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Charlie Trotter's foie-gras flap, the Mondavis' next move, when French winegrowers attack and the spawn of Sideways

Posted: April 6, 2005

• Star chef Charlie Trotter had his feathers ruffled last week when a Chicago Tribune article "outed" him for deciding, three years ago, that foie gras didn't fit his bill. Trotter hasn't used the controversial delicacy since. In the article, another Chicago chef, Tru's Rick Tramonto (whose restaurant holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award, as does Trotter's) said Trotter's position was "[a] little hypocritical because animals are raised to be slaughtered and eaten every day." Trotter countered by calling Tramonto "not the smartest guy on the block" and suggesting that his liver might be an appropriate substitute for foie gras. Then came accusations--from chef/author Anthony Bourdain and in the New York Post's gossip pages--that Trotter had served foie gras at his restaurant just two weeks earlier, during a charity dinner he hosted with British chef Heston Blumenthal and Australia's Tetsuya Wakuda. But instead of ducking for cover, Trotter acknowledged that foie gras was served, but only by his guest chefs. "If a chef wants to serve foie gras as one of his courses, I'm not stepping in to say 'No,'" he told Wine Spectator. "I don't pass judgment on them. We're not that militant on our stance." Trotter says his decision was a personal one, and he never wished to make a political statement or force-feed anyone his views.

• Tim Mondavi and his sister, Marcia Mondavi Borger, have quietly approached Constellation Brands, the new owner of Robert Mondavi Winery, about the possibility of purchasing some of the vineyards they once owned. The Mondavi siblings, along with their father, Robert, are planning to reenter the wine business and the logical first step is to secure grapes for the 2005 vintage. The crown jewel of the Mondavi properties is the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, south of the winery, but whether Constellation would be willing to part with that, or any vineyards, is open to speculation. With the proceeds from the company's sale, the family ought to have enough cash, even considering the cost of Napa land, but they'd better hope the wine giant has a sentimental side.

• More angry wine producers; more explosions in the south of France. After taking their frustrations out on Languedoc producer Domaine de la Baume with dynamite in early March, the rogue group of grapegrowers known as CRAV (Comité Regional d'Action Viticole) was behind more attacks in the Languedoc last week. In the early morning on April 1, sticks of dynamite were thrown at the Ministry of Agriculture offices in Montpellier and Carcassonne, and a car was set ablaze outside the ministry office in Nîmes. Nobody was injured in the attacks, but significant damage was done to the offices, European newspapers reported. The CRAV acronym was scrawled on the walls of the office buildings. The group also accepted responsibility for a string of firebombings at Languedoc supermarkets in late March. A large demonstration of other Languedoc growers--who want more assistance from the French government--will reportedly take place on April 20.

• Thanks to Sideways' award-season blitz, companies near and far are jumping on the film's bandwagon. To coincide with the release of the Sideways DVD this week, Constellation Brands is setting up displays of its recently acquired Robert Mondavi Private Reserve line in grocery and wine stores alongside the DVD, which contains coupons and a chance to win a "Sideways tour of Napa Valley." (Never mind that they're a few hundred miles off.) There's also the new Sideways Wine Club, which every two months offers two bottles from wineries featured in the film. Members can choose from three levels of wines and three prices, which are said to match the main characters' tastes. "Jack's Favorites" (for a guy who likes everything?) is $30 per shipment, the first of which includes Andrew Murray Syrah Tous Les Jours 2003. "Maya's Favorites," at $50, includes Firestone Syrah Santa Ynez Valley 2002 and "Miles' Pinots," at $70, includes Fiddlehead Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Fiddlestix 2002. We're still waiting for Jack and Miles action figures, "with wineglass-gripping action!"

• But that proposed Sideways wine from Oregon? Put it on the shelf, at least for now. Bill Hatcher, co-owner of A to Z Wine Works in Oregon, thought he had everything locked up after he acquired the trademark and got the support of Rex Pickett, author of the book on which the Oscar-winning wine movie was based. It turns out, however, that Pickett had signed over the rights to the name Sideways to Fox Searchlight, which made the movie, and Fox said no to an Oregon Pinot under the Sideways label. There is already a Sideways wine, of sorts. With Fox's blessing, Frank Ostini, who owns the Hitching Post II in Buellton, the main restaurant featured in the movie, bottled some of his private-label Highliner Pinot Noir 2003 in large formats solely for donation to charity auctions. "We have no intention of doing a Sideways wine commercially," says Ostini, who adds that the movie studio even made him stop selling Sideways T-shirts, which he had originally made to distribute to the cast and crew, because they bore the movie's logo.

• After months of tribulations, including admitted malfeasance by a former president, the James Beard Foundation has started to spackle its cracks, first by appointing an interim director and now by appointing the first three members to its new board of trustees. Among the nonprofit's new trustees as of March 28 is Larry Stone, wine director at San Francisco's Rubicon, a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant. Stone, noting that the previous 11-member board lacked anyone active in the restaurant industry, says he can offer the expertise of someone involved in both the food and wine businesses. "The foundation is really an organization for the restaurant community, but it hasn't always been run in that manner," he says. But there's also a potential problem with having restaurant people on the board--one of appearances. Stone, for example, could still be eligible for one of the annual James Beard Awards (he has already won the wine service award), as are his boss, his business partner and a former Rubicon chef, all of whom are included among the 2005 nominees, announced today. But the foundation assures that the awards are now run completely separately from the board, and interim director Edna Morris says trustees "actually found out this morning, as did everyone else involved in the awards process, who was nominated."

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