A controversy over Stalin wine, a theft of rare Bordeaux and a case (or 100) of high-tech fraud
Posted: February 16, 2005
A word of advice: If you wish to turn an ethnic group on to your new beverage, don't market it using the image of a dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of their people. The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission has pulled bottles of Ukrainian Port and Sherry, made by Massandra winery, from store shelves after receiving numerous complaints from the province's Ukrainian population. The bottle labels depict Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (under whose reign millions of Ukrainians died during the Great Purge) at the Yalta Conference, alongside Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The wine had been intended for Ukrainian wine lovers, said Diana Soroka, the commission's spokesperson. The bottles will now either be relabeled or sent back to the distributor. Some other wines we don't recommend: Pinochet Pinot Noir, Saddam Syrah, and Hitler Pinot Grigio.
Some very discerning "vindits" raided the wine cellar at Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, British Columbia, last month, plucking only 65 bottles from the restaurant's 2,100-bottle collection. Among the $200,000 worth of missing wines are gems such as autographed labels from Château Mouton-Rothschild's artist's series, signed by the likes of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. Also gone are bottles of Château Latour dating back to 1955, Château Lafite Rothschild back to 1945, Château La Mission-Haut-Brion back to 1934, some 19th-century Château Léoville Las Cases and vintage Champagne, including Möet & Chandon from 1952, 1921 and 1914. "It kills me. It really kills me," said Bearfoot owner Andre St. Jacques, who purchased most of the wines at auction over the last decade. He suspects the thieves might have been hired to nab specific bottles of rare Bordeaux by a collector--apparently one who isn't a Pétrus fan. "There was some great Pétrus right next to the other bottles, and they didn't touch that," St. Jacques said. He is offering a $20,000 reward for the wines' safe return.
Two executives at a Michigan tech company have been busted for using business funds to satisfy their passion for fine wine and fast cars, according to details of the alleged fraud released late last month. In November, federal authorities raided the CyberNET Group headquarters in Grand Rapids and discovered that James Horton and Barton Watson had used millions of creditors' dollars to load their garages with Ferraris, Rolls Royces and Bentleys and their wine cellars with almost 1,500 bottles, mostly recent vintages from top producers around the world. When Watson learned of the investigation, he shot and killed himself after an extended 9-1-1 call during which he boasted about his collection, including a 1997 La Tache he claimed to have been drinking at the time. The remaining wine will be auctioned off on March 24 at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Grand Rapids. (Anyone interested in bidding should e-mail email@example.com.) Steven Rayman, an attorney for the trustees, said the wines, worth an estimated $100,000, would only go a small way toward CyberNET's overall debt. "Right now, total claims against the company are at about $16 million," he said.
No longer a "First Family"? After selling their Napa-based corporation to Constellation Brands last year, Mondavi family members have resigned from the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV), an association of leading wine families around the world. Although Robert Mondavi is considered royalty in California wine country, his former company no longer meets the organization's standards, which states that member wineries must be family-owned. The group is now down to 11 members, from its maximum of 12. To be eligible you'd have to be able to mingle with the likes of Tuscan Marchesi Piero Antinori and Nicolò Incisa della Rochetta (of Sassicaia fame) and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. Other member wineries include Hugel in Alsace, Drouhin in Burgundy, Pol Roger Champagne, Jaboulet in the Rhône, Egon Müller in Germany, Torres and Vega Sicilia (owned by the Alvarez family) in Spain and the Symington family of Port shippers. With the departure of the Mondavis, California (apparently still the nouveau riche kid on the block) is now notably absent from the list.
Oregon winemakers have nicked the British term for Bordeaux-style blends--claret--for use on their own bottles. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has approved a petition filed by RoxyAnn Winery in Rogue Valley to allow the use of "claret" on Oregon labels, amending regulations that forbid Oregon bottles from mentioning other wine regions (although "claret" isn't a region, it's rooted in the word "clairet," a medieval-era rosé-like wine produced in Bordeaux). Several wineries, including A to Z, Del Rio, RoxyAnn and Ken Wright, have already released their own clarets. Ken Wright, who makes claret under his Tyrus Evan label, was chuffed by the change, but was gutted to learn that he'd used the term before it was proper legal. "I made the first claret in Oregon in 2001," he said, "but I had no idea the name wasn't approved yet."
It's another David-and-Goliath battle--this time over a wine name. Paul Bush, co-owner of 12,000-case Madroña Vineyards in California's Sierra Foothills, has been producing a few hundred cases of Mélange de Trois (meaning "blend of three")--a traditional blend of white Rhône varieties Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier--for three years. But last April, Bush began receiving what he calls "threatening" letters and phone calls from lawyers for Napa-based Trinchero Family Estates, claiming that the name infringes upon their Folie à Deux winery's Menage à Trois (meaning, well, a nontraditional sort of three-way blend). Mélange de Trois, priced at $16, has been one of Madrona's best sellers. Sales of Menage à Trois, available in white, red and rosé versions for $12, pale in comparison to Trinchero's multimillion-case Sutter Home juggernaut. So the Bush family filed suit in El Dorado County Superior Court to get Trinchero's legal eagles off their back. Trinchero's lawyers declined to comment. But Bush explained, "We're not asking for money or anything else; we're just asking them to leave us alone. Their label is not impacting ours, and ours is certainly not impacting theirs. We have limited resources, but we don't like being pushed around." Anyone got a slingshot?