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The Burgundy-Faced Congressman

Plus, Linfield College establishes the Oregon Wine History Archive, and the 2011 wine crime wave approaches tsunami proportions, in both truth and fiction

Posted: July 14, 2011

• Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has been in the public eye since the inception of his 2008 “Roadmap for America’s Future,” the program of steep spending and tax cuts becoming all the more poignant as budget debates heat up Washington’s summer. Ryan was keeping cool, however, last week, with a pair of Jayer-Gilles 2004 Echézeaux Grand Cru. The congressman and a couple companions enjoyed two bottles of the red Burgundy, priced at $350 a pop on the list at Washington’s Bistro Bis, last Wednesday evening, much to the dismay of an economist dining nearby. After hefty coverage of Ryan’s railing against outlandish public spending, a Rutgers professor enjoying her meal at a neighboring table found the congressman’s drink choice offensively lavish, and confronted Ryan and his companions in the bistro, taking photos (which she later released into the wilds of the blogosphere) before restaurant management was forced to intervene. The professor managed to include her own libation for the evening in one photo, which appears to be a Thierry et Pascale Matrot Meursault Les Chevalières 2005 ($80 on the list). We here at Unfiltered don’t take part in political debates, but wine debates are our forte. Although neither wine was officially reviewed by Wine Spectator, allow us a little economic analysis of our own: 2004 was a very good—but not outstanding—vintage for Côtes de Nuits reds (such as the $350 Echézeaux); the 2005 vintage for white Burgundies (an $80 Meursault, perhaps?) earned 93 points. Congratulations professor, it would appear that you did indeed make a more economically sound decision than the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

• When Oregon’s early winemakers decided to try their hands at planting Pinot Noir and other grapes in the state in the 1960s and 1970s they were told by experts that it was too cold and wet to grow there. Fortunately they ignored the warnings. Recently, Linfield College, based in McMinnville, established a wine history archive to document the story of the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley. Called the Oregon Wine History Archive, it will house historical documents such as promotional materials, photographs, winemaker notes and land-use maps, like the ones David Adelsheim of Adelsheim vineyard and the late David Lett of Eyrie vineyards created to help protect potential vineyard land. Other contributors include pioneers Dick and Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi, Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser and Dick Erath of Erath. According to Susan Barnes Whyte, the Linfield library director, the archive will include digital and paper sources, but she admits that it’s still in its nascent stage, saying that in a year “it will be more robust and digitized.” The archive was inspired by the Linfield Center for the Northwest, a collaborative program between students and faculty members that has been working directly with the pioneers to collect oral histories and chronicle the early years of the industry. Brick House Vineyards owner and winemaker Doug Tunnell, who is also a trustee of the college, commends the archive for showing how far Oregon wine has come. “A lot of people in future generations are going to want to know how [the industry] started,” he said.

• The pop culture wine crime trend continues unabated. Actor Jason Alexander portrayed a Bernie Madoff-type on last week's episode of Franklin & Bash. In it, Alexander's character is accused of breaking into a rival's wine cellar and drinking an "$8,000 bottle of Pinot Syrah." Must be ultrarare, because, no, we've never heard of such a thing either. Now, on to what has become Unfiltered's weekly crime blotter:

• Shield your vines, hide your bottles: The Summer of Wine Crime has left yet more victims in its wake. This week brings us a sticky-fingered sommelier, Mark Lugo, once a staffer at chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and of late a sommelier at New York’s BLT Fish. In April, Lugo stopped by Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Wayne, N.J., to pick up two bottles of Château Pétrus 2006, valued at $2,000 each. Lugo allegedly got them for the incredible discounted price of $0, though, by stuffing them into his jacket and walking out of the store. (Pétrus is Wine Criminal magazine’s Wine of the Year, apparently, and Unfiltered again begs the question, "Why is the Pétrus sitting out unattended by so many retailers?") A big fan of the pricy Pomerol, he came back to the store a few days later to—again, allegedly—steal the third and last bottle. The following month, he stopped in once more, because, hey, free wine. By this time, a store manager recognized him from security tapes and confronted him. Claiming to be “Mark Hugo,” he made a hasty exit, but was nonetheless charged with the thefts and due to appear in court this month. Unfortunately, that's not where this wine caper ends …

