Unfiltered

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi takes heat for growing grapes, wine on draught in England and wines from the crypt--sort of
Dec 6, 2006

• Now that Democrat Nancy Pelosi is due to take the gavel as Speaker of the House next session, some Republican pundits have found a surprising new label to smear the San Francisco congresswoman with: "vineyard owner." Pelosi and her husband Paul own a 6-acre vineyard in the Napa Valley, and sell their Cabernet Sauvignon crop each year. Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, has repeatedly accused Pelosi of being a hypocrite because the vineyard, just south of St. Helena, employs non-union labor, despite her long record of backing unions. (The United Farm Workers once gave her its Cesar Chavez Award.) The charge has been repeated on conservative blogs, talk radio and by Fox News talking head Sean Hannity, all asking why Pelosi doesn't ask the UFW for union workers. One problem--that would be illegal. California state law mandates that only workers can decide, by secret ballot, whether to join the union--Pelosi is forbidden to get involved. "She's kind of getting a bum rap," said Marc Grossman, spokesman for the UFW. Only three wineries in Napa have union contracts. In fact, Napa grapes are so valuable that vineyard workers there usually get more money per hour than unionized workers. Though labor disputes do erupt in the valley, there's no evidence anyone has complained about conditions at Pelosi's vineyard. Unfiltered hopes this is the end of "vineyard owner" being used as a derogative. Isn't there room in Washington for both a teetotaler President and a grape-growing Speaker?

• Lock up the Crisco! The food police are back. New York City's board of health passed a ban on artificial trans fats in restaurant cooking Tuesday, the first of its kind in the United States, leaving chefs and fry cooks wondering how they'll cope. Trans fats are chemically modified fats that are particularly bad for cholesterol levels, but have long been a leading food ingredient because they have a higher melting point and don't spoil as easily. The New York ban, championed by Mayor Michael "Put out that cigarette!" Bloomberg, gives restaurants until July to eliminate cooking oils with more than a half-gram of trans fat. All menu items must be trans-fat-free by July 2008. By then the city hopes cooks will have come up with tasty substitutes. But the ban has provoked an escalation in the fight over food regulation. Coronary disease is bad (that's why Unfiltered drinks so much red wine), but is a government prohibition the way to combat it? Will an underground railroad begin smuggling McDonald's fries and Krispy Kreme doughnuts into New York from New Jersey? And will Big Apple chefs lead a protest, adding special dishes like foie gras deep-fried in Crisco to their menus? (Side note: We just found out there's a trans-fat-free Crisco. We'll fry our foie gras in that.)

 
If there's a head on your wine, she used the wrong tap.
• British pub chain JD Wetherspoon has recently refitted about 650 of its bars with Fetzer Coldwater Creek wines on tap. Seriously. Poured from four spouts, wine drinkers visiting the pub chain--better known for its guest ales and affordable lagers--can choose from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, white Zinfandel or Merlot. According to Wetherspoon's media relations man, Eddie Gershon, the wine-tap program, which took years to develop at a cost of around $30 million, solves a number of problems sometimes associated with wine service. No more messing around with corkscrews, cork taint is now a thing of the past and each wine is served at the optimum temperature. Since the wine draughts were installed two months ago, the chain has appealed to the public to "trust in Wetherspoon" according to its self-published magazine. "OK, we accept that wine 'on tap' may be new to you, but Wetherspoon has been pioneering in the pub world since 1979," the article states. "But don't take our word for it, taste it for yourself."

• It looks like Top Chef contestant and Casa Mono line cook Ilan Hall isn't the only one getting in on some culinary competition. Executive chef Andy Nusser and sommelier/general manager Nancy Selzer, who are co-owners of the Spanish restaurant along with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, will head to Jerez, Spain, in January to represent the United States in the International Copa Jerez finals. Nusser will prepare four dishes á la minute at the event, while Selzer will offer a defense of the pairings she has made for each course. The judging panel will include Heston Blumenthal of England's Fat Duck, Juli Soler of El Bulli, and master sommelier/master of wine Doug Frost. Having recently returned from a research trip to Jerez, Selzer admitted to being nervous, but expressed the hope that the extensive bodega tours she took will give her a leg up. As for Nusser, his strategy is simple: Stay humble. "I'm just the little guy coming from New York to cook for the big guys," he said. "I'm going to just keep my head down and do what I know how to do." Perhaps he should share that advice with some of Ilan's more outspoken Top Chef competitors.

 
Mourn and prune simultaneously.
• Dying to try a certain wine? Well, the Catholic-run Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, near San Francisco, recently planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel on 3 acres of cemetery land, near the Hayward fault. The church owns 80 acres in total, but so far only uses 50. Until now, the remaining 30 were used by grazing cattle, but Robert Seelig, director of funeral and cemetery services, said the diocese wanted something more beautiful and cost-efficient. The cemetery began the vineyard as a way to help individual churches save money on sacramental wine, and also planted the 3 acres of vines far away from, um, terroir interference. "We thought we would grow the grapes, pay a winemaker to turn it into something drinkable and then donate the wine to church activities," said Seelig. "Of course, we have a serious line of work, but our bishop is named Allen Vigneron," he said, "so we've had a number of internal jokes because of this." We can't resist either: Whether it's a cemetery or a vineyard, the work is a serious, um, undertaking.

• When San Francisco pianist and jazz singer Buzz Brooks paid a visit to Wine Spectator's Napa office to drop off a copy of the music and lyrics to the title track of his latest CD, The Oenophile Anthem. We confess that he got our attention. The lyrics, as Buzz pointed out, comprise 77 Napa Valley winery names (well, technically 76, plus the distillery Domaine Charbay). When we ran the song by our resident music buff, he noted that the inspiration could well have come from the best of the "list" songs, Dave Frishberg's "Van Lingo Mungo." His tune was made up solely of rhyming names of lesser-know baseball players from the 1930s and 40s, while Buzz's arrangement ropes in just about every winery in Napa. If you have ever delighted that Saddleback rhymes with PlumpJack and Chimney Rock with Behrens & Hitchcock, then check out the song at iTunes or at www.buzzbrooks.com.

Unfiltered

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