Suspicion Surrounds Accidental Demolition in Bordeaux

Plus, Courvoisier's oldest Cognac on sale in London, California's creepy new vineyard pest, and the wines of the Nobel Prize banquet
Dec 13, 2012

• 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.

• Still not sure what to buy the man who has everything this year? Got about $150,000 burning a hole in your pocket? A 223-year-old Cognac, billed as “the world’s earliest-known vintage,” is up for sale at Harrods of London. Asking price is £95,000. The 1789 Courvoisier & Curlier Cognac was discovered in the collection of Dutch collector Bay van der Bunt, and is being offered along with four other Courvoisier vintages priced between £9,500 and £38,600. The Cognac dates back to the French Revolution, when it was bottled by the Curlier brothers, nephews of Felix Courvoisier. It was made from Folle Blanche, the traditional grape variety of Cognac and Armagnac, along with other traditional Cognac varieties from the Grande Champagne, Cognac’s premier cru district.

• The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has warned Northern California grapegrowers of a new, potentially destructive vineyard pest on the scene: the Virginia creeper leafhopper (VCLH), named for one of its favorite hosts, the Virginia creeper. According to Lucia Varela, integrated pest management specialist for the North Coast from UCCE, the pest is native to the upper Midwest and was first spotted in California in 1984 in Sutter County. This year the leafhopper has made its way to Mendocino and Lake counties and the Sierra Foothills. While native Western leafhoppers are common in California vineyards, many are controlled by natural enemies, such as the beneficial Anagrus wasps that parasitizes Western leafhopper eggs and inhibits their spread. But non-native exotics such as the VCLH lack natural enemies in California. Fortunately, the VCLH doesn't spread Pierce’s disease, unlike some other species of leafhoppers, but it can damage vineyards if left unchecked. “I have seen complete premature defoliation in an organic vineyard in the North Coast,” said Varela. The California Department of Food and Agriculture has designated the VCLH as a class “C” pest, which means that it is considered to be widespread and of little economic importance, and no state-enforced action will be taken.

• This year's Nobel Prize celebratory banquet was the biggest ever, as the 500-plus million recipients of the peace prize won by the European Union packed into Stockholm City Hall to receive their honors alongside physics winner Serge Haroche, chemistry recipients Robert Lefkowits and Brian Kobilkas, literature laureate Mo Yan, the Swedish royal family and a few others. No, in reality, the banquet fêted a slighty more restrained 1,200 or so guests, but as always, its organizers strove to showcase the best in Swedish cuisine and wines to match, and the menu was kept a tight secret until the guests were seated at the white tie event. This year, chef Andreas Hedlund prepared a three-course meal of marinated arctic char with cauliflower terrine, Kalix bleak roe and dill mayonnaise; pheasant with chanterelle mushrooms, poached pear, almond potato puree and red wine gravy; and trilogy of cherries with pistachio-covered mascarpone cheese and black cherry sorbet. To pair, the culinary staff picked three wines: Champagne Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Blanc de Blancs, St.-Emilion's Château Valandraud/Ets Thunevin 3 de Valandraud 2009 and, to polish it all off, the Jorge Ordoñez & Co No. 2 Victoria 2010, from Málaga in the south of Spain. Victoria Ordoñez gave Unfiltered the inside scoop on how the wines were chosen. She only learned three weeks ago that her wine took the honors, after its Swedish importer entered it into a blind tasting of over 100 dessert wines. The committee ordered 240 bottles to go around and, according to the importer, who was present at the gala, "everybody was praising [it]." Ordoñez said she was "absolutely happy with the idea of the excellence of arts and science in the world toasting with Victoria."

For those interested in a fun time-waster (and we know you are if you're reading Unfiltered), the Nobel website has every menu served since 1901. Rest assured, the commitment to international recognition extends to libations: Last year, they poured the Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2008. A look back in time shows 50 years back had another St.-Emilion on the table, the Château Bellevue 1955, while 1912's shindig got the 1900 Lafite. Albert Einstein in 1921 was served Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling from his native Germany. As for this year, after the toasts were made, the evening concluded with a traditional Swedish ritual, the Playing of the ABBA.

Collecting Vineyard Pests Unfiltered

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