• Lugo had to miss his New Jersey court date, because by then, he was in San Francisco. He presumably figured that he next needed to augment his art collection. A Pablo Picasso drawing worth more than $200,000, Tête de Femme (Head of a Woman), caught his eye in a local gallery, so he allegedly picked it up and took it home. This time, though, a security camera at neighboring bar Lefty O’Doul’s caught a glimpse of Lugo strolling away, Picasso under arm. (Why Lefty O’Doul’s had tighter security than an art gallery full of masterpieces remains an unanswered question.) Police tracked down Lugo, arrested him July 7, and Rolls Royce dealerships everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.

• Elsewhere (elsewhere being Lodi, Calif.), thieves are illegally harvesting vineyard equipment across the appellation. This past weekend, grapegrower Frank Rashid's Petite Sirah vineyard was stripped of the stainless steel filtering tanks, control system and copper wiring that keep his irrigation system running. Without them, Rashid could lose his entire 14-acre crop of grapes in a matter of days. Replacing the stolen equipment is running him around $10,000. And Rashid's loss is not an isolated incident in San Joaquin County: Even the executive director of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission has been hit. The solar panels that power Mark Chandler's $50,000 vineyard-irrigation system were ripped off last week. All told, area farmers have suffered an estimated $1 million of theft and consequent crop damage and replacement costs so far this summer alone. Where is all this stolen equipment going? Logic says it's all being hauled out of county and sold for scrap, but Unfiltered sees a much more sinister plan behind it: Somewhere in the remote California hills, an evil enologist is building his own piecemeal stolen Franken-Vineyard, no doubt to clone some of that rare and outrageously expensive "Pinot Syrah."

Richard Gangel
San Francisco —  July 14, 2011 5:23pm ET
While I am not fond of Paul Ryan's voodoo economics, he has as much of a right as anyone to spend his or his friends' money on a bottle of wine, be it overpriced or not. The question is whether he has to report the wine as a gift from lobbyists since the value of the wine was more than $100.00. I think the whole affair is much ado about nothing.
Jayh Henchen
Rochester, NY —  July 14, 2011 5:51pm ET
The wine was paid for by Congressman Ryan... I saw this story which also included a photo of the recipt and his name on it.
D Scott Parsons
McLean, VA —  July 14, 2011 7:05pm ET
I am not sure which is more ridiculous - the nutty professor or Wine Spectator's decision to run this story and add their own commentary.

Making judgements on wines you have not rated is rather paradoxical for a publication built in part on a ratings system and seemingly obsessed with high priced, impossible to get cult wines. Perhaps their group heeded the advice you often dispense to ask the sommelier for a recommendation. Maybe they just wanted to try this particular wine. Ultimately who cares?

This is really poor journalism for a publication that is so important to consumers and the wine industry. Snobbish judgment on trite matters does not endear you to either group.

