• It is, as they say, not just a game anymore. In 2011, the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup, once a provincial France-Britain tasting rivalry between a handful of universities, expanded to include a prelim for U.S. teams. Hosted by the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc, des Graves, de Sauternes et de Barsac, a fraternity of Bordeaux château owners and other wine players clad in Burgundy, er, claret robes and poofy hats, the competition began with a handful of prestigious grad-school wine clubs gathering at the French Consulate in New York, certainly hoping to qualify for the finals in Bordeaux at Château Lafite, but largely just happy to be there.
No longer. "We knew the material painfully well," said Taylor Hartstein of the Columbia Law School team; the team had actually blind-tasted a practice flight of Left Bank Bordeaux earlier in the day. According to the rules, players can only compete for two years on the three-man team, so for veterans like Hartstein, a last chance was on the line to win a several-day trip of wining, dining and representing America on the world wine stage in Bordeaux. Teams hold auditions, study and taste for months; no one does the Bordeaux Cup as a lark now. Still, preparation has its own rewards. "It's become the most fun thing about law school so far," said Andrew Sutton, a teammate of Hartstein's, who got into wine hanging out on his family's sheep farm in Napa.
This year, 13 teams were slated to compete for the two spots at Lafite, as elite a list of America's university grad programs as any—Harvard, Yale, Wharton, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, Cornell and on—though the blizzard that hammered the northeast kept some of them home. First up, they were quizzed, with questions ranging from moderately hard—"What was Baroness Philippine de Rothschild's occupation in her early life?" (actress)—to very hard—"Here is a Mouton art label; identify the vintage." Then, on to the three-round blind tasting, requiring teams to nail down appellations and vintages of three-glass flights.
In announcing the winners, Emmanuel Cruse, grand maître of the Commanderie, said, "We were very impressed with the level of the answers. This is the first year ever we have seen such a high level for the two winners," in fact, the highest level of performance he had ever seen in the competition internationally (preliminaries have grown to include over 40 teams in the U.S., Europe and Asia). At dinner, teams were treated to 2003 Cos-d'Estournel, 2000 Giscours and 2005 Lafaurie-Peyraguey, among other delectables, but it would be newcomers UCLA Anderson School of Management who hoisted the Bordeaux Cup in the end, with MIT Sloan following them to Bordeaux. Anderson captain Brooke Matthias told Unfiltered that the team divided to conquer—divided Bordeaux, that is, with each member assigned to learn a few appellations top to bottom. In the tasting, "the first [flight] we struggled with a little bit," mistaking a Pauillac for a Pessac-Léognan. "It kind of taught us a lesson: As soon as we got that incorrect, we knew we needed to give the wine a little time in the glass and not jump to any conclusions." The team is "stoked" for the finals in June, and perhaps life in the wine or restaurant industries after graduation.
The Commanderie made clear their appreciation for all the young wine lovers. Announced one member, "It is such a pleasure to have such a group of people who know the wines of Bordeaux extremely well, and the culture of my people."
• The French call it "making the vines piss," and it's perfectly legal in vineyards that aren't appellation-controlled. Unfortunately for the owners of Vignobles Raymond Jaubert, Bordeaux's Entre-Deux-Mers is indeed AOC-controlled, and they have been convicted of making 2,000 liters more wine than the winery was permitted by appellation law. The excess wine was bottled and sold as generic Vin de France, and purported to have come from the winery's 7 acres of declassified vineyards. “It wasn’t a crime against humanity. No one was being poisoned, and no one was selling non-AOC wine as appellation wine,” said Michel Dufranc, lawyer for the INAO in the southwest of France, a plaintiff in the case. Five more winegrowers in the Libourne region face similar charges. Last November, 18 growers in the Cognac region were hauled before the judges after a a flood of cheap wine on the wholesale market depressed prices, alerting the authorities. Low yields in Spain and Italy have increased demand for generic wine, while growers of entry-level AOC struggle. “There is a gap between the classified growths—which sell abroad for colossal prices—[and] the small and medium-size estates, [which] have real financial difficulties,” said Dufranc.
