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Dave Matthews' Wine Dream

Plus, AOC controversy in France and a Champagne-inspired art auction raises $10,000 for charity

Posted: October 20, 2011

• Unfiltered sees a lot of rock-star wines. (Just in the past few months we've seen wines from Motörhead and AC/DC.) This week we came across Dreaming Tree, a California collaboration between Dave Matthews and Simi winemaker Steve Reeder. The idea came about during a dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery hosted by winemaker Genevieve Janssens, prepared by chef John Besh and at which Matthews was performing. Reeder got to talking with some Constellation wine brand representatives and someone said, "Let's get wine, music and food together and see what happens," Reeder told us. "What do you think of Dave Matthews?" Reeder was asked. "Well, he makes great music…" "And what would you think about working with Dave Matthews on a wine?" he was asked. "I said, 'Really?!' I Wikipedia'd him, I Googled him … and I said this guy is a true artist—he has a farm, a small winery in Virginia. I shipped him up a case of Simi wines and told him to try some bottles and let me know what you like." Reeder created some trial blends and they came up with Dreaming Tree's three new wines, a California Central Coast Chardonnay, North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend, each priced at around $15; suggested wine-pairing recipes are available on the winery's website. The wines are Wine Institute certified sustainable with environmentally-friendly light-weight bottles. "We're trying to do the right thing for the right reasons," Reeder said. "Dave wants to be socially responsible … and he definitely loves wine."

• Call it the case of David versus Monsieur Goliath. Olivier Cousin farms 25 acres of vines in Anjou in the Loire Valley. He cultivates his land biodynamically, uses horses to plow the earth and tries to be as hands-off as possible during winemaking (what some fans call natural wine). His wines have plenty of fans, but since 2003, he's labeled them as humble vin de table, because he believes the local AOC rules (appellation d'origine contrôlée) are too weak—they allow vignerons to use pesticides and herbicides, for one thing. He's also sued to escape having to pay dues to the local AOC. Cousin is not the first vigneron to opt out of appellation rules. But vin de table isn't supposed to list grapes or geographical origin. Cousin labels his wines Anjou pur Breton (Breton is a local name for Cabernet Franc). And an importer labeled cases AOC—for Appellation Olivier Cousin. French bureaucrats are not known for their sense of humor. Cousin has been threatened with a $50,000 fine and possible jail time for the label violations. And he recently lost the dues case, leading authorities to freeze one of his bank accounts. Surely the local wine authorities have something better to do with their time. Then again, they have succeeded in getting Cousin's wines a lot of free publicity.

• Ruinart Champagne began commissioning artwork in the 19th century, and has since collaborated with a great many artists and designers from around the world. Most recently, the maison teamed up with the Art of Elysium, a nonprofit organization that encourages actors, artists and musicians to voluntarily work with children who are battling serious medical conditions, to put on an exhibition and fund-raising event. Their collaboration resulted in a high tea held Oct. 2 in Los Angeles, which raised over $10,000 for charity. Ruinart hosted the afternoon gathering, which was outfitted with contemporary tablescapes and installations. Attendees—many of them, including actress Anne Hathaway, sporting playful hats—were treated to Ruinart Champagne as they perused the auction lots, and later to a tea service accompanied by a discussion on the state of contemporary art. During the auction, they raised decorative ping-pong paddles to bid on the 10 Champagne-inspired works by emerging artists selected by the maison.

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