Log In / Join Now

Napa's Newest All-Star Cabernet

Plus, George Clooney's wild tequila ride, Shanghai's ice-wine sting, WineaPawlooza raises $1.7 million, and Pierre Taittinger withdraws his presidential bid
Photo by: Rob Tringali / Stringer / Getty Images
Vernon Wells is taking his next swing at Napa Cabernet.

Posted: July 28, 2016

There's a new All-Star in Napa Valley. Former Toronto Blue Jays, L.A. Angels and New York Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells has teamed with Seattle Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta to create Jack winery. Their debut 2013 Napa Cabernet is sourced from Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain fruit and priced at $100; there's also a $50 Sauvignon Blanc. Iannetta, whose grandparents made wine in their Rhode Island home, says the project is an exploration of his family’s Italian winemaking roots. Winemaker Grant Long Jr. of Aonair winery is making the wines.

"In 2012, when I was with the Angels, I became friends with Vernon," Iannetta, who has a series-opener against the Cubs tonight at Wrigley Field, told Unfiltered via e-mail. "Unfortunately, we both got injured … [but] during that time we kicked around some post-baseball business ideas. As fate would have it, we were talking about wine and thought creating our own would be an amazing way to team up through our shared passion." For both Iannetta and Wells, the wine project is a family affair—the Jack winery name is taken from the first initials of their respective children, Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian and Kylie. Iannetta tells us he'd like to add a Pinot Noir to their brand down the road, but that his favorite wines run from Diamond Creek Napa Cabernet to Banfi Brunello to Vieux-Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, while Wells' picks include Failla, HdV and Chappellet. And that level of wine interest is what winemaker Long cites when asked about signing on for a "celebrity wine" project: "I tell people the reason I agreed to work with Chris and Vernon—besides their good looks!—is that both are committed to the project and their passion for wine. They want to make this more than a hobby … it's a labor of love."


George Clooney's Wild Tequila Ride

Oscar winner, humanitarian and silver fox George Clooney hit the open road last month with friend and business partner Rande Gerber for their annual boys-only motorcycle trip. This year’s excursion started in Mexico, where the duo drank tequila like it was their job, and it kind of is—Clooney and Gerber, along with real-estate mogul Mike Meldman, own the Casamigos tequila brand, so a visit to the tequila’s distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, was a great way to kick off their adventure.

Casamigos, which loosely translates to “house of friends,” is named after Clooney's and Gerber’s shared (but recently sold) vacation homes in Los Cabos. Though the brand hit the U.S. market in 2013, it had existed for around five years before that as a private passion project. Clooney's production crew captured the pair's bromantic tequila journey: YouTube viewers can see them cruise through the agave fields on their bikes, roam the distillery and share bottles of Casamigos with the jimadors. But Unfiltered was distracted by another piece of Casamigos cinematography. In 2013, they made a video depicting Gerber catching Clooney in bed with his wife, who just so happens to be supermodel Cindy Crawford. We thought you'd rather we bring you that clip …


Canadian Ice-Wine Sting Nabs Four in Shanghai

Anti-smuggling police working for customs at the Port of Shanghai arrested 18 people and charged four in a widespread crackdown on ice-wine imports, snaring Chinese-Canadian winemaker John Chang, owner of Lulu Island Winery, in its dragnet on March 25. The operation was first reported July 20 in the Chinese state-owned Legal Daily. Photos show customs officials examining cases labeled Lulu Island Winery, and the report states that "Zhang" (a common Chinese transliteration for Chang) appeared in court and confessed to smuggling ice wine. Chang exports 80 percent of his wine to China. A press release from Lulu Island Winery states that Chang is “fully cooperating” with officials and that they “are confident that the investigation will confirm Lulu Island has not done anything wrong.”

Chang and three others are accused of undervaluing the Canadian ice-wine shipments to avoid paying China’s heavy import taxes. According to Legal Daily, the case involves Canadian ice-wine imports worth 300 million yuan, or $45 million. Investigators noticed that ice-wine imports had increased every year but the “price of ice-wine imports overall showed a downward trend.” The report says the wine had a declared value of roughly 10 yuan per bottle, or $1.50, but “the declared import price was far below the actual transaction price” and “false declarations” were employed. According to Chinese law, undervaluing merchandise to avoid a large amount of tax carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

Chang’s company contends they’ve done nothing illegal: "Lulu Island has been importing wine to China for many years through properly licensed importing agencies in China. Lulu Island believes all of its wine imports to China have been done in full compliance with all … laws, rules and regulations.” Chang, who was born in Taiwan, immigrated to Canada in 1995 and began making wine the next year.


WineaPawlooza Raises $1.7 Million for Rescue Animals

This past Saturday, one of Napa's furriest charity events of the year returned in a whirlwind of wagging tails, magnum bottles and Napa Valley winemakers. WineaPawlooza 2016 raised $1.7 million for the Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR), a no-kill rescue ranch in Napa Valley. Auctioneer Fritz Hatton led the auction, which was hosted by Gamble Family Vineyards in Oakville. “A tremendous herd of bidders unleashed their paddles,” joked Hatton, who was joined at the auction by two kid goats.

The auction's top lot was two barrels, one each of Beckstoffer and Bevan Cabernet Sauvignon, which sold for $300,000, or the equivalent of $625 a bottle. One hundred percent of the auction’s proceeds are earmarked for the JARR, which has plans to build Northern California’s first cage-free animal-rescue sanctuary.

In the same spirit of affection for four-legged friends, Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes has released the newest vintage of Chase’s Reserve ($12), with a photo of the spokespup on the label. Chase the dog is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and his owner, Jeff Pursae, has been commissioning the charity wine since 2011. For every case of Chase's Reserve sold, $6 is donated to the United States Humane Society.


Pierre Taittinger Puts a Cork in His Presidential Bid

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger has elected to stick with Champagne over Champs-Élysées after all. Last Thursday, Unfiltered reported that the patriarch of the eponymous maison had disgorged plans to seek the presidency of France; by Friday, he had recorked his aspirations. Taittinger only provided the cryptic reason that "A serious personal event occurred Thursday night that forced me to abandon this project" to Marne paper L'Union. As they do, Facebook commenters on the brief news item quickly took to speculation on Taittinger's abrupt change of heart, from typical suspicions of politicking—perhaps a more prominent candidate had promised Taittinger a cabinet position if he dropped out—to snickering that the singularly-coiffed Taittinger had only become interested in the first place when it was revealed earlier this month that Francois Hollande keeps a $10,000-a-month hairdresser in his employ. Or as another mused, "Champagne is for happiness, far away from politics." Of course, the entire announcement may have just been a mischievous lark that got out of hand, not unlike the presidential nomination cycle in the United States.

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.