• One of the highlights of Auction Napa Valley every year is the chance to meet some of the region's trailblazers. On Thursday evening, Unfiltered had dinner at the home of Alice Heitz, wife of the late Joe Heitz, who founded their family winery in 1961. Heitz Wine Cellars, of course, produced Napa's original cult wine, the Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and its first bottling, the 1966 vintage, sold for what was then an extravagant $7. Alice, now 82, recalled her shock when prices climbed from there. "I thought Joe was crazy charging $12 [for the 1969]," she said. "And what people charge today," she added, shaking her head with disapproval. We hear you, Alice, and if it were up to Unfiltered, we'd vest you with emeritus veto power over pricing for all of the valley's high-end Cabernets …
• The auction's Pride in Season event, held on Friday at Trinchero Family Estate, was quite the scene, with 5,000 people in attendance and numerous activities going on. While two women dressed up as Lucille Ball look-alikes replicated the famous I Love Lucy grape-stomping sequence, vintners and restaurateurs were handing out samples in the sun. There was a long line in front of the Go Fish table, the yet-to-be-opened seafood and sushi restaurant in St. Helena we were telling you about last week. Seems like Napans just can't wait to try chef Ken Tominaga's spicy tuna hand rolls. Embarrassingly, the chef pointed out that Unfiltered was in line twice. We were, uh, getting one for someone else?
• Unfiltered ran into renowned wineglass maker George Riedel inside the air-conditioned barrel room, where visitors could taste samples being offered in the barrel auction, check out the displays of Saturday's auction lots or participate in an online auction. Standing out among the online items were William Hill Winery's wildly colorful 3-liter bottles depicting James Bond movie posters from Octopussy, Thunderball, Moonraker and Dr. No. But there was also a real-life film star on hand: Geena Davis, who plays the president of the United States on TV, was there with former Disney executive Rich Frank to promote the Frank Family Vineyards lot, which includes dinner with Davis and a role in the TV movie of Commander in Chief. She simply smiled prettily at all the attention.
• Over the weekend, Unfiltered found out that wife-and-husband team Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer had been facing another breach of contract lawsuit. However, the power couple avoided a drawn-out court hearing like the one versus Bryant Family Vineyards and reached a settlement with Charles and Shirley Roy, owners of the new Roy Estate in Napa Valley, earlier that day. Details of the settlement in this new suit are confidential, but Unfiltered wonders what will happen with the 2003 vintage that Turley made for the new label. Philippe Melka, who seems to pick up most of Turley's dropped clients, took over in 2005 and blended the '04 vintage, which will be for sale sometime next year. But the '03? Overtones of lawsuit mingle with fragrant notes of cash? Where can we get our hands on some of that?
• We also learned that a few changes have been in the works at Napa Valley Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc producer Spottswoode Vineyard. Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker at the esteemed St. Helena property since the 1997 vintage, wants to spend more time with her family, so 2006 will be her last full-time harvest at the estate. Jennifer Williams, who started at the estate in 2002 as an intern and has been the property's vineyard manager and associate winemaker, will take over production responsibilities. Cakebread will continue to consult for the winery.
• Things looked bleak for the Carolina Hurricanes in game seven of the Eastern Conference finals last week against the Buffalo Sabres. But driven by the inspiring play of star Rod Brind'Amour, the 'Canes scored three goals in the third period to win the game and the series, sending them to the Stanley Cup finals (where they now lead the Edmonton Oilers one game to none). Brind'Amour was, in a word, relentless, so after the game, coach Peter Laviolette awarded him a bottle of Shafer Vineyards' Relentless Napa Valley (a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah). Laviolette doesn't claim to be a wine collector, though. Turns out he was given the bottle by his neighbor—whose six-year-old daughter Julia has been battling leukemia—to thank Laviolette for the Hurricanes' effort to raise money for leukemia research by selling red wristbands with the word "relentless" on them at home games. The wine, which was signed by Julia, "went to the player tonight who best exemplified a relentless attitude," Laviolette said in his post-game press conference. Upon hearing the news, Shafer donated 20 more bottles, now each autographed by Laviolette, which will go to each of the first 20 fans at tonight's game two who donate $200 to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Eastern North Carolina chapter. Unfiltered toasts Laviolette for using two things that don't normally go together—wine and hockey—to bring attention to a good cause.
• Those wily politicians all too often find the unsatisfying middle ground. In February, California state Sen. Carol Migden, a Democrat representing the San Francisco Bay area, introduced a bill to make Zinfandel the official state grape. Given all the other varieties grown in California, Unfiltered thought her proposal had the proverbial snowball's chance in hell. And yes, it went down in flames. But in the grand tradition of watering down Zinfandel grapes to reduce alcohol levels, the California senate settled on a watered-down version of the bill: By a 21 to 13 vote, the senate agreed to designate Zinfandel the state's official historic wine, if not the official state grape. So now the bill is in front of the state assembly, which might also feel compelled to do some dilution of its own ….
• Talk about buying a piece of history. When German troops marched into defeated Paris in June 1940, the sommelier of the legendary Ritz on the Place Vendôme hid away some of the choicest wines in the hotel's auxiliary cellar, located a few miles away beneath a warehouse on rue Lecourbe. That trove lay forgotten until last January, when the Ritz sommelier staff discovered it while consolidating the hotel's stocks into renovated cellars. Yesterday, auction-goers had the chance to pick up 18 lots from that collection at Christie's latest Paris sale. Among them were Margaux 1928 and 1929, Yquem 1924, Climens 1919 and, from the superb 1926 vintage, 34 half-bottles of Haut-Brion and 24 half-bottles of Mouton-Rothschild. Twenty-three of the Haut-Brion half-bottles sold, for an average price of $294 each, while the Mouton sold for an average price of $271 per half-bottle. Unfiltered thinks the cost is well worth it, since the buyer will be able to relate the following story while showing off the wines to friends: If not for fast thinking by hotel manager Hans Elmiger, the hidden wines might well have been confiscated by German troops in 1943. Dispatched to the warehouse to search the "left luggage" of absent hotel guests, German soldiers stumbled upon the wine stash. "I wouldn't lay a finger on those wines," said the Swiss-born Elmiger to the unit's sergeant. "They are the personal property of your Reich Marshal." He was referring to Herman Goering, second only to Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy and a voracious consumer of French wines, who was then staying at the Ritz. The intimidated sergeant "all but saluted" the wines and departed.
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