John Carlson
Beaverton, OR, US —  July 14, 2011 7:59pm ET
I agree this is not a good fit for Wine Spectator. Also missed in the report is that the Congressman did not order the wine, nor did he drink a full bottle for which he paid for. I have the feeling that the other guest in the restaurant who was so "offended" was looking for any excuse to verbally attack the Congressman. I say let the professor share her purchases in the last year and see if any of them stand out; maybe an expensive handbag or pair of shoes. Let's also look at the tip she left to see if it was as generous as the Congressman's (over 20%). If I'm a middle class waiter I would rather have Paul Ryan giving a tip than some obnoxiously rude person.
Michael C Thompson
Destin, FL —  July 14, 2011 8:30pm ET
It's all good. It would be politically correct to order an Oregon Pinot, RRV or Central Coast, but who' s counting. It's a free country. But if I was a Congressman ( and I am not him), I would order wines from the USA. But it's a personal choice. The tip is as important as well. Bear Bryant once told a reporter, "go back and give a bigger tip". The reporter asked why, he said, " they don't know you, but they know me". If I was Rep. Ryan, I would keep that in mind.
Thomas D Nichols
Houston, TX —  July 14, 2011 10:07pm ET
Good stories, good humor.
Winekey Nyc Inc
NYC —  July 14, 2011 10:27pm ET
I believe the Syrah in Pinot is called Vitamin S...be glad its not Vitamin Z...
Dennis Mangino
Brighton Michigan, USA —  July 15, 2011 12:53pm ET
$350 for a French wine consumed in a public restaurant by a member of Congressman, Paul Ryan, who proclaims that U.S. spending is out of hand, is just bad judgement and an example of poor leadership. Even he admitted that it was "stupid." Was it a mistake or something he does frequently because of his self inflated sense of his own importance and entitlement?
Tony Simon
Atlanta, Ga —  July 15, 2011 7:09pm ET
1) It is illegal for a lobbyist to buy a congressman so much as a sandwich....never read that in the media huh? 2) Paul Ryan has never complained about the way the President spends his personal money....or even his friends money. He has a problem with the way he's spending OUR money! 3) Either this was a total, mad for blogs, set up (which is my guess) or it's really scary to think that a woman can be a college professor and have such little understanding of civics to not know that a US Congressman doesn't plop down a government credit card at the end of a meal. Living expenses are figured into their salary and per diem and they can spend it how they want...on Burger King or Burgundy...just like all of us, it's their choice.
Lee Levin
Pembroke Pines, Florida USA —  July 15, 2011 8:55pm ET
Last time I checked , I still live in a free country. Representative Ryan has every right to drink whatever he likes without being hounded by an elitist professor who can't keep her thoughts to herself. As long as the American tax payer is not footing the bill for Ryan's Grand Cru, I have no problem with it.

It's too bad the article doesn't mention the name of the Rutgers professor who decided to make a spectacle of herself. I'm sure her background shows a less than tolerant view of Paul Ryan's or anyone else's liberties. I invite Mr. Ryan to come share my bottle of 1982 Petrus in public. My treat!
Atul Kapoor
los angeles/california —  July 16, 2011 12:40pm ET
Its just ridiculous for spectator to post the Ryan story at the top. Its Rep.Ryan's money, he can spend as he wishes. Maybe he prioritizes well! Good for him.
John R Slater
Canton Ohio —  July 16, 2011 4:29pm ET
Re Rep Ryan,this is the first time I've been offended by something I've read from Wine Spectator. Keep your politics to yourself.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  July 16, 2011 7:35pm ET
Congressman Ryan has good taste, something this story does not. Keep politics out of it.
Ross Taylor
Santa Cruz —  July 18, 2011 11:59am ET
Of course Ryan has the right to drink expensive wine just like the professor has a right to accost him and the press has the right to hound him.

It was Ryan's choice, and someone in Ryan's position knows or should know that many people would be interested in his spending $700 on two bottles of wine. Really, how many people will ever drink a $350 bottle of wine in their lifetime, much less two in one meal. Ryan talks about the families of America tightening their belts - hilarious.

Love it or hate it, there's nothing offensive about it, unless you're a republican who hates to see republicans look so out of touch. I found it amusing and would have thought so had it been a democrat. Keep it up WineSpectator!
Peter Dengenis
los angeles CA —  July 18, 2011 6:21pm ET
The thinly veiled political point of this article could not have been more obvious. Since when has Wine Spectator called into question the price paid for a bottle of wine?
Warren Johnson
San Diego, CA. USA —  July 21, 2011 11:42am ET
Come on...Paul Ryan is fair game, based on his "budget bluster", and "Mr. Everyman" persona. I make a bit more than the congressman, and I can assure you I've never consumed 2 $350 bottles of wine. The fact that they were French wines was priceless! Game on, Wine Spectator.
Tom Miller
Vestavia Hills, AL —  July 21, 2011 2:50pm ET
"Was it a mistake or something he does frequently because of his self inflated sense of his own importance or entitlement?"

Mr. Mangino, quick question: Speaking of "bad judgement and an example of poor leadership," are you referring to Paul Ryan or Barack "Wagyu beef" Obama? At least Congressman Ryan is wasting his own money and not that of the U.S. taxpayers. Just sayin'.

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