Log In / Join Now

Devo's Gerald Casale Tunes Up a New Napa Vineyard

Plus, 400 Merlot vines stolen in Bordeaux, a French wine tourist destination closes its doors, and a wine tasting to benefit the disabled

Posted: June 5, 2014

• Celebrity musician vintners play many tunes, some better-versed in wine than others, but when Unfiltered learned of the newest pop-star winery owner, we knew he'd be well-rehearsed. New wave sensation Devo's Gerald Casale, who recently launched the The 50 by 50 winery brand, is a longtime wine lover who has even taught wine classes at the Wine House in Los Angeles. His new winery, situated on a 23-acre estate in Napa's Wooden Valley, will soon have a tasting room built to specifications of a 60-year-old blueprint by modernist architect Mies Van Der Rohe that wasn't supported by available technologies at the time it was designed. Eight acres on the property are being planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties, but he's already released The 50 by 50 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2012 ($30, 280 cases made) and Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Rosé 2013 ($20, 50 cases), made by winemaker Kenn Vigoda, formerly of Raymond Vineyards. But Casale is no backup singer in the winery, either. "I was involved at every step of the [winemaking process]," Casale told Unfiltered. "You think you know a lot, and then you get into it with someone like Kenn's experience, with 25 years making wine at Raymond, and you become aware of all the subfractals and minutiae that you have to make decisions about. It was trial by fire." Nevertheless, Casale, who is set to head out on another national tour with Devo later this month, is enthusiastic about his first vintage of Pinot Noir, his favorite grape. "I lucked out, because 2012 was a stellar growing season," Casale said. "One of those vintages where the harvest was great and if you don't over-manipulate the wine or do something stupid, you don't ruin it. It's like getting a Prime 28-day dry-aged New York steak: Now don't burn it!"

• Late on the night of May 20, Médoc winegrower Stanislas Goirand was spraying his vines at 42-acre Château La Fleur des Aubiers when it began to drizzle. It was 1 a.m, so he quit for the night, returning to the same spot the next morning, a plot that abutted his parents’ vineyard at Château La Rose Picot. Days earlier, his parents had planted new vines, and now he was shocked to see that thieves had snuck into the vineyards and absconded with 400 freshly planted Merlot vines. The local gendarmes at Lesparre-Médoc were stumped. Speaking under condition of anonymity, a gendarme told Unfiltered it was unlikely they’d apprehend the culprits. “There’s little chance of DNA,” admitted the gendarme unless equipment had been left behind. The gendarme assured Unfiltered that vine snatching remains rare in the Médoc. The Goirands had a different perspective. “It has happened five times,” Madame Goirand told Unfiltered. She and her husband have been growers at the 99-acre La Rose Picot since 1974. Her daughter-in-law Patricia Isasti told Unfiltered they suspect it was a local. “It’s easy to see the planting machine from the road; you know what’s going on,” said Isasti. Each planted vine costs $2.30, not counting the time and effort. “But it’s not just the cost and work. Now there will be a gap in the growth between the new plants and replacement vines,” said Isasti, who told Unfiltered a vineyard on the other side of Bordeaux also lost new vines to thieves this year.

Philippe Raoux, the owner of Château d’Arsac in Margaux, has announced the closing of La Winery, an avant-garde complex that combined modern art, concerts, a restaurant, wine tastings and a wine shop selling wines from around the world. La Winery was also his base of operations for his négociant and mail-order business, including a large warehouse. The entire project reportedly cost him $27 million. Raoux has quietly expressed the desire to scale down for some time now, in order to spend more time with his wife and youngest son, who live in Paris. Raoux told Unfiltered he’s busy with the Winemaker’s Collection and Château d’Arsac. Raoux bought the 64-acre site for La Winery in 2003, hiring architect Patrick Hernandez, and opened the doors in 2007. From the start, the concept and modern architecture caused a stir. Located off a roundabout on the D1, a bland thoroughfare in the Médoc, 14 miles north of Bordeaux, and 8 miles inland from the famous D2 Route des Châteaux, it was a gamble as a tourist spot. A branch of the Lurton family will acquire the buildings, to be used as a warehouse. The restaurant will close. It’s assumed the wine shop, which attracted 45,000 visitors in 2013, will also close. Another buyer will possibly acquire Raoux’s négociant and direct-mail business. Raoux, a well-known collector, is hanging on to his art, however. Tree of the Sun, the 6-ton, towering orange sculpture by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu that currently greets guests at La Winery will move to Château d’Arsac.

• When, in 2003, Yannick Benjamin—then a sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel's Atelier restaurant in New York—was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, he thought he'd never be able to work the floor again. "I was part of the Court of Master Sommeliers; my goal was always to be in the restaurant business," Benjamin told Unfiltered. "This car accident put a damper on that." He didn't know then that his hospital roommate would be another ambitious young man, Alex Elegudin, a recent quadriplegic, and that the two of them would go on to found the nonprofit Wheeling Forward, which works to enhance the lives of disabled people. This Saturday, June 7, the organization will hold its third annual Wine on Wheels fund-raiser at New York's City Winery. Following a Champagne seminar, 60 sommeliers—including Michel Couvreux of Per Se, Jordan Salcito of Momofuku, Grant Reynolds of Charlie Bird and Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate—will pour over 200 wine selections donated by importers, distributors and wineries. "Wine on Wheels is a unique event. You're getting all these different importers and distributors in one room, and all these sommeliers, for a really good cause," Benjamin said. As if supporting a good cause weren’t satisfying enough, Wine on Wheels guests will be able to sample treats such as Lucien Le Moine Clos de Vougeot 2007, Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Grunlack 2011 and a vertical of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1985, 2000 and 2007. All revenue from the event, minus expenses, will fund Wheeling Forward programming, which includes sports clinics, water skiing, sky diving and, of course, wine tastings. "Only 15 to 20 percent of people who are disabled actually have a real social life," Benjamin said, and the response to wine-education opportunities from the disabled community has been tremendous. Benjamin himself, meanwhile, has returned to the floor: He's the sommelier at the University Club of New York.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 365,000+ ratings.