• Putting celebrity images on wine labels finally went one step too far last month. It's been said that Eric Clapton is God, and last month the legendary guitarist unleashed a mighty and awesome fury upon winery owners in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who spent part of his life battling substance abuse, was slated to perform solo at the annual Mission Estate Winery Concert. Thousands gathered for the sold-out event on Jan. 27, but with mere hours until curtain Clapton threatened to nix the shindig when he noticed souvenir wine bottles branded with his name and likeness. The organizers confirmed to the Hawkes Bay Today that the artist's "frustration" was palpable, but that a resolution was reached "to everyone's satisfaction." They snatched all wines from the shelves, and the show--though drier than a bottle of sand--went on.
• The big--and we do mean big--excitement at last Saturday's Hart Davis Hart auction in Chicago was slated to be the sale of five melchiors (each holding the equivalent of 24 regular bottles) of Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet vintages 1992 through 1996. The estimate was an eye-popping $400,000 to $600,000. Alas, the lot was withdrawn at the last minute. "The cork had slipped down into one bottle, and so the lot went back to the consigner," explained Paul Hart, president of HDH. Unfiltered has learned from a reliable source that there had been previous leakage problems with these giant bottles, of which only two sets were created. Ann Colgin cellars one set at her winery, while the one up for auction was originally the property of Colgin's former husband, Fred Schrader. He sold his melchiors after his divorce in 1997 to a Nevada casino, which resold them to the private collector who had hoped to put them on the block last Saturday. While the Colgin bottles were a letdown, HDH did sell another melchior--of Château Cheval-Blanc 2000--for $32,000. Sounds like a bargain to us.
• We got pruners, yes we do! We got pruners, how 'bout you? While much of the nation was fixated on the Super Bowl this past weekend, California high schools were geared up for the state finals in … vine pruning. That's right--actual high-school vine-pruning teams. (Where else but California?) The competitive season is in January, when the vines are dormant, and contests take place in grapegrowing regions all over the state. Ten teams turned out for the finals held at Fresno State on Feb. 3, where the 38 contestants faced off in the Ruby Cabernet and Flame Seedless spur-pruning and Thompson cane-pruning events. Last year's state title holder, Paso Robles High School, came in fourth, beat out by Kingsburgh High, which claimed the No. 1 spot, followed by Madera South and Central West, which tied for second. We were gratified to learn how seriously the sport is taken, what with fully detailed breakdowns of the stats, reports in the local press, and financial support from local businesses interested in grooming the next crop of viticulturists. And you thought jocks were the popular kids? Not here. Gimme a "P"! Gimme an "R"!
• E. & J. Gallo quietly announced last week the recall of its Redwood Creek brand in Japan "due to the possibility of small glass particles" in the wines. Glass was found in two of 19,000 bottles tested, according to a Gallo statement, and the recalled wines include the Redwood Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in 750ml bottles. Suntory, which is Gallo's distributor in Japan, voluntarily recalled the wines, and said there were "no consumer complaints and no reports of harm." While Redwood Creek wines are available in the United States, Gallo maintains the potentially affected products were sold exclusively in Japan. Gallo spokesperson Susan Hensley declined to answer questions such as how the problem was detected if no consumers complained or where the wines were produced and bottled. But the official statement said emphatically: "We are confident we have found and remedied the cause of the problem."
• Attention, all those who choose free tap water over price-gouged bottled water when dining out: Mary-Louise Parker, Jimmy Fallon and Pharrell Williams would like to invite you to pay for it. UNICEF has just announced their new grassroots campaign, called the Tap Project, which will raise money for clean drinking water initiatives in third-world countries. Beginning on March 22, or World Water Day, patrons in hundreds of New York restaurants will have the option to donate $1 (or more) per person for the high quality water that they normally enjoy for free. In addition to the aforementioned supporters, the cause is being taken up by chefs Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin; Tom Colicchio, chef and owner of Craft and head Top Chef judge; and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, who is a UNICEF ambassador. For a good cause, Unfiltered is willing to shell out for New York's tasty tap; we just wish someone would create a $1 wine campaign too.
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