• This past weekend in Napa Robert Mondavi Winery spent three days celebrating its 40th anniversary. There were dinners, parties, tours and tastings, of course. But this is Mondavi, and from the very beginning he's pushed the idea that art and wine should be enjoyed together, so the centerpiece of the weekend was the inaugural Taste3 Symposium. What is Taste3? Well, it's kind of hard to describe, but it's basically a gathering of artists, scientists, historians and others, all talking about food and wine. Among the crowd were chefs Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Per Se and Homaro Cantu of Moto; auctioneer Ursula Hermancinski; vintners Carl Doumani, Steve Reeder and Paul Draper; restaurateur Drew Nieporent; stand-up comic Tom Rielly; former White House executive chef Walter Scheib and spoken-word artist Rives.
• With an unusual mix like that, of course, some interesting comments were overheard. Such as: "We wouldn't let you go without having an orgasm." Before you ask where you can sign up for next year's Taste3, that was flavorist Marie Wright and she was just telling the audience about one of the "experiences" in Visionaire 47 TASTE, a limited-edition art publication that pairs images with specially created flavor strips. Unfiltered put the breath strip-like "orgasm" in our mouth … and savored the sensation of chocolate and truffles. OK, not quite the orgasm we had in mind, but we'll still come back next year.
• Speaking of which, the audience was howling when Dan Barber, chef and owner of Blue Hill, in New York, told a story about Boris the boar, an animal on his farm. Apparently, Boris is unable to perform his main job anymore, even though, as Barber stated, "A sow in heat is not picky."
• Margrit Mondavi told stories about the 30 years of the winery's Great Chefs series, a program in which famous chefs performed hands-on instruction on cooking and wine pairing for small groups. She recalled someone asking Julia Child what she would have done if she hadn't discovered food. According to Margrit, Julia retorted, "I would have married a Republican banker and become an alcoholic."
• Even Constellation Brands CEO Richard Sands, who must have a heavy workload running the world's largest wine company (now the owner of Robert Mondavi Winery, among others), showed his lighter side at the event. When someone asked if he would ever plant a vineyard, he said, "I would prefer to be a wood sculptor."
• While Constellation executives may have been partying last weekend, the former CEO of the company's fine-wine division, Agustin Huneeus Jr., has been busy lately. He and a group of investors have made a $90 million bid to buy the bankrupt Legacy Estate Group, which owns the Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron wineries. But that may just be the opening bid. Other big guns, including Jackson Family Wines and Diageo, are rumored to be interested as well, and may make counteroffers. "To me this is a step in the right direction. It has been a tough road," said winemaker Richard Arrowood, who has stayed at the helm of his winery since Legacy filed for Chapter 11 in November 2005. Arrowood said it was difficult to watch as Legacy failed to pay its longtime growers and other creditors. Napa-based Legacy paid $40 million in March 2005 to buy Arrowood and Byron from Constellation Brands, which had acquired the two wineries in its December 2004 purchase of Robert Mondavi.
|Domaine Chandon étoile's got a shiny new cap.|
• Expect some changes in the San Francisco Chronicle wine section. Linda Murphy, section editor for more than three years, is stepping down to focus on writing, rather than the current management responsibilities demanded by the position. She'll continue making freelance contributions to the Chronicle, and plans to spend more time in Sonoma, where she lives. No word yet on who's taking over the job. Turmoil has been the rule in recent years at the Chronicle, San Francisco's largest newspaper and a division of the Hearst Corporation. Although Hearst, a privately owned company, does not release official revenue figures, management has acknowledged significant financial difficulties. A June 2005 article in the paper, referencing labor negotiations, acknowledged $62 million in losses for 2004. The Chronicle stayed in the red last year to the tune of as much as $2 million a week.
• Speaking of staff changes, Unfiltered has learned that Juanita Duggan is now outgoing president and CEO of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America. This fall, Duggan is leaving her gig at the organization that has fought so doggedly to preserve wholesaler monopolies by preventing small wineries from shipping directly to consumers who can't get the wines elsewhere. Before starting at WSWA in 1998, Duggan was the vice president of federal relations at Philip Morris, of Big Tobacco fame. Now she's going to become the president and CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association, which, as you might guess, strives to expand industry access to the pulp (better known as trees) used to make paper. So we wish her well as she continues her clear-cut through professional lobbying--and moves out of the world of wine.
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