Unfiltered

Where not to drive this summer, a bad Bastille Day and a talking wine label
Jul 6, 2005

• Which American wine region has the worst summer traffic? If you guessed Napa Valley, you're wrong, but not by much. Oregon's Willamette Valley has that honor, according to a new study by the American Automobile Association. The traffic that stacks up along highways 99W and 18 going west from the heart of Willamette beats out tourist havens like Cape Cod (No. 6 on AAA's list of most congested vacation spots) and even Yosemite National Park (No. 13), the study reports. Although Willamette is an increasingly popular destination, wine lovers aren't really to blame for the delays; those roads are the only route west to the Oregon coast. "There's really no alternative route. Fridays and Sundays are the worst," Argyle winemaker Rollin Soles says. The good news, he says, is that more people are passing through Willamette. The bad news is obvious. One of the reasons that AAA commissioned the study was to identify regions at risk of losing business because of congestion. Napa Valley's Highway 29--which locals avoid, particularly around St. Helena, at all costs during the summer--was in eighth place on the list, which surprised Soles. "I thought that would be a lot higher than us," he says. "I hate that road."

• Bastille Day won't be the same for many French wine producers this year. In a cruel twist of fate, July 14 is the deadline for vignerons to apply to the European Union to have some of their best wines distilled into industrial-grade alcohol. To cope with a wine glut in Western Europe, the EU is spending $175 million to turn 700 million bottles of French and Spanish wine into ethanol for fuel and disinfectant. As is well known by now, sales of French wine are slumping both abroad and domestically, due to competition from New World producers, the weak dollar and a national crackdown on drinking and driving. Spain will distill more than 500 million bottles of cheap table wine, but the French are destroying 200 million bottles of AOC wines--the first time the highest classification has gone into the still. Who could blame winemakers if they're not in the mood for parades, dancing and fireworks (at least not the legal kind)? With dissident producers already wreaking havoc in southern France, authorities better hope they don't storm something in place of the Bastille this year.

• Worried that the 2000 Barolo you're saving for a special occasion might be a fake? Sorry, can't help you. But there might be an answer for future vintages. Italian company Modulgraf has introduced a talking wine label (yes, you read that right) that not only can help deter counterfeiting, but can also provide the consumer with information. The technology, the same as that already in use in talking books, requires a handheld reading device that plays the label's message--which, in the case of one label played over the phone, was the voice of the enologist talking about the terroir. Modulgraf's hope is that the talking labels will help sommeliers better explain a wine to customers (now there's a new wrinkle in tableside presentation). The company claims that it already has several high-end Italian wineries interested in the product, though it isn't saying which ones. "The only trouble we have now is how to introduce it to the market," a Modulgraf rep said. "The technology is perfected." Perhaps…but if the label could tell you whether the wine is corked, that would really be perfection.

Unfiltered

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