• It's been eight years since Julia Roberts squeezed herself into several tight outfits to portray Erin Brockovich, the real-life, small-town girl from Kansas who took on a major American utility and won more than $300 million in litigation. But while Brockovich's case proved successful for the ill residents of Hinkley, Calif. (and for Roberts, who won an Oscar for the role), groundwater contamination caused by hexavalent chromium, a carcinogenic heavy metal ion, continues to be an issue in many parts of the world. Fortunately, researchers in Japan have discovered that wine waste may provide a solution for ridding drinking water of the pollutant. According to a report in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, chemists at Saga University, in southern Japan, say that leftovers from the winemaking process may be used as an adsorbent for removing substantial amounts of hexavalent chromium from water. They explained, "Grape waste generated in wine production exhibits a high affinity for heavy-metal ions," due to certain elements of its complex chemical structure. Meanwhile, the real Erin Brockovich has also been investigating hexavalent chromium contamination in Greece, where there's sure to be plenty of Assyrtiko and Xinomavro grape waste to help clean up the water supply.
• Speaking of Japanese grapes, some people in the land of the rising sun will pay top dollar for a quality bunch—up to nearly US$1,000. Last week at an auction in the town of Ishikawa, one man in Tokyo paid a whopping $910, or 100,000 Yen, for a bunch of grapes to serve to guests at the upscale hotel where he is a manager, according to a report by the Associated Press. The Ruby Roman grapes, whose large size and distinctive red color were developed through a state-led project first established 14 years ago, fetched approximately $26 per grape for a bunch with 35 grapes. Grapes and other fruits are often given as luxury gifts in Japan, and are priced accordingly, though according to Hirofumi Isu, a local agriculture official, "We believe the price was probably a record high."
No, sorry, dude, you can't have two glasses of wine at once.
• Unfiltered is happy to wave goodbye to the days when overpriced, watery beer monopolized the beverage scene at outdoor music festivals.With an increasing number of rock stars, like Maynard James Keenan, Carlos Santana and Vince Neil trying their hands at winemaking, it wasn't surprising to find a wine tent at the three-day Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last weekend. Called Winehaven, the tent featured 20 California wineries, including Silver Oak, Peay Vineyards and Bonny Doon. Music fans could sip Cabernet Sauvignon while listening to Radiohead or Zinfandel while jamming out to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. A great time seemed to be had by all, but for next year's festival, Unfiltered would like to suggest, in the name of being able to properly smell and taste our wine, that Winehaven staff ban the wearing of pungent patchouli oil within a large radius of the tent.
• Elsewhere in California … If you've been wondering about the building on Highway 29 in St. Helena that resembles a chocolate-and-vanilla-swirl soft-serve cone, you're not alone. Unfiltered did some investigating and found out that it's not an ice cream stand—it's the newly opened Flora Springs tasting room, dubbed "The Room" (though some locals have nicknamed it "the womb," due to its undulating shape). The building was designed by Flora Springs cofounder John Komes and architect Joel Miroglio, and is supposed to invoke the hills of the winery's estate, located nearby. Visitors to the site can munch on flavored popcorn while sampling wine or try some of the wine-and-food pairings, called "Temptastings." Our favorite feature, however, is the series of private tasting spaces, called "caves," whose glass walls can be made to turn opaque so you can sample wine in private. Between a tasting room that looks like an ice-cream cone, those caves and the new Frank Gehry-designed Hall winery under construction next door, visitors can be forgiven for suspecting they're on the set of a new Willy Wonka movie.
They looked a lot happier once they got the waiter to pour them some of that Kakhetian Royal.
• Wine is a powerful tool in the negotiations surrounding missile defense, as demonstrated by a recent U.S.-Poland pact. Moments after sealing the U.S. deal to install an anti-missile defense system in Poland, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish foreign affairs minister Radoslaw Sikorski celebrated over dinner and a glass of Georgian wine. The wine of choice was a white 2005 Kakhetian Royal, a blend of native Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Khikhvi grapes, which was paired with Polish pike-perch. According to a Reuters report, at the dinner, hosted by Sikorski in Warsaw, Rice commented that although she's previously met with Georgian politicians, she'd never had the chance to taste their wines, despite the fact that Georgians have been producing the stuff for 7,000 years.
• Champagne producers routinely deal with a lot of pressure—and not all of it comes from inside the bottle. Rising production and transportation costs are forcing producers to find ways to streamline their budgets in order to stay in the black. The French Champagne house G.H. Mumm is currently conducting an experiment, requested by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, which regulates the production, distribution and promotion of Champagne, to produce Champagne in thinner, lighter bottles. They recently completed a trial production of 2.5 million bottles weighing only 29.6 ounces (about 2.5 ounces lighter than a standard bottle) when empty. Before Mumm can sell the lighter bottles, however, they must face another sort of pressure: making sure that the bottles won't explode. If the lighter bottles hold up to the challenge, you might start to see them on shelves as early as 2010. 2.5 ounces may not seem like a lot, but it adds up: If every Champagne producer were to switch to lighter bottles, which put less pressure on the trucks that carry them, and can therefore be shipped in greater volume, some industry insiders estimate that there could be up to 3,000 fewer trucks on the road each year. Now that calls for a celebration—let's pop some corks!
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