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New Jersey Wineries on the Brink

Plus, former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer opens a winery, Bordeaux's strange new neighbors, counterfeit white Zinfandel of all things, and more

Posted: June 30, 2011

• New Jersey wineries are facing a very uncertain future today after a last-ditch effort to legalize their remote winery tasting rooms—for many of them their only source of sales—has failed to pass in the New Jersey state legislature. In December 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the off-site tasting rooms and retail outlets maintained by New Jersey wineries were unconstitutional because out-of-state wineries weren't permitted to open up the same type of outlets. A new bill that would have legalized the off-site tasting rooms as well as permitted limited direct shipping from both in- and out-of-state wineries, A.B.3831, was passed in the state senate yesterday with the support of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, but due to amendments he made (a 250,000-gallon cap limit for direct shipping; the original bill introduced by Assemblyman Joseph Cryan did not include a direct-shipping provision), the assembly declined to approve it in concurrence because Assemblyman Cryan opposes direct shipping. The New Jersey legislature was suspended today, the last day of session, but will reconvene next week to continue to work on the state's budget. If an alternative bill legitimizing remote tasting rooms for New Jersey wineries isn't passed then, their next hope is that the Third Circuit will reverse its decision when it reconsiders the case on July 18, which isn't likely, and then New Jersey's tasting rooms will have to close, potentially destroying the state's wine industry. "We'll be padlocked," said Amalthea winery owner Louis Caracciolo. "It's an election year and we're being used as pawns."

Football and wine are teaming up again. The son of a bootlegger, former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer gave up the “hard stuff” for red wine 25 years ago. Now, he's jumping into the wine business. Switzer Family Vineyards launched its 2008 vintage in Norman, Okla., June 22. “Like my football teams, I don’t want to put anything on the field that isn’t the best,” Switzer told Unfiltered. In partnership with California's Napa Wine Company, Switzer Family Vineyards is sourcing grapes from Yountville and Oakville. Its Oakville vines are just south of Opus One and Nickel & Nickel. The first vintage used mostly grapes from the Napa Wine Company’s Mill Race Vineyard in Yountville. The blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5 percent Malbec and 2.5 percent Petit Verdot is aged 18 to 20 months in new and old French oak barrels. Priced at $60 a bottle, about 500 cases of the first vintage were made. Even Switzer’s old boss, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (a Caymus Special Selection fan), wants to sell the wine in his stadium. That’s fitting, considering Jones helped form Switzer’s palate. Jones gave Switzer a wine list “and asked me to experiment with the wines. I enjoyed that,” Switzer said. A few years later, Switzer was touring Napa Valley and began investigating what would become Switzer Family Vineyards. Switzer said he hopes to be producing 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year and selling it in “Big 12 Country,” an NCAA geographical region. His plans also include owning land in Oakville. “I wasn’t going to just put my name on a label, hope it sold and go away,” he said. “I’m going to be in the business from now on.”

• As the world's wine trade convened on Bordeaux for Vinexpo 2011 this past week, they were introduced to some non-traditional new additions to the neighborhood. Château Cheval-Blanc introduced its ultramodern minimalist new cellar. Not to be outdone, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild feted her new cellar at Château Clerc Milon, dazzling her guests—a mix of celebrities, Parisian politicians and media types—with a fireworks display over the winery set to Gioachino Rossini’s comedic opera La Cenerentola. "Clerc Milon was nothing to be seen, nothing to look at," said the Baroness. “Today it is something to look at." The 38,556-square-foot, ipe wood and blonde Médoc stone winery sits on a gravel plateau called Mousset, with a spacious deck overlooking the vineyards of Lafite and Mouton. Theater set designer Richard Peduzzi put his dramatic touch to the interior and the new label, and 3,229 square feet of photovoltaic panels make the Pauillac fifth-growth's new winery energy independent. In the gravity-fed cellar, director Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy showed off 40 vats ranging from 5 to 10 tons. “The terroir, climate, culture and regulations are different," said Danjoy, who worked for nine years at Napa's Opus One. "But the philosophy of making a classic wine true to its terroir and owner is the same.”

• It seems the worldwide wine crime wave Unfiltered reported last week is still brewing, as is its crossover into pop culture television crime dramas—viewers of last night's episode of Franklin & Bash saw attorney Jared Franklin lionize opposing counsel by saying, "He's been in Wine Spectator … twice!" Here in the real world, police in Liverpool, England, discovered a counterfeiting scheme after a shopper found a piece of already-been-chewed gum in a bottle of rosé. British officers raided the store in Liverpool where the bottle was purchased and seized 50 bottles of fake rosé—supposedly from brands Echo Falls, Blossom Hill, Kumala and Hardy—each on sale for about £5. The careless, or shall we say Carefree, scammers found previously-used empty bottles, refilled them with an unidentified pink-hued liquid and secured them with a heat-sealed screw cap. The counterfeiters are still on the lam, but a spokesperson for the Liverpool Alcohol and Tobacco Unit told Unfiltered that “it was a fairly localized incident involving the one shop. Officers have visited nearly 100 shops in the area, but have not found more bottles.” While lab results are still pending on the mystery liquid, which was oxidized and smelled of vinegar, officials hope the liquid is “just unpleasant but harmless.” Gumshoes in France are also on the lookout for some missing Burgundy. Today we received a plea from Becky Wasserman Selections wine consultant Peter Wasserman: "60 bottles of Fred [Jacques-Frédéric] Mugnier Musigny 2005 were stolen from our cellars in Bouilland. Please contact us if they are offered to you." Time to take a swig out of crime, Unfiltered readers.

• The 2010 World Wine Tour held in Hong Kong on May 31 raised over $500,000, more than double the funds raised in previous years. All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Lao Rehabilitation Foundation, an organization that provides medical services to Laotians, with an emphasis on children. More specifically, the funds raised will benefit the Thong Pong Boarding School for Blind Children, a facility that houses and educates blind children aged 4 to 16 years old. With the additional funding, the school hopes to build a housing unit for the male students (who currently sleep on the floor), hire new teachers and further develop the school’s music program. Two of the event’s organizers, 24-year-old Anja Cheriakova of the Netherlands and 25-year-old Georges Janssens of the United States traveled around the world for a year meeting with winemakers, acquiring donations and blogging about their experience. Initially hoping to gather 300 bottles for auction, the pair was able to secure 450 bottles from 60 different wine regions from around the world, including France, Italy and Germany, as well as less traditional wine-producing countries, such as China, Vietnam, India and Thailand. “We couldn’t be prouder,” said Janssens and Cheriakova, “and we owe a huge thank you to everyone participating in the project, from the sponsors who made it possible, to the vintners donating their wines, to all the followers reading along with our journey.”

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