Best of Unfiltered 2012
Against all very, very long odds, we are still here today, despite what non-Mayan expert end-timers would have had us believe. Wine-loving Unfiltered readers were well-prepared for the apocalypse regardless, but more on that later. In celebration of the Great Mayan Pardon of 2012, we now subject you to our seventh annual clip column, highlighting the most popular Unfiltered stories of 2012. In the time we've been tracking Unfiltered's most popular stories, our readers have rarely failed to click on our (un)coverage of beautiful women making news with wine, but this year the trend was bucked: The top Unfiltered story of 2012 was the fire that destroyed a Sierra Foothills winery in California, perhaps an indication that our readers were closely following any potential signs of the end of the world. Then again, that story was closely followed by items on Bachelor bad girl Courtney Robertson, actresses Salma Hayek and Jenny McCarthy, and the Golden State Warrior Girls.
Unfiltered has a proud history of showcasing women in wine: In 2006, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Savanna Samson popped bottles (and eyes); in 2008, Dom Pérignon's tribute to Claudia Schiffer's breasts had hearts pounding (cheers to Dom for knowing our audience); in 2009, Jamie-Lynn Sigler took off her Little Black Dress; Sheryl Crow and Courtney Cox were a popular pair of well-aged wine-loving cougars in 2010 and last year the Austrian vintner pin-up girl lingerie calendar took top honors. The swashbuckling Johnny Depp was our previous non-bombshell clicker's choice award recipient, capturing the booty in 2007 by outdueling Gwyneth Paltrow and Tyra Banks.
There was some serious news featured in Unfiltered in 2012, including coverage of wine shipping laws in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie signed a direct shipping bill, but with a new blood-red wine from Slayer and the "accidental" demolition of a Bordeaux château cracking this Best Of list as well, it's clear that, like our teenage nephews, Unfiltered readers' two favorite things remain hot chicks and destruction. We wouldn't have it any other way.
1. A Family Winery in California Goes Up in Flames
The relatively young Sierra Foothills sub-AVA of Fair Play lost a member of its small community of about 20 family wineries earlier this week when a fire broke out at Oakstone Winery in the early morning hours of July 9. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but foul play is not suspected. Owners John and Susan Smith opened Oakstone in 1997 after purchasing their vineyard on Slug Gulch Road in 1989 (that's slug as in slugs of gold, not the mucus-y mollusks: this is California Gold Rush country). John Smith estimates the damage to be in excess of $3 million, which includes about 4,600 cases of wine and another 14,000 gallons of wine in barrels and tanks. Sentimentally, Smith is saddened to see all the winery's local awards and citations go up in flames, "but those don't count very much—it's what you do this year and next year that matters," Smith said. "It's more of a transition than a tragedy," Smith continued, confirming his positive attitude about the whole thing, "Shit happens; life goes on!" Posted July 12
2. Robin Williams' Napa Estate Could Be Yours ... for $35 Million
Unfiltered is sad to report that another family-owned vineyard is on the block in Napa, this one being the domain of the Robin Williams family, famous for beloved releases like The Birdcage, Patch Adams, Jumanji, Aladdin and, of course, Death to Smoochy. Villa Soriso, the 653-acre estate nestled into the Mayacamas Mountains, can be yours for $35 million; perks include a 20,000-square-foot Italianate villa with a 12-seat in-house movie theater, a 65-foot-long infinity-edge pool, temp-controlled cellars for your many wines and arts, equestrian facilities, the vineyard and the knowledge that you've shared a bathtub with Mrs. Doubtfire, something you can't really put a price on. Williams recently had himself a wine country wedding at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena to a San Francisco-based graphic designer. Unfiltered supposes now that Williams has fulfilled three wishes—sobriety ("I did rehab in wine country, to keep my options open," he told CBS), landing a local gal and a wedding under the trellises—there's not much left for Napa to offer. We presume he'll now return to one of his former residences, either a magic lamp or Planet Ork. Posted Aug. 23
