In the Red Zone: Drew Bledsoe Builds New Walla Walla Winery

The former NFL star and Doubleback vintner told us his plans for the snazzy new 14,000-square-foot facility. Plus, Mira Sorvino leads "High-Powered High Heels" panel at Hall winery, robot "sheep" come for Bordeaux's vineyards, and Alfred Hitchcock, GoFundMe, take on direct-shipping bans
In the Red Zone: Drew Bledsoe Builds New Walla Walla Winery
Drew Bledsoe escaped coverage for cover crops in eastern Washington. Pictured with his wife, Maura. (Courtesy of Doubleback)
Nov 15, 2018

For much of his NFL career, Drew Bledsoe's turf was Foxboro, but the All-Pro New England Patriots quarterback actually got his start under center at Walla Walla High School, in the heart of Washington wine country. When he decided to trade his football gloves for pruning ones, to Walla Walla he returned, buying a vineyard and starting Doubleback winery with the 2007 vintage. Now, after a decade of wine wins, Bledsoe has built a home stadium for Doubleback, and 2018 marks the first season crushed at the svelte new 14,000-square-foot winery.

It all started when Doubleback winemaker Josh McDaniels stumbled upon a piece of land along Walla Walla's Powerline Road during a jog; he immediately snapped a picture and sent it to Bledsoe. The pair had been scouting sites for the winery to find a permanent home, and this property looked golden. "The location is exceptional due to its proximity to downtown, A+ grapegrowing potential and also for the outstanding views of our beautiful valley," Bledsoe explained to Unfiltered via email. Indeed, the 45-acre property neighbors Charles Smith's Powerline Vineyard, which yielded the K Syrah that earned Wine Spectator's No. 2 spot in the Top 100 Wines of 2017; Smith was its previous owner. When Bledsoe and McDaniels broke ground, they also planted 8 acres, mostly to Syrah, and named the vineyard Flying B.

Richard Duval Images / Courtesy of Doubleback Winery
Doubleback now has home-terroir advantage.

The new facility houses tasting rooms, offices, fermentation and lab rooms and a barrel cellar for both Doubleback wines and sister label Bledsoe Family Winery. Among the bells and whistles are a gravity-flow fermentation system and concrete fermentors to massage Cabernet tannins. But despite the new state-of-the art tech, "we [also] went back to my roots to give the functional facility a sense of history," Bledsoe emphasized, repurposing wood for its siding from two 100-year-old barns where he grew up in Ellensburg, Wash.

The first wines made here will be released next spring (Bledsoe Family's Healy Rosé), and 2019 will bring the first harvest from the young vineyard. Doubleback also acquired a 30-acre vineyard in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA last year, but for now the excitement is on the 2018 vintage. "This first harvest has been incredible," McDaniels told Unfiltered. "The new winery really allowed us to focus on our winemaking more than we have been able to in prior years."

Solar-Powered Robot 'Sheep' Mows Yards from Bordeaux to Azerbaijan

Tired of shoddy weed-killer that harms your vines and the ecosystem? Sick of surly harvest interns who grumble through their slapdash vineyard work? There's got to be a better way!

Sylvie Monin
The electric sheep androids dream of

Now there is: Vitirover, a petite, solar-powered vineyard bot, is the latest cyber helper hatched by Bordeaux's brightest vine minds; its primary function is to manage grass and vegetation between vine rows, amiably and sustainably grazing like a sheep. (Last year, we met Pauillac Château Clerc Milon's triple-threat hoe-mow-weeder Ted.)

The robot is the brainchild of winegrower Xavier-David Beaulieu, owner of Château Coutet in St.-Emilion, who after an earlier career in technology, returned to his tractor and realized growers relied on either cheap but environmentally harmful glyphosate spray or costly manual labor to keep their vine rows clean and clear. "We needed another option," Beaulieu told Unfiltered.

Ten years later, having secured E.U. research cash and more than $226,000 in crowdfunding, Beaulieu and his business partner, Arnaud de la Fouchardière, shepherd a flock of 50 Vitirovers and expect to increase to 150 next year. The bots are lightweight, so they don’t compact the soil, they don’t pollute, and they’re guided by a GPS system. A new prototype equipped with a camera observes vine health and spots signs of disease.

The little guys have also shown promise in other agricultural fields. Next stop: a demo in Azerbaijan in December. "The minister of agriculture of Azerbaijan wants their farmers to skip the nasty chemical phase we went through here," said Beaulieu. Given the promising progress in Bordeaux cybernetics, scientists hope by 2050 to realistically simulate the complex organic-forward decision-making processes and charming aristocratic mien of a Right Bank vigneron with the Count Stephan von Cypporg android project.

Hall Wines Hosts Women in the Workplace (and Wine) Roundtable with Mira Sorvino, Kathryn Hall

On Friday, Napa's Hall Wines was teeming with go-getting gals (presumably wearing fancy footwear) for the inaugural "High-Powered High Heels" roundtable chat, hosted by vintner Kathryn Hall.

