Wine Country Cheers on the San Francisco Giants

Plus, Rusty Staub’s charity auction earns over $1 million, more wineries come to the aid of the Gulf, and two winery foreclosures in Virginia
Nov 4, 2010

• It’s been a difficult 2010 for Northern California vintners, who have dealt with one of the coldest vintages on record. But the San Francisco Giants’ remarkable run to the World Series championship has been lifting winemaker spirits across the valleys, and one Napa estate actually got to participate in the team’s festivities. After clinching the National League West division, winning the National League Division Series, N.L. Championship Series and the World Series, the Giants players and coaches celebrated each time with some liberally sprayed and specially labeled Mumm Napa Brut Prestige. “We were delighted to work with the San Francisco Giants to provide our Mumm Napa Brut Prestige as their celebration wine for the World Series,” said Mumm VP of winemaking operations Rob McNeill. “They were very pleased too. We were cheering for the Giants the entire way, and having our wine inside the locker room embellishing their victory celebration made it a little more special.”

• The cold Northern California October also gave Margrit Mondavi good reason to wear her Giants scarf around the Robert Mondavi Winery pretty much every day, and she took her grandson to Game 1 of the World Series, where she wore her bright orange Buster Posey jersey. (What does the matriarch of a famous wine family order at the ballpark? A beer and a hot dog of course, just like the rest of us.) Elsewhere, former Giants Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts showed up in Las Vegas during the World Series, where they chatted baseball with Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman at the New World Wine Experience. Readers of their blogs will know that Steiman and senior editor James Laube are both avid Giants fans, and Steiman was even able to bring support the Giants’ way from the Pacific Northwest. He and Seattle Mariners fan Hugh Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville chat regularly on the subject of baseball, and when the M’s season ended, Shiels threw his support behind the Giants. “Since Buster came up, every pitch of every inning has significance,” Shiels e-mailed last week. “[Sitting] in the candlelit sunroom with a glass of wine was special for the last couple of innings.” No matter how the 2010 vintage turns out, the wine community will always have the San Francisco Giants’ first World Series to bring them a smile.

• Retired Major League Baseball player and six-time all-star Rusty Staub had his mind on Burgundy rather than baseball this past month. Nowadays Staub focuses his energies on humanitarian pursuits, one of which is his annual wine auction in New York in October, perhaps the most comprehensive charity auction of Burgundy this side of, well, Burgundy. The auction was attended this year by only 80 guests, but still managed to rustle up $1.15 million for emergency food pantries, two-thirds of whose beneficiaries are children. The star lot in this year’s auction was a $120,000 dinner for 12 cooked by Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse and David Bouley, to be enlivened by, among other wines, mature Cristal, Dom Pérignon, and Krug, 1982 Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion and Lafleur, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, La Tâche (“LA TACHE” happens to be Staub’s license plate), Richebourg and Romanée-St.-Vivant, and a splash of Yquem. “That was the big buzz of the night,” said Staub, who travels to Burgundy every November to meet with some 40 growers and begin arranging lots for the following year’s auction. His charity, the Rusty Staub Foundation, “dominates my life, to be truthful.” But the auction has raised some $15 million over 19 years; last year alone, the proceeds fed 950,000 people. “I think we were so fortunate that we were able to raise the kind of money that we raised,” Staub said, adding, “Everybody wants to raise the kind of money that they used to raise—well, that dog ain’t hunting out there very often.” Nonetheless, Staub expects the 20th anniversary auction next October to be a home run.

• Is water conservation the hottest new trend in wine country? Last month we told Unfiltered readers about the Iron Horse Ocean Reserve sparkler that is benefiting the National Geographic Society’s Ocean Initiative and St. Francis winery’s Whale of a Chardonnay that is supporting the Save Our Gulf foundation. Water rights have even become an issue between Russian River Valley officials and winemakers. Now we’ve learned two more California wineries are getting into the save-the-planet spirit this month. Healdsburg’s Selby winery has started a new label specifically to support Gulf Coast clean-up efforts. For every $15 bottle of winemaker Suzie Selby’s Clean Coast Wines, $4 will be donated to the Greater New Orleans Foundation. The marine-themed labels were designed by Pensacola, Fla., artist Richard Quecke and can be purchased at select wine shops in Louisiana and Mississippi as well as online at www.cleancoastwines.com. Also in the giving spirit, Stanley and Helen Cheng, the owners of Hestan, a solar-powered winery in Napa, are donating $2 for every bottle of their Hestan, Meyer and Stephanie wine brands sold during the month of November to the Fund for Gulf Coast Restoration. We hope this trend holds water! (And that our puns get better.)

• Ending this week’s column on a note of misfortunate, Kluge Estate of Virginia is facing foreclosure this week, the result of a failed attempt to expand into the national and international market in the midst of a recession. Kluge, owned by Patricia Kluge and her husband, William Moses, owes approximately $35 million to Virginia’s Farm Credit Bank for loans made between 2007 and 2009. The bank demanded payment in September, sending Kluge and Moses scrambling unsuccessfully to renegotiate or find other backers as far afield as France, Argentina and China. Farm Credit took over in October and has been dismissing employees while it shuts down the plant, preparatory to a sale of the vineyard, equipment and property Dec. 8. Patricia Kluge, once married to the late communications billionaire John Kluge, has spoken of making Kluge Estate “one of the East Coast’s most prestigious wineries.” She and Moses are charged by Farm Credit with fraudulently transferring land and property to a family trust to shield assets from the bank. At 164 acres, Kluge is the largest vineyard in the Charlottesville area. Also facing the auction block Nov. 18 will be the Sweely Estate Winery in neighboring Madison County. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, an avid wine enthusiast, is reportedly attempting to interest the Altria Group, which owns both Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington and Philip Morris tobacco, in a deal with Kluge. Altria has refused to comment.

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