In March 2020, the Royal Opera House in London closed its doors as the pandemic shuttered the performing arts world. Around that time, Francesca Massone, owner of Piedmont's Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta winery, spoke with former Royal Ballet dancer and regular winery visitor Ross MacGibbon, who described the sense of emptiness in London's Covent Garden. An avid theatergoer and ballet enthusiast, Massone decided to partner with Royal Opera House and create a limited-edition bottling to help support fundraising efforts.
"From the beginning it was clear to us that it would be fantastic to have a bottle of wine dedicated to the Royal Opera House so that, while watching a performance from home or inviting arts lovers for a dinner party, people could enjoy a glass of wine and at the same time support the Royal Opera House," Massone told Wine Spectator via email. "I think wine and the arts have much in common: In the making of a ballet as well as in the making of a wine, elegance, balance and infinite dedication are crucial."
"I love ballet, and my husband loves opera, so together we go to many performances," Massone said. "Walking in my vineyards on the hills of Rocchetta Tanaro in my Wellington boots or dressing up to attend a ballet performance at the Royal Opera House make me extremely happy, and I aim to do that as much as possible."
There are 1,000 magnums ($120) and 1,000 six-bottle cases ($365) of the limited-edition Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Sant'Emiliano Barbera d'Asti Superiore 2017. The labels feature a drawing by Royal Ballet First Artist Ashley Dean, who says the illustration of a ballerina in the arabesque position is an apt representation for an elegant, balanced wine. Massone will donate 33 percent of sales to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation.
"I have always been equally inspired by drawing and painting as by ballet, so this commission was a dream come true," Dean said in a statement. "I aimed to distill the essence of a dancer’s qualities in the drawing, while giving space for the viewer’s imagination."
United Sommeliers Foundation Hits $1 Million Milestone
The United Sommelier Foundation, which has been raising money for out-of-work wine professionals since the COVID crisis hit the U.S. in spring 2020, reached an exciting milestone this month. Thanks to a recent donation from Napa’s Gemstone Vineyard, the fund has officially raised $1 million for sommeliers in need.
“I’m amazed that people are so generous and that they know the plight of what’s going on,” said Chris Blanchard, treasurer of USF. Notable donations have come in from a wide range of sources, including importers like Skurnik Wines and other wineries such as Hundred Acre.
Blanchard started raising funds for the cause in March 2020. As a wine salesperson in Napa, he saw the sommelier industry suffering from widespread layoffs as dining rooms were forced to close, so he and sommelier Cristie Norman set up a GoFundMe page to help. That’s since evolved into USF, a formal endeavor with a board of directors that distributes the money to applicants through scholarships and grants.
When the GoFundMe started, Blanchard says, raising $10,000 felt like a lofty goal, so reaching the $1 million mark in just over a year is especially gratifying. “It’s been really heartwarming, and tear-jerking and tough at times, to hear all these stories and get these great thank-you cards and know that we’re helping out regular restaurant people,” he added.
According to USF secretary Jon McDaniel, the foundation has so far provided financial relief to more than 1,200 sommeliers from all 50 states. But he and Blanchard stress that this is only a small portion of the wine community as a whole, and that the financial impact of the crisis is ongoing. “There needs to be an organization that can help represent sommeliers in particular,” Blanchard said. With that in mind, USF will continue to provide support based on changing needs, even as restaurants reopen across the country.
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