The event brought together successful women in various fields. Academy Award–winning actor and activist Mira Sorvino served as the roundtable's moderator. Panelists included LeShelle May, a Technical Emmy Award–winning computer engineer who helped launch; Lee Ann Sauter, CEO of fashion brand Maris Collective; stage and screen actor Annie Starke; and Hall herself.

Hall kicked off the conversation with her own impressive backstory: In addition to owning her renowned winery, she formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria; she also practiced as a lawyer, and ran for political office twice—and lost twice.

"It's been a lot of different paths for me," she told the attendees at the winery, plus the thousands streaming the chat online. "Be prepared when one door closes—you find another window to jump through."

As the women sipped Hall wines—the 2015 Kathryn Hall Cabernet, the 2016 Walt Bob's Ranch Pinot Noir and 2016 Walt Siangiacomo Chardonnay—the conversation occasionally linked back to wine in interesting ways. Starke, an advocate for mental-health awareness, called for a toast to another prominent California wine family, the Staglins, for their involvement in Bring Change to Mind, the organization run by her mother, actor Glenn Close. (They also raise beaucoup money for brain-health charity One Mind.) "The amount of good that those incredible people—their family—has done is just extraordinary," said Starke. "Cheers to them."

Courtesy of Hall Wines
From left: Lee Ann Sauter, Annie Stark, LeShelle May, Kathryn Hall and Mira Sorvino

The two-hour discussion weaved through topics ranging from the importance of vulnerability to workplace harassment to the current political climate following the midterm elections. As the conversation wrapped up, the panelists clinked their empty or near-empty glasses, and Hall thanked them. "I've been really moved and excited by this panel. I really am so honored that you would give up your time and to continue to put yourselves out there and continue to give back."

"The conversation was phenomenal," Hall representative Lisa Covey, who organized the event, told Unfiltered. "Kathryn has already shared her plans to continue hosting an annual conversation to continue these powerful discussions."

Small-Dollar Donations Fuel #WineFreedom Campaign for Wine Retailer Shipping Supreme Court Case

For wine lovers who are particularly eclectic of palate and/or sedentary of disposition, one of the most coveted wine freedoms is the ability to have one's favorite prestige cuvée delivered to one's door whenever one damn well pleases. Alas, sometimes that wine isn't available for delivery from a local, or even in-state, wine merchant—and most states prohibit out-of-state retailers from shipping wine directly to consumers' homes.

Enter your savior from oppressive state laws: the Supreme Court of the United States! (Right?) A case called Byrd v. Tennessee will be heard this session, during which the justices could rule that the state bans against out-of-state retailer shipping violate the Constitution's Commerce Clause (as it ruled for wineries in Granholm v. Heald).

We all know that when such a hot-button issue comes into discussion, special interests come barreling down from K Street with their dark-money checkbooks. But Wine Freedom, an organization operated by the National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR), is lifting the hopes of the wine-disenfranchised with a GoFundMe campaign launched last week, raising money to fund the writing of a "friend of the court" amicus brief for consumers in the Byrd case.

"The one group that is potentially most impacted by the Supreme Court's ultimate decision are consumers," said Tom Wark, executive director of NAWR, who will be submitting their own amicus brief, but wanted consumers to have one too. "We believed that it was critical that the justices and their clerks were exposed to the way bans on receiving shipments from out-of-state wine retailers, Internet wine retailers, wine-of-the-month clubs and auction houses impacted them. This brief, funded entirely by consumers, will address consumer concerns."

In just six days, the GoFundMe campaign exceeded its goal of $5,000; at press time, 133 people contributed a total of $8,670. That's an average donation of around $65—talk about a small-dollar, people-powered campaign! Wine Spectator will be following the SCOTUS case closely; a date for arguments has not yet been set.

Alfred Hitchcock Also Inconvenienced by Three-Tier System, Says Letter Discovered by Wine Merchant

Some famous film directors go through the trouble of making their own wine, but all Alfred Hitchcock wanted to do was buy it from his favorite retailer and have it shipped to him at home. But as residents of 37 states and readers of the previous Unfiltered item know, you can't just dial "M" for "myorderofwine" and get it delivered to you. According to a recently discovered letter from Hitchcock to a favorite British wine merchant, the auteur too thought such restrictions of America's three-tier system of alcohol sales were for the birds.

"It has been impossible to import wines privately into California. One has to go through an established wholesaler and retailer," Hitchcock groused to Ronald Avery of the historic Bristol merchant Averys in a 1962 letter discovered by Avery's granddaughter and the store's current proprietor Mimi Avery. "Naturally, the first question they ask is, 'Why don't you buy your wines through "us"?'"

According to Mimi Avery, the relationship began when Hitchcock visited a restaurant Ronald owned. "He was coming down for lunch in order to taste some Burgundy wines. On arrival, my grandfather turned to him and said, 'Really sorry, Alfred, but I've got a lot of Bordeauxs to taste today. Do you mind if we do Bordeauxs over lunch?'" Avery told Unfiltered. Apparently the film legend did not.

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