A food porn film, a Sideways auction and a screw-cap conundrum
Posted: January 19, 2005
Some of the culinary world's brightest lights--including Mario Batali, José Andrés, Eric Ripert and Wylie Dufresne--assembled at Tribeca Grill in New York last week to watch a screening of Les Halles chef Anthony Bourdain's Decoding Ferran Adrià," a mini-documentary about the Spaniard considered to be the most revolutionary chef in the world. "Welcome to my first attempt at food porn," said Bourdain, whose one-hour film explores the ways and means of Adrià and his restaurant, El Bulli, possibly the world's most sought-after reservation. The packed screening room watched Bourdain giddily eat his way through one of Adrià's marathon tasting menus, aspirating "carrot air" and slurping gelatinized "spaghetti" shot out of a can. The movie was originally filmed for Bourdain's Food Network show A Cook's Tour, but after severing ties with the network last year, he's looking for distribution. At the film's start, Bourdain admits he was skeptical about a chef whose M.O. is more mad scientist than line cook. "I dismissed him as 'that foam dude,'" Bourdain said, referring to the frothy emulsions that made the chef a kitchen-hold name a decade ago. But after his meal and a few hours of one-on-one with Adrià, Bourdain concluded, "He's an incredible genius."
Sideways has boosted sales of Pinot Noir, filled Santa Barbara County tasting rooms and spawned movie-specific tour and tasting packages. Now the award-winning film is the basis for an online wine auction. Napa-based WineBid.com has gathered some of the wines mentioned in the movie, as well as wines from the featured Santa Barbara producers (Andrew Murray, Byron, Hitching Post, Sea Smoke, Whitcraft), and is auctioning them on its site through Jan. 23. Among the collectibles are the 1961 Cheval-Blanc (the prize of Miles' limited collection) and the 1988 Sassicaia (the bottling that first turned Maya on to wine, as well as director Alexander Payne's first wine love). But bidders beware celebrity-induced "paddle fever." WineBid has taken some liberties with the Sideways theme; its auction adds to the producers' offerings with vintages, varietals and appellations that aren't mentioned in the movie--including a substantial string of Kistler's Sonoma wines and more DRC Burgundies than the characters could have afforded on one trip. (Stephanie owned the Richebourg, by the way, but wouldn't let her friends drink it.)
A source at Diageo dismissed the possibility of making an offer for Southcorp to try to snatch away Australia's largest wine producer from Foster's. "[The Chalone acquisition] does not signal that we are going on a shopping spree." According to the source, the British drinks business eyed buying Southcorp a few years back, but "couldn't make the numbers work for us." However, were Southcorp to be broken up and its brands put up for sale separately, Diageo would be interested in bidding "if the price was right" because CEO Paul Walsh wants the company to "be a major player in wine." But mum's the word over at Allied Domecq, another U.K. giant cited as a possible bidder. One insider says, "We are under very, very strict instructions not to even mention the Southcorp deal." Could the company have a secret to hide?
Last one out, shut off the lights? As it consolidates Mondavi into its operations, Constellation has laid off another 210 Mondavi employees, mainly staff at the corporate headquarters in Napa, which may eventually be vacated. Still, the good news is that about 520 Mondavi staff had been kept on and will work for either the Franciscan Estates or the Constellation Wines U.S. divisions. Some of the early lay-offs have landed on their feet: Robert LaVine, a pioneer in sustainable viticulture who headed Mondavi's Central Coast grower relations, has joined Brown-Forman Wines, where he'll be in charge of sourcing grapes for such wines as the environmentally minded Fetzer and Bonterra brands.
How to solve the problem of cork taint is quite a conundrum. But add Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus and other California wineries, to the list of screw-cap converts. He's now topping all 80,000 cases of his 2003 Conundrum, a nontraditional blend of white varieties, with twist-offs to preserve the wine's freshness. For now, however, he has no plans to use screw caps on Caymus Special Selection or any of his other wines that have substantial aging potential. He says his choice of closures "is not a rejection of the old," he said. "It is an acceptance of the new when it is the most appropriate choice for the wine."
Some of the major players in the battle over direct-to-consumer wine shipments will duke it out this weekend on National Public Radio's Justice Talking program. The legal show is hosting a live debate between attorney Kathleen Sullivan, who argued on behalf of free trade in the recent Supreme Court hearing on the issue, and Nida Simona, head of the Michigan Liquor Control Association, which is defending its ban on shipments from out-of-state wineries. (Was the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the big anti-shipping lobbyist, unwilling to provide anyone for the debate?) Legal buffs who follow the issue have the chance to ask questions of the participants, either by submitting them at www.justicetalking.org or by attending the Jan. 23 event. It's free to the public (but making online reservations is suggested) and will be held from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, Calif.
North Texas, bordering Oklahoma, may not strike the average drinker as wine country, but vintners there have asked the federal government to give them their very own appellation. The proposed Texoma American Viticultural Area would cover about 3,650 square miles, though it has only four small wineries and 55 acres of grapevines. Nonetheless, the region, on the southern side of Lake Texoma, does have historical significance as a grapegrowing area. In the 1800s, Texas viticulturist T.V. Munson set up an experimental vineyard in Texoma, where he worked with the area's wild grape varieties. When phylloxera threatened French vineyards in the late 19th century, Munson shipped over resistant Texas rootstocks where they were grafted with vulnerable Vitis vinifera, thereby saving the French wine industry. In thanks, France inducted Munson into the Legion of Honor and made him Chevalier du Merite Agricole. Proof that, at least when it comes to wine lovers, Texans and the French can work together.
|Conundrum gets a twist-off top.|| |