Appellation Bordeaux vineyards are pruned to produce a maximum yield of 5.5 tons per acre to ensure quality. Jaubert, which produces 1 million bottles a year from 371 acres of AOC Bordeaux and AOC Graves, declassified 7 acres. Suddenly, those plots were producing “a fantastic volume.” “The yield no longer corresponded to the actual capacity of the declassified vineyard,” said Dufranc. A routine audit by customs tipped off the anti-fraud agency DGCCRF. Inspectors found that the appellation vines were "pissing wine," at a hefty illegal surplus, and fined Raymond Jaubert 6,000 euros.
• Food Network celebrity chef and brand-conscious business man Guy Fieri isn’t feeling the love in his own backyard of Santa Rosa, Calif. Despite already having two restaurants in the city of 171,000 (Johnny Garlic and Tex Wasabi), his plans to expand his wine holdings from the Russian River Valley to a winery and tasting room in a rural area of Santa Rosa have been shut out by the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments with an initial ruling of 5-0 against that included a turnout of more than 150 people who were largely opposed to the idea. Before we start to think that Sonoma has turned on the loud and polarizing chef-turned-vintner, the bulk of the protest is aimed at concerns over traffic and noise that would result from a Fieri-based winery. In particular is the information that the winery would have at least 14 events a year, with four of those events estimated to have attendance in excess of 100 people. This all comes at a time when more and more residents of “wine country” are realizing they can influence local government by voicing their concerns over increases in traffic, noise, and the like, particularly with wineries that seek to double as venues for large events. Speaking to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, zoning-board member Willie Lamberson remarked on the solidarity of the community on the issue of the proposed winery: “It’s hard to get anyone to agree on anything, and I’ve got 206 signatures in front of me against this project, not to mention numerous letters.” It was this level of community representation that made the zoning board go back on the county’s own recommendation to approve the winery. But Fieri fans, fear not: This was only an initial ruling, and will still need to be finalized at a future zoning-board meeting.
• The 2015 Naples Winter Wine Festival raised $12.3 million for charity this month. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $135 million in support of initiatives to help children in need in Collier County. A sell-out crowd drove up the live-auction lots to a record total. “What was fantastic is a lot of the first-time attendees were also bidders,” said Tom Moran, co-chair of the festival. Piero Antinori was in attendance as the honored vintner, along with many other distinguished wine guests including Paul Pontallier, Dan Kosta, Bill Harlan and Tim and Carissa Mondavi. “Vintners are the backbone of our charity,” said co-chair Sandi Moran. “Both domestic and international, they are generous with their wine and their time,” she said. And none were more generous than Olivier Krug, who was on hand to moderate the sale of 130 bottles of Krug Champagne. The bottles were sold alongside an exclusive tour of the Champagne house and dinner at Michelin 3-star restaurant L’Assiette Champenoise. The Krug lot was the top lot of the evening, selling for $500,000. While the evening is an international affair, with most of the guests traveling great distances to attend, the huge sums donated over the years have had a profound effect close to home. “Every dollar raised under the tent has a far-reaching impact on children in our local community, from continuing the fight against childhood hunger and providing out-of-school programming, to improving children’s health and increasing access to mental-health professionals,” said co-chair Sharon Hallberg. “Patrons give so generously during the live auction because they know the money is going to great causes.”
• Former WineGavel.com president Joshua Krummenoehl was sentenced to 18 months in jail this week in Napa County Superior Court, supervising inspector Carl Chapman of the Marin County district attorney’s office told Unfiltered. Krummenoehl was arrested this past summer on charges of 12 counts of grand theft by embezzlement totaling more than $500,000 in missing wine, and in November pleaded guilty to one count of felony embezzlement and a charge of “excessive taking,” with an agreement to make restitution to his victims in the amount of $501,510. Krummenoehl will also serve 22 months probation.