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Olivia Newton-John hits wine country, a vineyard likely to have a seagull problem, one serious ass-kissing, wine at the NASCAR race and wine for a good cause

Posted: December 5, 2007

Olivia "Let's Get Physical" Newton-John was hanging out in Napa and Sonoma last week, in front of the camera as a co-host for the fourth season of the PBS series Healing Quest, about integrative health. The Grammy Award-winning and Golden Globe-nominated pop singer, songwriter and actress is also involved in the wine business, having founded Koala Blue and Olivia, two Australian wine brands that haven't quite hit the U.S. yet. We shared a glass with Newton-John at the show's wrap party at Rutherford's Sullivan Vineyards. She talked to us about how she believes wine (in moderation) fits into a healthy lifestyle, and recalled a road trip she took with her father years ago to Sonoma's Jordan Winery. "He was an official taster of wine," she said with a laugh. "I don't know if he collected wine, but he sure enjoyed drinking it." Newton-John has visited, toured, sang and stomped grapes at wineries all over the world. She added that she knows that they don't really stomp grapes much anymore, something which is fine with her: "I don't really like the idea of someone's feet in my wine."

• What do Tuscany and Staten Island have in common? A lot of people with Italian ancestors ... and that's all we could think of. But a group of businessmen from the New York borough are trying to change that by building a tribute to Tuscany in the local botanical gardens, including a villa modeled on one near Florence, ornate gardens and a 2-acre vineyard—which will be used for winemaking. With the help of public funding, work on the vineyards will start this spring. To educate themselves, the heads of the project took a trip to Tuscany last month to meet with Piergiorgio Castellani of the Castellani winery, and visit some of his family vineyards. Castellani is currently conducting research for the University of Pisa on rare Tuscan grape varietals that face extinction. The budding Staten Island winemakers may indeed require some rare varieties—the island's terroir is not exactly Tuscan. Cornell University is currently exploring which Italian grapes might grow well in the city's humid climate. At least vineyard labor won't be a problem—when Castellani brought the New Yorkers to the town of Crespina, south of Pisa, the mayor was so excited he asked if Staten Island and Crespina could be sister cities. The offer was accepted, and the mayor promises volunteers to help with the harvest if Staten Island needs them.

"I detect hints of barnyard aromas...."

• We didn't quite know what to make out of this photo when we first saw it. The image is of California Pinot Noir guru Adam Lee of Siduri planting his lips on Loring Wine Cellars' Brian Loring's backside. It's no real surprise that it was Loring who shared the photo with us. "It's not a common occurrence," explained Loring. "A few years ago, we put on a party at Pisoni Vineyard. Adam thought we'd done such a good job that he said everyone should kiss my ass. I told him he could be the first. It's one of my prized photos!" In the interest of fairness, Unfiltered is accepting embarrassing photos of Brian Loring, which you can send to westcoast@winespectator.com.

• We're not certain why wine and auto racing go so well together, but so far it seems to be working for Lewis Cellars, owned by former driver Randy Lewis; Bennett Lane, founded by NASCAR team owner Randy Lynch; and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress' North Carolina winery. And now, San Francisco-based wine company Brunton Vineyards has signed on with California Speedway, a racetrack in Southern California, to become the official wine partner of the venue. The deal makes Brunton Vineyards—a négociant company that bottles wines from California, Italy, France and other regions under the Brunton Vineyards and Addison Cole labels—the preferred wines sold at the track's concession stands. No word yet if the concession stands are also upgrading from hot dogs and nachos to lobster and camembert.

• Breast Cancer Awareness Month was a while ago, but there are still ways to help ... and sip at the same time. Hope Estate, an Australian winery based in the Hunter Valley, has introduced a pink-labeled version of its Hope Estate Shiraz Western Australia The Ripper! 2005 ($16), sold exclusively at Sam's Club stores across the country, to benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Called "Hope for Prevention and Cure," the charitable promotion includes a $100,000 donation made by Hope Estate to the NBCF. Michael Hope, owner of Hope Estate, approached the NBCF with the idea after years of receiving wine donation requests from other cancer charities because of his winery's name. Hope, however, wanted to have a way to contribute in his own way after the loss of his mother to breast cancer.

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