The bottomless wineglass, a Napa Auction revolt, Shafer's secret weapon and why you can't get into Michael Mina's new restaurant
Posted: November 3, 2004
How much wine could a wine-chuck chug? A new Manhattan restaurant is super-sizing its wine-by-the-glass program by offering diners a bottomless glass of wine. Silverleaf Tavern sells 22 selections by the "sip," (3 ounces), "taste" (6 ounces) or "bottomless glass" (the sky's the limit, but hopefully you know yours). The restaurant's 50-bottle wine list is divided into three price brackets, and the prices for the bottomless glass ($35, $48 and $83) slightly exceed those of the full bottles. In order to get your money's worth, you might want to save room for a bottomless cup of coffee and a bottomless bottle of aspirin.
Napa Auction Revolt: Change is in air at the Napa Valley Wine Auction, following complaints by leading Napa vintners. Sources say that on the flight back from Florida's Naples Winter Wine Festival in February, which this year dethroned the Napa auction as the biggest charity wine sale in the United States, three of Napa's big guns--Bill Harlan, John Shafer and Bart Araujo--penned a cutting letter. Impressed by the Naples auction, which raised $6.7 million compared with Napa's $5.3 million, they listed ways they felt the Napa event could be improved. We weren't privy to the details of the letter, but apparently it was effective. Rumored to be axed from the 2005 festivities is the Friday night black-tie dinner, which was seen as boring and overdone. The number of auction lots may also be cut to speed the marathon sale, which has sometimes stretched to six hours or more. Instead, the popular silent barrel auction will be expanded.
Many recent visitors to San Francisco have encountered a not-so-welcoming committee: bands of placard-pounding union workers picketing 14 of the city's largest hotels. The timing has been less than ideal for Restaurant Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis. The restaurant just opened this summer, but was shut soon after the strike began on Sept. 29, disappointing diners wanting to check out the hot new venue. "We can't believe this is happening, especially now at the time of year when we should be busiest," says sommelier Raj Parr. Prospects don't look good for a quick resolution. The strike, over wages and health care, has turned into a lockout, and management and workers aren't scheduled to restart talks until the week of Nov. 18. The labor strife has also interfered with events at the Westin. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who founded Napa's PlumpJack winery, wouldn't cross the picket line, so he and his wife, CNN legal analyst Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, did not attend a Lymphoma Research Foundation fund-raiser last week. Not only did they miss an award in their honor, they also couldn't bid on auction lots from wineries such as Mumm Napa and St. Francis.
Amid all the presidential campaign attack ads this fall, swing voters in Ohio may have been relieved to see ads trying only to get them to commit to drinking more wine (surely something many people can support after this election season). After rolling out its first national "Wine. Since 6,000 B.C." ads earlier this year, the Wine Market Council chose Columbus to test market a broader campaign before investing up to $5 million a year in an ongoing industry promotion. The ads don't promise jobs and health care for all, but slogans such as "If wine made mutton taste better, imagine what it can do for microwave lasagna" certainly aim squarely at busy, working, middle-class Americans.
What's the secret to John Shafer's success? His daughter's love life, in part. In his new book, From the Ground Up, the founder of Shafer Vineyards writes that Libby took over the Napa winery's sales while in her 20s and was responsible for getting the debut Shafer wines to London. At the time, she was dating the tennis pro at Napa's Silverado Resort, and his brother Georgio was a waiter there. One day, David Stevens, then director of the Masters of Wine program in London, dined at the resort. He ordered a bottle of wine, but Georgio stubbornly insisted that he try the 1978 Shafer Cabernet instead. Finally, Stevens relented, loved the wine and visited the winery. The end result: Shafer sent Stevens the '79 Cabernet in London, where it was then placed in the prestigious Savoy Hotel.