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Kate Hudson's Winery Goes Virtual

Plus, a protesting Finger Lakes vintner may be headed to jail, Carter Cellars and Cartier come to terms, and a $375,000 box of wine

Posted: December 4, 2014

• It’s a familiar story: Child of vintner launches her own wine label. It’s slightly less familiar when the vintner in question is Kurt Russell and the child is his stepdaughter, Kate Hudson. Inspired by Russell’s GoGi Wines, made by Peter and Rebecca Work of Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc, Calif., Hudson and her rock-star fiancé, Matthew Bellamy, launched Hudson Bellamy Wines in partnership with the Works in 2011. Sales of the wines benefit the Hawn Foundation, an education charity founded by Hudson’s mother Goldie Hawn, and War Child, an organization that assists children in regions of conflict. “When Kate was young, the family used to go on biking trips through France, and they used to ride through Burgundy and stop and talk to grapegrowers,” said Cobie Scott, social-media coordinator for Hudson Bellamy Wines. Once Russell began making the GoGi wines with the Works, Scott told Unfiltered, “Kate and Matt said, ‘Well, we’d like to make some wine, with some of our very favorite varieties.’” The couple first decided to make a rosé, calling it Que Syrah Syrah ($25), with Santa Barbara County fruit. The following vintage, they added to their portfolio a Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc (A Little Time, $30) and a vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills (Common Ground, $50). According to Scott, Hudson and Bellamy assist the Works with blending.

Hudson Bellamy wines are available via their website and in a few retail outlets in California … and now in the new edition of the once-virally-popular virtual agricultural society FarmVille. Hudson announced her partnership with FarmVille 2: Country Escape, in which virtually thirsty players will be able to harvest, vinify, bottle and peddle Hudson Bellamy wines. The game even includes an avatar of Hudson, in pigtails, thigh-hugging overalls and rubber boots. “It's the first time I've ever had an avatar—thinking I may have to get this outfit in real life!” Hudson wrote on Instagram.

The clash between wine and gas in New York's Finger Lakes has reached a boiling point. Protesters of a proposed expansion to a gas-storage facility on Seneca Lake are being arrested in droves (92 bookings and counting), and now prominent vintners are among them. On Dec. 1, Phil Davis, co-owner of Damiani Wine Cellars, along with one of his employees, was arrested for trespassing—protests have taken the form of blocking the entrances to the gas-storage facility of Crestwood Midstream. (There were eight others arrested that night, but as Davis told Unfiltered, "They're blocking the gates again today. It's been ongoing. [Police] have been picking up 10 or 12 people every day.") At their arraignments, protesters who pleaded guilty can pay a fine of a few hundred dollars—or take 10 to 15 days behind bars. "I think I'm going to go to jail," Davis said, to the surprise of co-owner Lou Damiani, who was also in the conversation. "The statement's got to be made. It's intolerable what they're proposing. It takes a lot to make me boil over, but I'm boiling over now."

How did we get here? In 2009, Crestwood, a Texas company, put forth a proposal to expand gas storage in salt caverns in the town of Reading, on property they own. The proposal would add 450 million cubic feet of natural-gas storage to existing stores and introduce 2.1 million barrels of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage. "They're trying to make this into a major, major operation. And along with that, major truck traffic, major rail traffic, flare stacks, compressors that run 24 hours a day. It just doesn't work with what we're trying to develop around here," said Davis. A representative from Crestwood previously told Wine Spectator that such fears of industrialization were overblown. "We're just coming to really be in the Finger Lakes after a couple hundred years of trying to grow grapes and make wines," said Damiani. "It's renewable; it's sustainable; you can pass it on to future generations. We feel you cannot do both things—you cannot industrialize the area and then still have a viable wine-tourist industry."

Crestwood's proposal was approved by the local Schuyler County legislature. The opposition, through organizations like Gas Free Seneca and We Are Seneca Lake, got the federal government to review the natural-gas expansion (it was approved) and now must persuade the state government to block the LPG expansion, which includes brine ponds that some worry could pollute the lake. "[Gov.] Andrew Cuomo has come out in a lot of support for the wine industry," said Damiani. "So he's in a spot. If the [state] sides with the propane storage, it's going to be a slap in the face to the wine industry." To prepare for hearings in January and February, winemakers on Dec. 3 founded the Finger Lakes Winery Business Association, with the goal of enlisting 100 wineries and presenting evidence of the wine industry's economic boon to the region—and how the Crestwood proposal could ruin that. Damiani summed it up thusly: "We're for what we've been building for decades."

The dust has settled in the bout between international jeweler Cartier and Napa’s Carter Cellars. Cartier filed suit in U.S. District Court in California in October 2013, asking Carter Cellars vintner Mark Carter to change his label because it looked too much like their own. To appease the jeweler, Mark Carter has adopted a new script and changed the color on the label from red to black, effective with the 2013 vintage. Carter makes about 1,500 cases annually of Napa Valley wine. While Cartier is best known for its watches and jewelry, the brand does have a Cuvée Cartier Champagne to pour at events and in stores. Cartier first brought up the label issue in 2004, but dropped the matter until last year, when a new team of lawyers for the jeweler asked Carter to change his label.

Wine connoisseurs can be a tricky bunch to shop for during the holiday season—they're a discerning lot, and tend to already have everything. But if you've got about a half-million dollars lying around, Unfiltered has come across one particular gift that the enophile in your life definitely doesn't have. Cordier Mestrezat Grands Crus, a company that is part négociant, part château owner and part en primeur house, and includes St.-Julien's Château Talbot, Sénéjac of Haut-Médoc, Clos des Jacobins in St.-Emilion, and Lafaurie-Peyraguey in Sauternes, among many others, has come up with a new line of very high-end wine boxes dressed in hand-crafted leather, 300-year-old oak from Marie Antoinette’s tree that died in 2003, or 24-karat gold leaf, each containing four very special bottles of wine. Unfiltered's favorite is called the Golden4Box 1893 L’Unique, of which there is only one available, hence the name. The hand-gilded box, priced at around $375,000, contains two types of gold, one example being a 2.2-pound ingot of the precious metal, the other being four 750ml bottles of Château d’Yquem 1893.

Mr Michael Warren Thomas
Rochester, NY, USA —  December 4, 2014 10:38pm ET
The Finger Lakes and particularly Seneca Lake are on the cusp of becoming the most exciting wine region in the world, with trend setters like Paul Hobbs, Johannes Selbach, and Louis Barruol already investing within a few miles of Watkins Glen.

NYS will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing the geologically unstable salt caverns of Watkins Glen to become "the gas storage and transportation hub of the northeast" (as described by Crestwood Energy, based in Houston, Texas). Governor Cuomo and US Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have not said a word, as the investment potential of the highly acclaimed Finger Lakes wine region hangs in the balance.

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