Giant Boulders Bowl Through Italian Vineyard

Plus, the FBI captures Napa's most wanted wine embezzler in Mexico, John Boehner prefers wine to the presidency, wine experiments at the bottom of Lake Geneva and more
Jan 30, 2014

• A northern Italian vineyard in Alto Adige received an unscheduled plowing last week when three monstrous boulders broke free from an overhanging cliff, tumbling down the mountainside and through a 300-year-old barn on the estate property. Thankfully, no one was in the way at the time. According to southern Tyrol news agency, a grand total of 4,000 cubic meters of rock broke free from the steep cliff in Tramin, a German-speaking region also known by its Italian name, Termeno. While the barn got the worst of it, another stone the size of a carport stopped just short of demolishing the house and office as well. Not far from the vineyard's newest monuments rests an even larger boulder from a previous geologic event. State officials have evacuated the area while geologists attempt to blast loose the several hundred remaining cubic meters of the mountainside they expect to come down.

Amped up following the capture and slam-dunk prosecution of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan and the arrest of alleged Pennsylvania black-market wine distributor Arthur Goldman, the FBI and U.S. Dept. of Justice have apparently realized that wine criminals are easy pickings, which proved inconvenient for alleged embezzler Martin "Chris" Edwards. As former GM and vice president of the Wine Tasting Network in Napa Valley, Edwards allegedly set up a tax compliance firm and paid about $900,000 into it over two years. Unfortunately for the wine company, the firm was less in the business of rendering tax advice to tasting networks and more in the business of rendering a BMW to Chris Edwards. On May 30, 2013, the feds brought 23 charges against Edwards, including mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Because each count of fraud could carry a 20-year prison sentence and each count of laundering a 10-year one, on June 17, Edwards skipped his court date and took his chances on the lam, according to the Napa Valley Register. Now, after a seven-month hunt, the FBI finally nabbed him, in Mexico, hanging out near the Hacienda Escondida Private Villas, presumably on a tip that Puerto Vallarta is lovely this time of year and they should check there. Unfiltered assumes Edwards was enjoying the sun and sand under the name ¡Señor Conti! He now awaits trial in San Francisco where, court documents note, he has been detained this time.

• An abiding appreciation for wine is completely appropriate for a Speaker of the House but not, it seems, for the President of the United States. This important distinction comes courtesy of John Boehner, the current Republican House Speaker, who swatted away Jay Leno’s suggestion, during his first appearance on The Tonight Show last week, that Boehner run for President in 2016. Explaining his lack of ambition for higher office, Boehner said, “I do drink red wine … And I'm not giving that up to be the President of the United States.” Boehner’s made no secret of his love of red wine over the years, having once insisted, “I was drinking wine,” after Pres. Barack Obama mentioned at a 2009 meeting that he’d seen Boehner enjoying eggnog at a congressional holiday reception. Boehner has a fondness for Merlot, but was happy enough to receive a bottle of Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Altero 1997 as a 63rd birthday gift from Obama.

• We've reported on underwater wine aging in the past, but the newest venture has a twist: No salt. Popular Swiss tourist destination Château de Chillon, along with partner winery Badoux, are sinking 330 bottles of wine, some Chasselas and some sparkling wine, into Lake Geneva as part of a long-term immersion experiment. Every year, over the next 20 years, a sample group of the wines will be removed and tasted against samples from the same vintage that were stored above ground. In addition to testing the effects of aging wine in fresh water, the effects of pressure, (the wine will be resting 75 feet below the surface, so about 32psi of constant pressure), temperature (which remains at a constant 50° F at that depth), and humidity (we can safely assume 100 percent) will be measured. Various closures and internal bottle pressures (a little pushback against the sea) will be employed in an effort to negate the effects of the higher atmospheric pressure associated with deep water aging: Half of the still whites will be fitted with Champagne-style stoppers which, due to their compressed nature, provide added mechanical strength as a seal. Other bottles will use traditional cork closures that have been modified, some being 25 percent longer than traditional corks, some with slightly wider diameters and still others with extra paraffin layers for added adhesion in the neck of the bottle. With that kind of backpressure and super-tight corks, opening these freshwater fruits de Lake Geneva should be a blast.

• In a city such as New York, dense with fabulous restaurants, you might not realize how many people face hunger each year—not just the homeless, but working parents struggling to juggle high housing and food costs and senior citizens stretching their savings to cover essential medications. City Harvest has been working for 30 years to collect excess food from restaurants, grocery stores, corporate cafeterias, producers and more and distribute it to shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and other community programs. The nonprofit rescues about 46 million pounds of food a year with its fleet of trucks and cargo bikes, helping more than 1 million New Yorkers (one in four are children) who turn to emergency-food services in the five boroughs each year. Now a Sonoma County winery is chipping in, as part of its support for anti-hunger organizations around the country. Rodney Strong Wine Estates, in partnership with its New York distributor Empire Merchants, will donate $5 to City Harvest for every case sold from February through April, up to $25,000. That will amount to about 100,000 pounds of food rescued. In addition, they'll provide support and donate wines to the organization's fund-raising events. "We don't have a problem growing food in America," said winery owner Tom Klein. But getting it where it's most needed, especially fresh produce and other nutritious items, "takes an unbelievable amount of work." Klein, his wife, Kate, and the Empire team were joined at the announcement by chefs active in City Harvest, such as Oceana's Ben Pollinger. Noting the disparity between their clientele and those who receive the surplus food, he said so many fine-dining chefs participate in City Harvest because "at the root of what we do, it's about feeding people. It's important to stay grounded."

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