3. Sonoma's New Queen of Mean
Unfiltered's long love/hate affair with ABC's The Bachelor came to its merciful end this week with the revelation of California wine country's worst-kept secret: Envolve winery co-owner Ben Flajnik popped the question to Courtney Robertson, the beautiful L.A. model that viewers almost unanimously loved to hate. Of course she said yes, but anyone who has passed by a drugstore magazine rack in the past few weeks knows there's been trouble in wine country. Fear not, however, reality TV romantics! Unfiltered got the inside scoop that Courtney flew to San Francisco yesterday for a crack at reconciliation with our winemaking hero, and that last night they made up over a bottle of Two Hands Shiraz and Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. More important, we also got an Unfiltered exclusive that Ben is finally getting back to the business of wine. "I just wrapped up all my Bachelor filming and am very much looking forward to getting back to my full-time life as a winemaker," Flajnik said via e-mail. "Since the show premiered in January, these have been some of the busiest months of my life. The Bachelor was an amazing experience, but I'm looking forward to having a normal life again—cooking for my roommates/business partners Mike Benziger and Danny Fay (they've gotten really thin since I went on the Bachelorette, since I'm the only one who cooks in the house), spending time with my mom and sister Julia, and making wine. Definitely don't expect me on Dancing with the Stars. I will miss all those helicopters though!" Posted March 15
4. A High Prize for Salma Hayek
Dame Salma Hayek? Sort of: France always rings in the new year by bestowing the Légion d'Honneur, the French equivalent of England's knighthood, on the worthy and accomplished, and in 2012, the 45-year-old Mexican actress joined the ranks of the National Order. Hayek is acclaimed for decades of silver-screen savoir faire; her range spans from Academy Award nominee for the titular role in Frida to romantic lead cat voice in Puss in Boots. Among those Hayek joins in the honor is her own father-in-law, the mogul François Pinault, who was promoted this year to the rank of Grand Officier. Pinault is the founder of the PPR luxury group, which owns brands Yves Saint Lauren and Gucci, as well as a little cottage on the Gironde that may be familiar to wine lovers—Château Latour. (Hayek's husband is François-Henri Pinault, the current CEO of PPR.) The family's other viniferous holdings include Domaine d’Eugenie in Burgundy and the Northern Rhône monopole Château-Grillet. Hayek, who will be laureled alongside politicians, historians, other actors, a judo champion, a rabbi and a jazz master, is not the first non-Frenchman to get the Légion: The Order has counted Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Robert Mondavi and Arnold Schwarzenegger among its distinguished members. Posted Jan. 12
5. Blood Red Wine from Slayer
Do you look for red wines that are “uncompromising and tough,” with an “undisputed attitude”? Have you been searching everywhere for a wine to drink while “headbanging,” preferably one that has spent “a couple of seasons in the abyss”? Oh, and, do you speak Swedish? If you've answered yes to all of those questions, you'll be happy to hear that the band Slayer, like heavy metal colleagues Whitesnake, Queensrÿche's Geoff Tate, Ratt and even the late Randy Rhoads, has entered the wine business. Their first offering, currently available only in Sweden, is a 2010 California Cabernet Sauvignon called Reign in Blood Red, priced at about $17. Despite the tone-deaf descriptors above, taken from the wine's promotional website, it also apparently has “a soft nose of dark berry fruits with oak and spicy nuances” and “juicy, smooth tannins.” Having just listened to a fine selection of Slayer's music, Unfiltered sincerely hopes the wine doesn't take any cues from their lyrics and “döda dig din sömn,” which is Swedish for “kill you in your sleep.” Posted April 26
6. Cellar Angel Jenny McCarthy
