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Attack of the Winemaking Reality TV Stars

Kendall-Jackson's Rick Tigner goes Undercover, the Bachelor takes Unfiltered on a group date, and a Real Housewife wants our attention. Plus, some Barsac vineyards survive a run-in with gypsies

Posted: February 2, 2012

• Kendall-Jackson president Rick Tigner was the subject of CBS’s Undercover Boss this past Sunday, and the wine world has been giving his emotional performance rave reviews. (WineSpectator.com members can check out James Laube's thoughts in his latest blog entry.) Tigner put on a disguise (braces and some questionable facial hair) and pretended to be a potential employee at Kendall-Jackson, trying his hand at vineyard work, deliveries, working the bottling line and as a tasting room employee. Predictably, most of his experiences didn’t go so well (thankfully, Tigner already has a job). We were impressed by the honest (albeit limited) depiction of some of the less-glamorous aspects of the wine industry, including a startling look at how vineyard crews and their managers don't always speak the same language—literally. Tigner was emotionally moved by the experience, as were we, by how much the late founder Jess Jackson had been a mentor and father figure to him. In the end, Tigner made some changes, rewarded good behavior, and restored 401k benefits company-wide. "It was a really great experience," Tigner told Unfiltered. "Jess told me that the best leaders don't fly at 30,000 feet but rather three feet—sometimes it takes a lot of hands-on work to learn how to make an organization even better." Amen, boss.

• Unfiltered got to spend some real time with our reality TV winemaking hero this week. Envolve winery owners and winemakers Ben Flajnik (you might also know him as The Bachelor), Mike Benziger and Danny Fay took a few Unfiltered spies on a "group date" to CraftBar in New York, where we talked wine and wife-hunting. Flajnik, Benziger and Fay are grade-school pals chasing a winemaking dream from the small San Francisco apartment they share (so if you're hoping to get your own chance with the Bachelor, don't expect mansions and mega-yacht trips). The three brought a lineup of wines from their Envolve (né Evolve) and Epilogue brands, which are focused on organic, sustainable farming practices as well as biodynamics. Don't let the reality TV show fool you—these three are serious about wine and fiercely loyal to their native Sonoma. They offer a range of acid-driven, food-friendly reds and whites—the Sauvignon Blanc earned 89 points in a recent Wine Spectator blind tasting and their smooth Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Lennox Vineyard is a bargain at $30. We can share a little behind-the-scenes gossip, too: Ben admitted he was terrified to climb the Bay Bridge support cables, nearly passing out a few times, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to do something that only a few hundred people had ever done. We caught a glimpse of that charming Bachelor smile up close when we pointed out that he might be one of only two people to ever make out up there.

• The Bachelor wasn't the only reality TV star wooing Wine Spectator editors this week. One of the original Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny Frankel sent "her people" by the office this week. Frankel now has quite the empire of her own as a Bravo TV chef and personality, author and face of low-calorie Skinnygirl Sangria. Expect to hear more from her and Skinnygirl soon. And of course we continued following the televised adventures of the winemaking Bachelor. Ben and the ladies spent this week's episode in lovely Vieques, Puerto Rico, playing baseball and skinny dipping (well, only Ben and Courtney practiced their open-water breaststroking). Unfiltered preseason pick Nicki's date went swimmingly, Elyse took a dive with Ben on the other date, where their love connection drowned, and Jennifer the excellent-kissing redhead got the kiss off.

• When you’ve only got 1,149 acres to your name, you defend every inch. Winegrowers in France's Barsac appellation (home to some of Bordeaux's famed dessert wines), backed by several trade federations, went to court recently and won a case that dashed the local mayor’s plans to purchase and rezone a few AOC Barsac plots and build a campground for Roma gypsies and a retirement home. The project would have been in close proximity to the surrounding châteaus, including classified-growth Château de Myrat as well as other solid performers like Cantegril and Piada. “It had nothing to do with it being a camping spot for gypsies. If it had been a second Eiffel tower, we would have done the same thing,” said Xavier de Pontac, owner of Château de Myrat and president of the local growers’ syndicate. “We’re only 35 kilometers from Bordeaux. The battle between the vines and cement is constant and if we aren’t careful, eventually the vines will disappear.” Xavier Planty, owner of Sauternes first-growth Château Guiraud and president of the organization tasked with defending the Sauternes and Barsac vineyards, was equally dismayed. “They tried to make it about rich winegrowers against the elderly and poor. In another story, they said Guiraud was involved. Guiraud is in Sauternes! It’s all false. This was about protecting the best terroirs from real-estate speculation. Look at Pessac and how many châteaus have disappeared over time.”

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