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Mitterrand's cellar sale, jail for ex-Beard head, the vineyard version of The Gates and the aluminum bottle meets the unbreakable glass
Jun 15, 2005

• The wine collection of late French president François Mitterrand, which he amassed mostly through gifts from foreign dignitaries, fetched nearly $18,000 for his family at Paris auction house Drouot on Tuesday. Although the 200 lots on the block included Yquem, Lafite and Montrachet, the star of the show was a magnum of 1982 Armagnac bottled specially for Mitterrand; it went for 1,533 euros ($1,844), despite originally being estimated at $66. Other catches included an 1865 Delamain Champagne Cognac as well as a 1957 Fonseca Port (presented by Portugal when it entered into the European Union) and various wines from Germany (possibly given to Mitterrand by former German chancellor Helmut Kohl). The motivation behind the Mitterrand family's recent housecleaning is unclear. According to Drouot, Mitterrand's widow, Danielle, said no one in the family is a wine lover, and she wanted to convert a room into an art studio for her daughter-in-law. However, the buzz in the European press is that mucho euros were needed to help pay off the growing debts incurred by the couple's son, Jean-Christophe, who was convicted of tax evasion last year and is being investigated for alleged arms deals in Africa.

Leonard Pickell Jr. will soon have to settle for cuisine of a lower standard than he's become accustomed to, as the former president of the James Beard Foundation was sentenced to one to three years in prison by the New York State Supreme Court. In late January, he pled guilty to a charge of second-degree grand larceny, for which he faced a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment. An investigation found that more than $1 million had disappeared from the nonprofit organization which, among other food-related activities, provides scholarships to those pursuing careers in the culinary arts. During his tenure, Pickell admitted in court, he used the foundation's money to pay for meals in New York's best restaurants, stays at five-star hotels and other personal expenditures. The state attorney general's office declined to comment on the sentence since a civil investigation of Pickell remains in progress.

Not quite a bottle, not quite a can; a new Portuguese rosé comes in aluminum.
• It was only a matter of time. Wine now comes in all shapes and sizes: cans, boxes and plastic bottles, so why not a half bottle-half can? Enter the new aluminum wine bottle made for BrightPink, a Portuguese rosé that retails for the equivalent of $10 at supermarkets in Britain. Topped with a screw cap and lined with a special food-grade material to prevent any tainted flavors in the wine, the bottle is the brainchild of consulting winemaker Peter Bright of Australia. Among the advantages touted by U.K. distributor Ehrmanns Ltd. is convenience: The new container is two-thirds lighter than a glass bottle, doesn't break, is easy to open and chills five times faster than glass. If that's not reason enough to break with tradition, the company notes that people tend to recycle aluminum more often than glass--a plus for rosé-gulping environmentalists. And the BrightPink logo even glows in the dark--cue the nighttime club scene.

• When a careless guest smashes your stemware, do you lament the loss of your painstakingly cellared wine or cry over the shards of crystal? Help may be on the way. Scientists from Britain and France say their latest research may lead to an unbreakable wine glass. Their study, published recently in Science magazine, reports that glass may one day be manufactured to a super-sturdy state by manipulating its chemical structure. Glass is made of tiny chains of crystals, and vulnerabilities in these chains make traditional glass fragile. However, through a newly discovered method, a group of crystals called zeolites--until now normally used in gasoline refinement and manufacturing of laundry detergent--can be converted into glass when heated at slowly increasing temperatures over a prolonged period of time. The result is a more solid chain-lattice structure--a shatterproof, higher-density form of glass, says lead author Neville Greaves, of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. But for now, he warns, keep that red wine off the white carpet, as an indestructible wine glass "is still far away."

Hanna winery has its own interpretation of The Gates in Sonoma.
• No, Christo does not have a project on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains. Whatever its aesthetic value, the sea-green nylon mesh winding between the rows of Hanna winery's Bismark Ranch Vineyard is a strictly functional windscreen. The vineyard, which was planted in 1991 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, sits at a 2,400-foot elevation, where the winds can reach 50 miles per hour. That much wind rubs shoots off on the trellising wires, inhibits grape ripening and reduces yields; in previous years, some blocks have produced less than 1 ton per acre. Hanna workers installed 7,000 linear feet of the 6-foot-high cloth in March, and winemaker Jeff Hinchcliffe already sees a major difference. "It's night and day; [the vines] are growing like crazy." Hinchcliffe didn't have a choice on the material used, or the color. "There's only the green. It's super-dense, the heaviest we could get, otherwise it would have blown to pieces," he explains. Oh well, maybe someday saffron will be an option.

• If it's not the wind, it's the water. The southern half of California might seem to have a monopoly on the state's landslides, but the phenomenon does strike up north. Just ask Patty, Dave or Rashell Rafanelli of A. Rafanelli Winery in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. One morning in March, they discovered that a mudslide had struck the 20-year-old Cabernet vineyard on their property. The terraced, bowl-shaped site had been professionally engineered for the express purpose of avoiding such an occurrence, but this spring was one of the rainiest on record. The soil on the top nine rows gave way. While no vines were uprooted, the survivors don't have a bright future without at least some topsoil. Rashell, the estate's winemaker, says, "We'll probably have to replant at least a couple of rows, maybe about 50 vines."

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