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Bordeaux Halloween Tricks: Poisoned Vines and Stolen Grapes

Plus, wine counterfeiters adopt a new strategy, the Smithsonian recognizes Stag's Leap and Montelena, the wine industry steps up for Breast Cancer Awareness and more

Posted: October 31, 2013

• Another small crop pounded by hail, another difficult vintage: With three such vintages in a row, we couldn't blame the Bordelais if they started to crack … In a shocking instance of Léoville-on-Léoville crime, famed second-growth Léoville Las Cases has likely lost 15 acres of primo grapes to smoke and fumes from a trash fire set at neighboring Léoville Poyferré. "The leaves were blackened; they fell quickly. The grapes were not ripe," owner Jean-Hubert Delon told Sud Ouest. A bit south, in Barsac, Sauternes second-growth Château Suau also had an unwelcome surprise: Three rows—10 percent of the small estate's already-reduced crop—harvested in the dead of night by intruders. Owner Corinne Biarnès told La Vigne magazine, "The fence was trampled. But picking the grapes was done very cleanly. It's very professional," inviting speculation that another Sauternais producer starved for crop might be the culprit.

Delon stressed that his tainted vines at Las Cases would be vinified separately from the other Las Cases plots—"A grape is a sponge, it may pick up odors"—and the result would likely go straight to a distillery. Didier Cuvelier of Poyferré took responsibility for the accident: The fire was intended to be a standard disposal of plant waste, but an unknown litterbug had stuffed some polyurethane waste in: BA 13 plasterboard and aerosols (workers heard explosions). Still, Delon contended, "This fire never should [have been lit], surrounded by vineyards, and especially on the eve of the harvest." Indeed, it is technically illegal to burn anything other than pruned shoots in the winter on the Bordeaux properties, a rule that has something to do with how setting fires all over grape land that produces millions of dollars' worth of wine can lead to some sort of problematic outcome. Suau estimated a loss of $27,500, with insurance recourse unexpected, but Léoville Las Cases is looking at seven figures. Delon and Cuvelier, along with their respective insurers and lawyers, are talking it out.

• Proof of a new wine-counterfeiting strategy was uncovered at a chicken farm in rural China this month. A counterfeit ring was busted, with 16 arrested, hundreds of thousands of corks and labels seized, and over $5 million worth of counterfeit wine (in both finished product and the bulk wine that was destined for forgery). The difference from this bust versus the usual? They counterfeiters weren't targeting high-profile wines like DRC or Pétrus. The wines in question averaged about $50 a bottle. Cantenac Brown, a third-growth Bordeaux from Margaux, as well as Purple Angel, a Carmenère bottling from Chilean producer Montes were some of the wines being “replicated” and filled with wine that cost about $1.64 per bottle. So despite being cheaper wines than what usually make the news, these forgeries still represent a healthy markup to the tune of over 1,500 percent—enough to make it attractive, especially since these wines aren't typically on the radar of auction houses who can sniff out a fake (literally and figuratively) with relative ease. The 200 cases of seized finished wines were headed for restaurants and hotels all throughout China.

Warren Winiarski couldn't have been aware of it at the time, but in 1973, he wasn't just making wine—he was making America. So says Smithsonian Magazine, whose recently published list of "101 Objects that Made America" includes a bottle of Winiarski's 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, the two California wines that outscored their French competitors at the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. Bottles of both the winning California wines have been on display since 1996 at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in recognition of their historic role in elevating the reputation of American wine. "It's an honor and a thrill to have a wine I made included among such historic and groundbreaking artifacts," Winiarski said. "It clearly demonstrates how much of an impact California winemakers have on the world at large." Indeed, according to the Smithsonian list, their impact is on par with America-making wonders such as Lewis and Clark's compass, the Wright brothers' original flyer, Henry Ford’s Model T and Neil Armstrong's spacesuit.

• On Oct. 21, more than 500 attendees gathered at New York’s Chelsea Piers for the 20th annual Feast fund-raising event, presented by the Center for Hearing and Communication in cooperation with Wine Spectator. Prior to the live auction, attendees sampled dishes from 25 New York restaurants during a walkaround tasting, as well as wines from Cesari, Ferrari-Carano and Gloria Ferrer, among others. As in past years, popular New York network broadcasters, including Channel 7 Eyewitness News anchor Bill Ritter, participated in the event as sous chefs. In addition, this year the center recognized renowned cochlear implant surgeon Dr. J. Thomas Roland, Jr. by awarding him the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for his work with individuals and families with hearing loss. In total, the event raised more than $500,000 for families in need of hearing health-care services.

• In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, Ferrari-Carano’s Seasons of the Vineyard Wine Shop, located in Healdsburg, Calif., has been doing their part to support the cause by raising funds through "Pinktober Sip, Shop & Support." It's an important cause to owner Rhonda Carano: “As a breast cancer survivor myself, I am dedicated to raising awareness, educating people about breast cancer and encouraging women to take charge of their breast health.” Throughout this month, for every bottle of Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé sold at the shop, $5 has been donated to the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation Breast Care Center in Santa Rosa for furthering breast cancer research.

• Napa restaurant and wine lounge 1313 Main did its part to support Breast Cancer Awareness with its second annual "In the Pink" month featuring limited-edition pink bottlings of Cru 32 wines and other breast cancer awareness events, including the "Treasure Chest O' Fun" gala benefit in association with Judd's Hill Winery earlier this week and all-female Winemaker Wednesdays all month long. "My family, as with many families, has felt the effect of breast cancer," said 1313 Main owner Al Jabarin, "Our 1313 Main family is committed each year to do what we can to raise awareness and money to combat this terrible disease." Jabarin is donating 100 percent of proceeds from the "In the Pink" events at 1313 Main to the Cancer Center at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

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