Washington Vineyard Struck by Harvest Thieves

Plus, a challenger for the world’s oldest living vine, San Francisco's mayor vetoes a city alcohol tax, and Uma Thurman's high seas Conundrum
Sep 30, 2010

• Unfiltered has covered its share of thefts in the wine world, but this is a first: an estimated 1.25 tons of Mourvèdre grapes were recently stolen off the vine at Grand Rêve Vineyard in Kirkland, Wash. According to vineyard owner and partner Paul McBride, the theft took place sometime between Sept. 15 and 20, less than two weeks before the grapes were slated to be harvested. McBride explained to Unfiltered, “James Mantone of Syncline Winery, who was scheduled to receive the fruit, inspected the vineyard on Sept. 21 and noticed that the crop loads were exceptionally light. The vines were found to have been cleanly and completely harvested. The outermost row was left unpicked to mask that the inside fruit had all been taken.” This was Grand Rêve’s first planting of Mourvèdre, a red Rhône variety that’s an unusual sight in Washington’s Red Mountain region, where Cabernet and Syrah dominate. McBride, who has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of anyone involved in the theft, told MSNBC that the thieves ignored the other grape varieties growing nearby, indicating that the perpetrator could have been a “wine geek—the sort of person who lies in bed at night thinking, ‘I’ve just got to have this vine-grown Mourvèdre.’” Unfiltered has to wonder how well the thieves really know their stuff, however, as they picked the grapes too early. As vineyard manager and partner Ryan Johnson told KNDO/KNDU, a local NBC affiliate, "If these guys would have waited 10 more days, the flavors would have been more developed, richer, riper, and they would have made a better wine from it. So if you're going to steal my fruit, at least do it at the right time."

• Roanoke’s Mother Vine, a sprawling Scuppernong believed by some to be as much as 500 years old, may be getting some competition in the category of oldest living vine (especially if the Mother Vine continues to have trouble coming back from its herbicide spraying earlier this year). Located in downtown Maribor, Slovenia, the “Old Vine” is more than 400 years old, among the longest-living specimens to bear grapes. Each autumn, Modra Kavcina grapes are harvested during the Old Vine Festival, which commenced this past week. Among food, wine and music events, the mayor of Maribor begins plucking the grapes, filling traditional wooden baskets with the help of specially chosen gatherers. At the last bunch, the youngest gatherer places one grape on a vine shoot so that the vine will drink its own juice and continue to produce fruit. Unfiltered has to ask, has anyone tried this for that poor Mother Vine on Roanoke Island yet?

• Wine lovers are breathing a little easier now that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has vetoed a plan that would have tacked a fee on the sale of alcohol in the city and county. In a first for California, the city’s board of supervisors recently passed the Alcohol Cost Recovery Fee ordinance, which would have forced wholesalers to pay 3 to 5 cents per drink sold in San Francisco. Critics were concerned that the added costs could trickle down to consumers. The fees would have raised an estimated $16 million a year and would have gone to support the city’s alcohol-related health costs such as prevention programs and hospital care. Advocates hoped that the mayor would recuse himself and not act on the legislation, which would have allowed it to become law. But Newsom vetoed the ordinance shortly after it was passed. He questioned its legality, saying that it would contravene the state’s authority regarding alcohol regulation. Newsom also believed it would hurt local businesses. In a statement he said, “I cannot support this unnecessary and harmful new fee that will hurt our city’s economy and cost us jobs at a time when we most need them.” The fee may not be dead though. There is still a chance that the ordinance could be passed if its advocates put it on the city’s upcoming ballots.

• There’s been wine on the water around Manhattan this summer, served aboard the Manhattan, and one recent bottle of Caymus Conundrum served on board was as big as a dinghy. Classic Harbor Line’s replica of a 1920s Long Island commuter yacht hosts wine-and-food pairing tours that take boatgoers on a tour past the Statue of Liberty, around the southern tip of Manhattan and under the Brooklyn Bridge. Earlier this month, the boat featured a special guest tour guide, filmmaker Ken Burns. Actress Uma Thurman bid $20,000 for the Burns-led cruise as part of the charity Room to Grow’s annual Auction of Unique Experiences at Christie’s. Thurman and her guests enjoyed a jeroboam of Caymus’ Conundrum white blend during the sunset tour.

Actors Unfiltered

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