculpting religious figures, buildings and natural landscapes, ranging from wall hangings to intricate 3D sculptures complete with electricity. Each takes about eight to 12 months, and Deuschle is currently at work on what may be his masterpiece: Disney World's Cinderella Castle (but cork).

Walter Deuschle cork art Walter Deuschle cork art Walter Deuschle cork art

“See, a cork is not a cork the way people think a cork is, because there are so many different consistencies,” Deuschle told Unfiltered (he avails himself of the full palette of natural and synthetic stoppers). “I’m amazed by all the different types of corks wineries use for their wine.”

In order to complete a piece, Deuschle needs to have thousands of corks on hand, which is kind of a lot of wine for one person, even over the course of 12 months, so he takes cork donations from friends and fans. Among them are some serious connoisseurs: His pieces have fetched as much as $2,000 and have shown in Pennsylvania's Michener Art Museum.

But ultimately Deuschle does art for art's sake. “I look at it as a hobby and enjoyment for myself,” he said. “I’m so pleased that there are people out there and organizations who like to come here and spend an afternoon in my studio and just admire my artwork. That’s my reward.”


Sonoma Samurai's Sword Found in Fires Wreckage

An unusual Sonoma County treasure believed to have been lost in the October Santa Rosa fires was found last week in a final sweep through the rubble of Paradise Ridge Winery’s tasting room in Fountaingrove District—not an old oak cask or basket press but a 150-year-old samurai sword. When the winery burned last fall, it lost an irreplaceable set of artifacts from 19th-century Sonoma history: a collection of belongings from one of the area’s earliest and most unexpected vintners and wine celebrities, Kanaye Nagasawa, the so-called "Japanese Baron of Fountaingrove" in California (and "Grape King of California" in Japan). Born into the Satsuma samurai clan in 1852, Nagasawa was training to become a samurai when, as a boy, he was smuggled out of Japan and sent to Scotland to learn Western ways and mores. Wasn't long before Nagasawa had joined a cult and was living in the Bay Area (the '70s, man). With his fellow members of the Brotherhood of the New Life, he founded the Utopian Fountain Grove community near Santa Rosa—and made wine at the now-demolished Fountain Grove Winery, eventually winning international acclaim for the quality of his particular flavor of Kool-Aid and operating one of the largest wineries in the young state.

Some of Nagasawa's effects on display at Paradise Ridge destroyed in the fire included his samurai armor, a tuxedo, and—it was thought—his training sword, which was nonetheless in a damaged state when recovered. When Unfiltered asked Sonia Byck-Barwick, co-owner of Paradise Ridge, whether it would be repaired, she said, “The damage wrought by the fire adds something important to the sword and helps to tell its tale of resiliency. The current plan is to clean up the sword so it does not decay, but not to restore it." Next up, the sword will be displayed in an exhibit for the 150th anniversary of Santa Rosa called “Lost Santa Rosa” at the Sonoma County History Museum, running April 14 through Sept. 16. "We feel that the fire has added another layer to [the sword's] history,” said Byck-Barwick.


Australian Footballers Forced to Hold Preseason Training at Winery, as All Australian Investments Diverted to Wine

Stateside, basketball players may hold court in the wine world, but Down Under, wine is apparently the domain of the uniquely Aussie soccer-rugby-type sport known as Australian rules football (you know, "footy"). Earlier this month, South Australia's Norwood Football Club (nickname: the Redlegs) channeled the wine-and-gold aura of Cleveland Cavaliers during a team-bonding outing to wine country. But unlike the Cavs, who used their wine-soaked day off to chill in cellars and yuk it up on social media, the footballers took their preseason training regimen with them to McLaren Vale's d'Arenberg winery—home of the trippy wine Rubik's cube.

d'Arenberg
Footer (?) Matt Panos crushes.

First, the Redlegs got their legs team-appropriately rouged, jumping into fermentation vats to perform the arduous grape-stomping exercise known as pigéage à pied. Some also sprinted up hills pushing heavy winery equipment, and others rolled barrels through a makeshift obstacle course.

Overseeing the drills was d’Arenberg winemaker Chester Osborn, great-grandson of Joseph Osborn, who cofounded the Norwood Football Club and served as the team's first captain in 1878. The visit was a celebration of the team's 140-year anniversary, even if it does not quite sound like Unfiltered's idea of a party. "We are proud to have such a rich history with the Norwood Football Club that began 140 years ago," Osborn said in a press release.


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