Unfiltered

The sports guys rush wine country, the gold rush comes to Napa and New Zealand does its take on Falcon Crest
Aug 10, 2005

• When Steven Bornstein asks sports celebrities to participate in a charity wine auction, he usually doesn't have a problem getting them to show up. That's because Bornstein, 53, is one of the most influential executives in sports and entertainment television--he's currently president and CEO of the NFL Network and executive vice president of the NFL and he was formerly CEO of ESPN. It's probably also because it isn't very hard to talk wine-appreciating stars into showing up in Napa Valley for a weekend of winemaker dinners, a golf tournament and an auction. Bornstein, a wine lover with a 2,000-bottle collection, serves on the board of the V Foundation, a cancer-research charity started by ESPN and the late basketball coach and sportscaster Jim Valvano. The foundation's Wine Celebration has become its biggest fundraiser, and this past weekend's event brought Grammy award-winner Michael McDonald, ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico, sports commentator Peggy Fleming and various vintners to Nickel & Nickel winery, where they raised close to $3.5 million for cancer research.

• Bornstein shared some insider information about Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who regularly hosts the Wine Celebration with his wife, Mickie, and ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, who has attended past V Foundation events. He claims that Coach K has been known, after the auction, to be seen leading a conga line. "Wine is inspiring that way," quips Bornstein. As for Berman, who Bornstein says was one of the people who introduced him to fine wine, he apparently loves Sonoma-Cutrer. "Whenever we were negotiating his contract, I'd always have to buy him a case of Sonoma-Cutrer and send it to him," Bornstein says. "Up until then, he would ignore his agent. He would find getting the case of wine acceptable." So, does Berman start shouting his signature phrase "It could … go … all … the … way!" when he tries something good? Actually, Bornstein says, laughing, "He usually says, 'Back back back back back.'" Unfiltered can only assume that after that, the wine is "Gone!"

Gold: A Chardonnay with the Midas touch, or touched too much?
• Just when we thought we'd seen everything… We were sure Hundred Acre proprietor Jayson Woodbridge (known for his $225 bottles of Napa Cabernet) was kidding when he sent out a notice about his latest venture--a bottling with 24-karat gold flakes floating in it. But this is not your college roommate's Goldschläger. Gold is a Barossa Valley Chardonnay-based blend. Woodbridge bought the grapes in Australia (where he owns a Shiraz vineyard), made the wine there and then shipped it on the lees to Napa at below-freezing temperatures (25 degrees F) so he could dump gold flakes in before bottling it and selling it for about $20 a pop in the U.S. market. Woodbridge may think he has the Midas touch, but a gimmick is still a gimmick.

• Every harvest season, wine's worst enemies flock to vineyards just as the grapes ripen. Hungry birds swoop in and peck at the grapes, leading wineries to invest in nets or use shotgun blasts to scare away the birds. But the New Zealand government is trying a different approach that might not only save some grapes, but an endangered species as well. In lieu of professional falconry, up to 15 hatchlings of the karearea, a rare falcon that inhabits the hills around Marlborough, will be captured and moved to man-made nests in the vineyards to frighten off (or eat) smaller birds. The main difficulty will be ensuring the young falcons stay in the area, since it's only a 10-minute flight back to the hills, says Peter Gaze, a senior officer with the Department of Conservation. He admitted that the plan has one complication, though it might be an incentive for the kareareas to stay. Along with wineries, Marlborough is also home to many enthusiasts of pigeon racing, who could become quite unhappy if some of their carefully trained contestants become the falcons' main course. Still, whatever the kareareas choose, Marlborough growers are hoping they'll like what's on the menu, just as long as they don't go vegetarian.

Unfiltered

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