The Burgundy-Faced Congressman

Plus, Linfield College establishes the Oregon Wine History Archive, and the 2011 wine crime wave approaches tsunami proportions, in both truth and fiction
Jul 14, 2011

• Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has been in the public eye since the inception of his 2008 “Roadmap for America’s Future,” the program of steep spending and tax cuts becoming all the more poignant as budget debates heat up Washington’s summer. Ryan was keeping cool, however, last week, with a pair of Jayer-Gilles 2004 Echézeaux Grand Cru. The congressman and a couple companions enjoyed two bottles of the red Burgundy, priced at $350 a pop on the list at Washington’s Bistro Bis, last Wednesday evening, much to the dismay of an economist dining nearby. After hefty coverage of Ryan’s railing against outlandish public spending, a Rutgers professor enjoying her meal at a neighboring table found the congressman’s drink choice offensively lavish, and confronted Ryan and his companions in the bistro, taking photos (which she later released into the wilds of the blogosphere) before restaurant management was forced to intervene. The professor managed to include her own libation for the evening in one photo, which appears to be a Thierry et Pascale Matrot Meursault Les Chevalières 2005 ($80 on the list). We here at Unfiltered don’t take part in political debates, but wine debates are our forte. Although neither wine was officially reviewed by Wine Spectator, allow us a little economic analysis of our own: 2004 was a very good—but not outstanding—vintage for Côtes de Nuits reds (such as the $350 Echézeaux); the 2005 vintage for white Burgundies (an $80 Meursault, perhaps?) earned 93 points. Congratulations professor, it would appear that you did indeed make a more economically sound decision than the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

• When Oregon’s early winemakers decided to try their hands at planting Pinot Noir and other grapes in the state in the 1960s and 1970s they were told by experts that it was too cold and wet to grow there. Fortunately they ignored the warnings. Recently, Linfield College, based in McMinnville, established a wine history archive to document the story of the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley. Called the Oregon Wine History Archive, it will house historical documents such as promotional materials, photographs, winemaker notes and land-use maps, like the ones David Adelsheim of Adelsheim vineyard and the late David Lett of Eyrie vineyards created to help protect potential vineyard land. Other contributors include pioneers Dick and Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi, Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser and Dick Erath of Erath. According to Susan Barnes Whyte, the Linfield library director, the archive will include digital and paper sources, but she admits that it’s still in its nascent stage, saying that in a year “it will be more robust and digitized.” The archive was inspired by the Linfield Center for the Northwest, a collaborative program between students and faculty members that has been working directly with the pioneers to collect oral histories and chronicle the early years of the industry. Brick House Vineyards owner and winemaker Doug Tunnell, who is also a trustee of the college, commends the archive for showing how far Oregon wine has come. “A lot of people in future generations are going to want to know how [the industry] started,” he said.

• The pop culture wine crime trend continues unabated. Actor Jason Alexander portrayed a Bernie Madoff-type on last week's episode of Franklin & Bash. In it, Alexander's character is accused of breaking into a rival's wine cellar and drinking an "$8,000 bottle of Pinot Syrah." Must be ultrarare, because, no, we've never heard of such a thing either. Now, on to what has become Unfiltered's weekly crime blotter:

• Shield your vines, hide your bottles: The Summer of Wine Crime has left yet more victims in its wake. This week brings us a sticky-fingered sommelier, Mark Lugo, once a staffer at chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and of late a sommelier at New York’s BLT Fish. In April, Lugo stopped by Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Wayne, N.J., to pick up two bottles of Château Pétrus 2006, valued at $2,000 each. Lugo allegedly got them for the incredible discounted price of $0, though, by stuffing them into his jacket and walking out of the store. (Pétrus is Wine Criminal magazine’s Wine of the Year, apparently, and Unfiltered again begs the question, "Why is the Pétrus sitting out unattended by so many retailers?") A big fan of the pricy Pomerol, he came back to the store a few days later to—again, allegedly—steal the third and last bottle. The following month, he stopped in once more, because, hey, free wine. By this time, a store manager recognized him from security tapes and confronted him. Claiming to be “Mark Hugo,” he made a hasty exit, but was nonetheless charged with the thefts and due to appear in court this month. Unfortunately, that's not where this wine caper ends …

• Lugo had to miss his New Jersey court date, because by then, he was in San Francisco. He presumably figured that he next needed to augment his art collection. A Pablo Picasso drawing worth more than $200,000, Tête de Femme (Head of a Woman), caught his eye in a local gallery, so he allegedly picked it up and took it home. This time, though, a security camera at neighboring bar Lefty O’Doul’s caught a glimpse of Lugo strolling away, Picasso under arm. (Why Lefty O’Doul’s had tighter security than an art gallery full of masterpieces remains an unanswered question.) Police tracked down Lugo, arrested him July 7, and Rolls Royce dealerships everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

• Elsewhere (elsewhere being Lodi, Calif.), thieves are illegally harvesting vineyard equipment across the appellation. This past weekend, grapegrower Frank Rashid's Petite Sirah vineyard was stripped of the stainless steel filtering tanks, control system and copper wiring that keep his irrigation system running. Without them, Rashid could lose his entire 14-acre crop of grapes in a matter of days. Replacing the stolen equipment is running him around $10,000. And Rashid's loss is not an isolated incident in San Joaquin County: Even the executive director of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission has been hit. The solar panels that power Mark Chandler's $50,000 vineyard-irrigation system were ripped off last week. All told, area farmers have suffered an estimated $1 million of theft and consequent crop damage and replacement costs so far this summer alone. Where is all this stolen equipment going? Logic says it's all being hauled out of county and sold for scrap, but Unfiltered sees a much more sinister plan behind it: Somewhere in the remote California hills, an evil enologist is building his own piecemeal stolen Franken-Vineyard, no doubt to clone some of that rare and outrageously expensive "Pinot Syrah."

Actors Crime Theft Unfiltered

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