The picture is still hanging in my office: Bill Koch, the energy executive who has made fighting sales of counterfeit rare wines a personal obsession, stares menacingly at me, wearing a cowboy hat, a bandana and a sheriff's star. The shot was taken when Wine Spectator photographed Koch for our Dec. 15, 2009, cover story, "The Crusade Against Counterfeits." The outfit was Koch's idea: In addition to wine, he collects Old West memorabilia.
In the end, we opted for a shot of Koch in a suit, holding a magnum of Château Pétrus 1921. Koch says he bought that bottle at a 2005 Zachys auction of 17,000 bottles of wine from the cellar of California tech entrepreneur Eric Greenberg. Koch alleges that Greenberg bought it from Royal Wine Merchants, and Royal sourced it from German wine broker Hardy Rodenstock. Koch believes it’s a fake.
That magnum, and all those players, are back in the headlines this week, as a jury of six men and two women hear Koch v. Greenberg in a Manhattan federal court. Koch has been suing Greenberg for six years over 24 bottles he bought for almost $350,000 at that auction, wines he says are counterfeit. (Contributor Peter Hellman, who has doggedly pursued this topic, has written an excellent summary of the case.)
If you're a fan of big, ripe, concentrated reds nowadays, you can expect to get slugged with equally muscular prices. In the span of a decade and change, longtime aficionados of Napa, Bordeaux, even Piedmont and Châteauneuf, have seen prices fly away, often out of reach.
There is yet one place, in France no less, where intense reds pop for as little as 10 or 15 bucks. "This region has been forgotten for 50 years," Michel Chapoutier said. "You can have some of the best soil in France and probably in the world." Could this be the next great region for red wine in France? "Oh, I am absolutely certain about that," he said. "Absolutely."
If you haven't guessed, we were talking about the Roussillon region, known in the United States as sidekick to the massive Languedoc zone in the south of France, with Roussillon reaching the Spanish border. Rhône power player Chapoutier has been snapping up plots around Roussillon for 15 years or so now, most of which go into his Domaine de Bila-Haut label. The wines run about $10 to $25, depending on the subappellation.
Will this be the year that Massachusetts, the seventh-largest wine-consuming state, finally gets a legitimate winery-to-consumer shipping bill? Hopes are high in the Bay State, despite repeated setbacks: The state's most recent direct-shipping law passed in 2005 and, not long afterward, was ruled unconstitutional. The preceding law had been declared unconstitutional as well.
Rep. Theodore Speliotis has introduced House Bill 294, which would allow local and out-of-state wineries, after applying for a $100 state permit, to ship up to 24 cases of wine a year to Massachusetts residents. Sen. Daniel Wolf has co-sponsored the bill, crafted with the assistance of the Wine Institute, a winery advocacy organization.
And now the bill's proponents have a new secret weapon: former Patriots quarterback-turned-Washington vintner Drew Bledsoe.
Last year, California and Washington wineries crushed around 4.5 million tons of wine grapes. That's an awful lot of skins, seeds and stems left over—something like 1.5 million tons. When it comes to reducing waste, many wineries are cutting the use of electricity, fuel, water and packaging. One thing I don't hear a lot about when covering sustainability efforts is post-harvest waste: pomace. Maybe a big, squishy mass of pulp sounds less sexy than an elegant, energy-efficient building, but pomace is no less ripe for innovation.
One thing I have learned in life—if you travel and can't find good food, good wine and good company, you might as well have stayed home.
In September 2000, I was a young political reporter at Time magazine, living a dream-I was covering a presidential race. For two weeks, I traveled with then-Governor George W. Bush as he crisscrossed the country, campaigning for the White House. Halfway through my stint, the campaign plane headed to Austin. Bush was taking the weekend off, so the press corps had two days free in the Texas capital.
During the flight, Bush wandered back to chat-off the record. The governor was not known for taking questions from reporters, but he did like to chat. When he got to my row, what did I ask the next President of the United States? "Governor, I've never been to Austin. Where can I find good barbecue?"
Earlier this winter, Château Margaux managing director Paul Pontallier travelled to New York to present ongoing experiments involving organic and biodynamic viticulture, as well as experiments with screw caps. Coming from a famed first-growth, this is something of a big deal in the wine world.
Margaux, of course, isn't the only winery in the world taking steps toward organic or biodynamic farming (the chateau has not used herbicides or insecticides for the past decade-only fungicides to prevent rot) or considering adopting screw caps, but on account of its first-growth status, you could say that it might have more to lose than most. After all, why fix something that's not broken?
To answer that—and this may be a bit of a leap—let's look at what's been happening recently in big-wave surfing.