Chicago native Jenny McCarthy, a model-actress-comedian-author whose latest role is that of autism activist, returns to the Windy City tonight to host a cocktail party and silent auction for the charity Generation Rescue, which provides education, support and assistance for families affected by autism. Guests at the fifth annual “Rescue Our Angels” event, held at the Rockit Bar & Grill, will have the chance to drink a 2011 Pinot Gris from Blanchard Family Wines, sourced from a Russian River Valley vineyard, that was created specifically for this event, with the help of Cellar Angels, a company that markets and sells wines from small producers through a membership program and donates a portion of the profits to charities like Generation Rescue. There were about 50 cases made of the special-edition Pinot Gris, which is also available at www.cellarangels.com for $30 per bottle; Cellar Angels will donate 10 percent of the net proceeds from the wine sales to Generation Rescue, and Blanchard Family Wines has pledged additional support. Cellar Angels president Martin Cody describes the wine as having “a radiant brightness, crisp aromas of citrus groves and fresh flowers,” which is more or less what we imagine it's like to stand in the presence of Ms. McCarthy, who recently announced plans to pose nude for Playboy, the platform that brought her to the world's attention nearly 20 years ago. Posted May 24
7. Napa's Golden Girls
With California's 2012 harvest in full swing, we've been keeping track of harvest parties, and Napa's Round Pond seems to be leading the way. This season they've been saluting Olympic athletes, both current and ancient. With several wine tanks already named for bikini-clad Olympians Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Round Pond hosted actual bikini-clad ladies last week when the NBA's Golden State Warrior Girls cheerleaders squad showed up for a photo shoot of the 2013 Warrior Girls calendar (available this December on Warriors.com). We reached out to Round Pond winemaker Brian Brown to ask how the winery scored such a skimpy coup: "Listen, I didn’t have anything to do with this," Brown said. "I’m not complaining though." We wouldn't either. Posted Oct. 4
8. Free at Last: New Jersey Passes Direct Shipping Bill
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill legalizing winery direct shipping in the Garden State this Tuesday. The law, which also permits wineries to open as many as 18 offsite retail tasting rooms in the state, takes effect this May. Senate Bill 3172 passed in December and its companion, Assembly Bill 4436, passed Jan. 9, sending the direct-shipping legislation to Drumthwacket, the governor's residence in Princeton, N.J. For now, New Jersey wineries can get back to the business of winemaking knowing that their satellite tasting rooms are safe from legal challenges, but the new legislation isn't bulletproof. Under the new law, residents can only receive wine shipments from wineries making less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually—that's what's known among wine law geeks as a "capacity cap limit," and it's known to the U.S. Court of Appeals as "unconstitutional" (see Family Winemakers v. Jenkins in Massachusetts). The reason? All New Jersey wineries fall well under the capacity cap limit, but that cap excludes more than 90 percent of the wine made in the United States, and that's what lawyer types call non-facial discrimination. Not to worry, though, Jersey wine lovers. We talked to Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D), who sponsored the bill, and he said "[if] the courts rule the cap is not valid, then we'll just move forward without the cap." So get into the spirit during this week in which we celebrate civil rights and say it with us, New Jersey: "Mr. Christie, take off this cap!" Posted Jan. 19
9. Suspicion Surrounds Accidental Demolition in Bordeaux
We haven't heard from bumbling übergeek Steve Urkel since Family Matters was headlining ABC's TGIF lineup in the mid-'90s (actor Jaleel White's turn on Dancing with the Stars aside), but there were echoes of "Did I do that?!?!" heard across Bordeaux after Château de Bellevue was demolished in what renovators claim was a case of mistaken identity that has been raising eyebrows in the small Gironde town of Yvrac. When a wrecking ball accidentally destroys your French dream château, most owners would be expected to cry “Lawsuit!” but not Dmitry Stroskin and his wife. “The damage is done. There’s no reason to launch a lawsuit,” Dmitry said after the 18th century Château de Bellevue was accidentally demolished by a Polish construction crew tasked with taking down a neighboring building. The Russian businessman’s sanguine promise to build a replica of the château—one for which the plans had reportedly already been drawn at the time of the demolition—has suspicious minds and French authorities scrutinizing the events closely.
