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Champagne to Dance For

Plus, California legalizes "sip and spit" for 18 and older, rumors swirl around Torbreck vineyard purchase, Malibu becomes an AVA and French dining's latest sign of decline

Posted: July 24, 2014

• Unfiltered has been dragged to more than our fair share of ballet performances, and while we'll secretly admit to enjoying them, the de rigueur plastic flute of sparkling wine at intermission has always been a bit of a crapshoot—it inevitably seems to cost at least $15, and it's definitely not always Champagne, not that we're picky. Well, it took more than 65 years, but the New York City Ballet will finally have an official Champagne for the fall 2014 season—Ruinart. The nearly 300-year-old grande marque made its NYCB debut at the Spring Gala in May, and will have its own Ruinart Champagne bar on the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater this upcoming season. "An evening at the ballet and Ruinart Champagne are the perfect pairing for a pleasurable, elegant evening," said Ruinart brand director Nicolas Ricroque in a statement. Added NYCB executive director Katherine Brown, "Ruinart knows a thing or two about tradition and heritage, as well as elegance and sophistication. We are thrilled to have them as our partner—their presence will serve to enhance our patrons' experience at every performance." Unfiltered will look forward to intermissions more than ever.

• The sipping age just got a few years younger in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1989 on Monday, fondly known as the “sip and spit” bill, permitting enology and brewing students between the ages of 18 and 21 to taste the fruits of their labor. Taste, but not swallow. The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, specifies that students must be at least 18 years of age, enrolled in accredited college enology or brewing science programs and may taste but not drink the wine. “This legislation ensures California college graduates majoring in enology and brewing science will have the same educational opportunities as students in other states,” Chesbro said. According to Hildegarde Heymann, who teaches the popular Viticulture and Enology 125: Wine Types and Sensory Evaluation course at U.C. Davis, “This bill would allow us to introduce wine tasting to the students in our major in their junior years, before they take winemaking and wine-processing courses. When they enroll in winemaking they will be able to recognize potential flaws that could spoil the wine.” California becomes the 13th state to allow students under 21 years of age to sample alcohol for educational purposes. The new law will affect students enrolled in wine- and beer-making programs at U.C. Davis, Cal State, Fresno and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, along with a growing number of community colleges across the state.

• When Torbreck in Australia quietly acquired Gnadenfrei, the 7-acre vineyard source of its $700-a-bottle The Laird bottling, the odd man out was Dave Powell. Rumors had been rattling around the Barossa Valley that Powell, Torbreck’s founder ousted in September 2013, had a backer to bankroll him in a new winery. It was to be centered on this vineyard, which owners Malcolm and Joylene Seppelt had put up for sale last year. But Torbreck’s owner, Pete Kight, invoked a non-compete clause in Powell’s contract. Torbreck had been leasing the vineyard on the western slopes of Barossa Valley since 2005. “The owner is 80 years old and we needed to take over management as we believe it can be improved,” said Kight, who bought the winery in 2008 and also owns Quivira in California. “Because there was some misinformation bandied about regarding this vineyard by others, we decided to put out a short factual notice that we'd made the acquisition.” The purchase price is believed to be around $2 million. Although published accounts speculated that Chinese money was behind Powell, another name surfaced recently: Charles Banks, the California entrepreneur with stakes in South Africa’s Mulderbosch, New Zealand’s Trinity Hill, and in Napa's Mayacamas, Evening Land, Sandhi, Qupé and Wind Gap. Reached by e-mail, Banks did not deny his interest in the purchase. “I can't comment,” he said, “other than to say Dave is a great guy and very talented.”

Update: Charles Banks never completed a deal for ownership in Evening Land Vineyards, he subsequently confirmed to Wine Spectator.

• Hugging the Pacific just north of Los Angeles, Malibu Coast has become the newest American Viticultural Area in California. The region covers 46 miles of coastline from Beverly Hills in the east to Oxnard and Camarillo in the west and stretches 8 miles up the Santa Monica Mountains. At the time of the proposal there were 48 commercial grapegrowers in the area with a combined total of 82 acres in production. The new AVA subsumes two established AVA’s: Malibu-Newton Canyon, established in 1996, and the more recent Saddle Rock-Malibu, which was classified in 2006. Elliot Dolin, proprietor of Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards, initiated the application process three years ago and was delighted to see it approved after what he described to Unfiltered as “a smooth but lengthy bureaucratic process.” Dolin believes there are many aspects that helped distinguish the AVA: “We have unique soil conditions along the coast. We have a different climate to most of the southern portion of the state. And we have a history that extends back 200 years.” Sonja Magdevski and her husband, Emilio Estevez, grow Pinot Noir on their Malibu property under the name Casa Dumetz. “The issue of the Malibu Coast AVA is a very particular one for me,” Magdevski told Unfiltered. “The Malibu "Coast" AVA is too broad for my liking as a grapegrower and winemaker. Our vineyard near the coast has nothing in common with a vineyard near Sherman Oaks in the valley.” Magdevski was, however, keen to stress the positives of the new designation. “Am I happy that Malibu Coast is finally getting recognition? Certainly I am. I have had several people come into my tasting room in Los Alamos telling me that they went wine tasting in Malibu and didn't taste one wine made with grapes from Malibu. The bright side to this all is that the majority of Malibu vintners who are passing off their Malibu brands filled will sourced juice or fruit from Napa and Santa Barbara County to the unaware customer will have more of an incentive to truly express what they have created from Malibu grapes, instead of bastardizing it.”

• Historically lauded for its cuisine, there's a new sign of decline in France's dining scene. It turns out that quite a few French restaurants—perhaps even 75 percent of them—serve prepackaged processed foods. As a result, the French government has established a new system to identify those that are making their menus in-house: The "Fait Maison" logo, a stylized depiction of a house resting atop a saucepan, can now be displayed in the windows of restaurants that abide by the government's new "homemade" menu requirements. Not surprisingly, controversy has ensued. Restaurateurs argue that the requirements are arbitrary: They permit dishes made from some frozen, pre-cut or pre-peeled products to be considered homemade; pre-peeled frozen potatoes, however, may not be made into "homemade" French fries (the "McDonald's Exception" to the permitted frozen veggies); some forms of pre-made pâtés are permitted while others are not; prepackaged foods may be used in the composition of a dish as long as some part of that dish is made in-house. Government inspections of restaurants displaying the Fait Maison logo will begin in January, by which time Unfiltered hopes French diners will have figured out what the signs even mean.

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