It's the middle of August, so you're probably anxiously getting ready for some football (and football wines) right about now. While you wait out the preseason, however, former Super Bowl MVP and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward would like to invite you to his new restaurant, Table 86 (a nod to his jersey number) and its adjoining wine bar, Vines, which opened this week in Seven Fields, Pa. (avoiding competition with former teammate Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 in Pittsburgh proper). Naturally, Vines will offer 86 wine selections. The menu does not feature any Roethlisburgers.
The new restaurant and wine bar is just the latest chapter in Ward's wide-ranging post-football career: He was the winner of season 12 of Dancing with the Stars, acted in AMC’s The Walking Dead and in The Dark Knight Rises, competed on the Food Network’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, served as a color analyst for NBC Sports, participated on reality TV show Celebrity Wife Swap and, during all of that, continued to raise money for his non-profit Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation.
Ward has long enjoyed a glass of red wine, a habit many pro athletes pick up as they haunt the steak houses of their home and visiting cities, but Ward cited a pivotal trip to Napa as the inspiration for his wine bar. “I've always enjoyed good wine. I learned to refine my wine taste as I matured in the league," Ward told Unfiltered. "I think I first got really interested in wine, and the making of wine, when I went to Napa. I had a great experience learning the ins and outs of wine tasting and winemaking. I love Napa.”
And knowing Ward's boundless energy, there may be more than just a wine bar in his enological future: Pressed on a rumor that a Napa source might get the call for a namesake label, he divulged, “It's a secret right now, but … that might happen.”
Can You Figure Out This Wine Party Parlor Trick? (We Can't)
Last week on NBC’s catch-all talent show America’s Got Talent, magician Matt Franco, the first magician to win the overall prize on AGT, caught our eye with some slick sleight of hand that left a few people scratching their heads—and checking for empty slots in their cellar.
Starting the act with a toast in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary, Franco moves what he calls “packing tubes”—two brown cylinders not unlike the type single malts are often sold in—to reveal a single bottle of wine and a tasting glass. When he picks up one of the tubes, a second bottle appears. Then he succeeds in swapping places with the bottle and the glass. The ante is upped with swapping a bottle with a glass of wine—full of wine he poured from one of the bottles. Then, like rabbits in spring, the bottles start showing up every time he lifts a packing tube, resulting in nearly a case of wine on the table by the time it's all done. Unfiltered has never been more enthusiastic about learning a magic trick.
Russia Bans California Wines, European Cheeses, Ducklings, Flowers … Smiling Next?
This past Monday, Russia banned three California wines: Gnarly Head Chardonnay, Geyser Peak Merlot and Crane Lake Moscato. According to Russian officials, the wines showed too-high levels of phthalic acid and pesticides, but media organizations are pointing fingers at the worsening political tension between Russia and allies of the European Union.
In 2014, as a result of the civil unrest in Ukraine, the European Union adopted sanctions against Russia, prompting Pres. Vladimir Putin to retaliate by banning certain food imports from Western nations. While other California wineries may have reason to fear future bans from Russia, Georgian wines are in real trouble. Earlier this month, Rospotrebnadzor, a consumer-rights watchdog organization closely tied to the Kremlin, claimed that Georgian winemakers were systematically violating trade standards. Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture also confirmed ongoing discussions of a proposal to once again impose embargoes on Georgia, a measure that would cripple Georgia’s most important exports: wine and spirits.
The California wine bans were just the latest in a whirlwind of bizarre incidents this month. Pres. Putin’s decree calling for the incineration of contraband items, made official Aug. 6, initiated a flurry of arrests and confiscations. Last week, Russian authorities bulldozed more than 500 tons—about $30 million worth—of banned fine European cheeses, and a hotline has been launched for Russian citizens to report illicit Western cheese and pâtés to authorities. Back on the border, Ukrainian ducklings and Dutch chrysanthemums were seized and incinerated (post euthanization for the ducklings) as officials cited insect infestations and missing paperwork. As tensions rise, Russia's wine imports continue to decline, by as much as 45 percent this year according to multiple sources.
Forgive Us Our Zins
There are those who would argue that Napa Valley Cabernet exists on a higher plane, but a new development at an Orange County, Calif., church is likely not what they had in mind. An Episcopal church is now serving—er, offering—Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon CCS Beckstoffer To Kalon, among other Schrader wines, in the Communion cup. Carol Schrader told Unfiltered that the church she and her husband, Fred, attend, St. James the Great in Newport Beach, is in the midst of a legal battle intended to shut it down and sell off the land to a luxury condo developer for $15 million. Carol, who has called the church home since her baptism there, has made saving St. James her personal "crusade."
Dueling lawsuits from the parishioners and Bishop Jon Bruno of the Los Angeles diocese—who orchestrated the sale—argue over who has the ownership and authority to make the sale. So far, churchgoers are keeping the faith in their own SoCal way: locked out, the congregation meets for “Mass on the Grass,” in “folding chairs, with beach hats and, yes, with Schrader wines in the Communion cup,” said Schrader. Among other ways in which the Schraders are supporting the church and “wine-loving” vicar Cindy Voorhees, they’ve donated Schrader Double Diamond Cabernets and Vieux-O Zins in addition to the CCS (and financial support to a non-profit formed by the church's parishioners, the Association to Save St. James the Great). “Must admit, a couple of folks told me that they took a couple of sips with the wine upgrade at Communion,” Schrader told us. Blessed are the humble St. Jamesers not on the Schrader mailing list, for now they too may sing its praises.
Eye Surgeon and Vintner Robert Sinskey Sr. Dies
Robert Sinskey Sr. a distinguished eye surgeon and Napa vintner, died June 21. He was 90. A graduate of Duke University School of Medicine, he designed an artificial human lens that was used in cataract surgeries around the world. But Sinskey was also passionate about Pinot Noir, and was convinced it had a future in California.
In the late 1970s, the Baltimore native decided to become a grapegrower. He scouted California for a place to grow Pinot Noir, eventually purchasing a 15-acre farm in Carneros. There he met the founders of Acacia, one of the region’s early Pinot Noir specialists. He became a partner in the winery, selling his grapes and expanding his vineyards. When Acacia was later sold to Chalone Wine Group, he started making his own wines. “Wine and medicine both demand great dedication," he told Wine Spectator in 2003. "I’d come home dead tired after surgery, but it was happy tired because I loved it. And wine is the same.”
Sinskey built a rustic yet modern eponymous winery in 1988 on the Silverado Trail at the northern end of Napa’s Stags Leap District. But his medical practice was thriving, and he found it increasingly hard to focus on the sales side of the wine business. He persuaded his son Robert Sinskey Jr. to manage the winery and appointed a winemaking team in 1991. They converted the vineyards to organic, and later biodynamic, and increased their property to over 200 acres of vines. Sinskey continued to manage the vineyards until 1996 when he handed the reins to his son, and retired from medicine four years later.