In June 2011, Stroskin (spelled Strokin on the town's permit), who works in logistics and exports in Poland, received construction permits to build a new pool house and renovate the exterior of Château de Bellevue's 8,600-square-foot manor. “The permit gave them the right to restore, tidy up and change a few stones,” Yvrac mayor Claude Carty told Unfiltered. Well, it’s certainly tidy, but they’ll need more than a few stones—the manor has been reduced to an empty sandlot. “[Bellevue] was a world apart,” bemoaned one of the French architects working for Michel Pétuaud-Létang's firm 4A, which was originally hired to renovate the château, one of the town's architectural treasures. “I’m not just crying for the château—the park was magnificent as well,” she said. The symmetrical château featured an imperial staircase entrance, a 200 person-capacity receiving hall and a forested lawn. It's not out of the question that Bellevue was designed by revered pre-Revolution Bordeaux architect Victor Louis, as it was clearly inspired by Louis' cru Bourgeois Château Balac. According to the French architects, who knew nothing of the demolition plans and had been quietly replaced, unbeknownst to them, by a Polish firm, the Stroskins began changing the building plans as soon as the permit came through. Stroskin also had serious misgivings about authentic 18th century design. “It really bothered them that there was no foundation, but at that time, builders didn’t put down cement,” the architect said. Reconstruction of Château de Bellevue has been suspended pending an investigation for demolition and construction without a permit; Mayor Carty has handed the dossier over to France's federal prosecutor. Unfiltered won't rush to judgment, however: Urkel sounds like a believable enough Polish surname to us. Posted Dec. 13
10. Is the World's Drink Window Up?
Tomorrow is Dec. 21, 2012, the last date of the Mayan Long Count calendar and the end of the world as we know it (or so some would have you believe—as devoted as Unfiltered is to you, dear reader, it's unlikely we'd be spending our last moments on Earth writing this if we believed that to be true … then again, Bordeaux's Château d'Yquem has decided not to even bother making a 2012 Sauternes). While there are those around the globe who are legitimately prepping for end times, there are probably even more who are looking to make a few bucks off the impending apocalypse, and what better ways to do that than with wine, food or renting out a cot in your wine cave to ride out the Rapture. We have a wine-pairing menu for whatever vermin might be at hand whilst society crumbles—rats, crickets, spiders, etc.—and if you find yourself barricaded inside your wine cellar tomorrow as the world burns, please feel free to disregard all Wine Spectator recommended drink windows. After all, if beer can survive the nuclear holocaust, surely your wine will be just fine.
The Mayans foretold many things, and many have come to pass. Youths would speak solely in code on magic hand-scrolls. A great and terrible city of blasphemers, orgiasts, self-worshipers and coca-takers would rule the world. A civilization of sad people would be forced to eat from a truck (there would be trucks). So it seems appropriate that to celebrate the Mayans' final prediction, the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, via volcanoes or meteors or aliens or nukes or whatever—they didn't really care, so long as it would finally all be over—food trucks are descending on Hialeah, Fla., for tomorrow's Food Truckalypse. Among the pithy victuals to be served as the wrathful Gods of Xibalba rain fire upon terrified people are the Hell Frozen Over ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, Fritalyptic with a side of Kiss Your Ass Goodbye Fries from El Rey de Las Fritas, Earthquake Wings from the Flour Power Food Truck and something called the Atomic Meat Missile from Big Mike's BBQ. For a slightly more upscale end-of-days experience, try Plume at the Jefferson in what will be the burned-out hellscape of Washington, D.C., regardless of whether an apocalypse happens. The End of the Mayan Calendar Tasting Menu, offered Friday and Saturday (well, maybe), includes such delectables as Caviar Tacos, Seared Medallion of Foie Gras, Lobster Thermidor Gratin and Spicy Mayan Chocolate Lava Cake. Posted Dec. 20