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Olivia Newton-John Gets Enological

Plus, Frescobaldi has a new crop of inmate harvest interns, and the TTB considers an unconventional New York AVA proposal
Photo by: Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre
Breast cancer survivor Olivia Newton-John is the ambassador of new California wines that will support cancer awareness and treatment.

Posted: July 16, 2015

Long after Sandra Dee took her first swig of Italian Swiss Colony "port" at the Pink Ladies’ sleepover, Olivia Newton-John has returned to wine, but this time for a cause more commendable than trying to fit in with Rizzo, Frenchy and the gang. The actress, singer and philanthropist, perhaps best-known for her breakout role in Grease and, later, for her Grammy-winning 1981 hit "Physical," is now the ambassador for cancer-awareness charity Pink and Blue for Two (PB42) and its wine brand of the same name.

PB42, founded by Newton-John’s nephew and professional race-car driver Emerson Newton-John, encourages couples to proactively screen together for breast and prostate cancer. He founded the charity in honor of his aunt, a breast cancer survivor herself, and soon after partnered with Sonoma’s Meadowcroft winery to produce wines to raise money and awareness for the cause.

Both nephew and aunt have been active in the winemaking process. “If [someone] told me a year ago that I would own a wine brand that was gaining momentum and that I'd be neck-deep in the industry each and every day, I would have looked at them sideways!” Emerson told Unfiltered. He’s taken the popular racing-to-winemaking progression in stride with the help of Meadowcroft winemaker Tom Meadowcroft. The pair developed a few wines, but Olivia’s palate chose the final PB42 varietals, a 2013 Anderson Valley Chardonnay and 2013 Lodi Merlot.

Olivia, who developed her passion for wine while travelling the world as a performer, told Unfiltered with a laugh, “It’s been really difficult tasting wines for [Tom], helping him choose the wines.” And while she admires the romantic qualities of French wine and the diversity of her native Australian wines, she thinks “there’s something extra special about American wines, and particularly the Pink and Blue wines.” Both wines retail for less than $20, and 20 percent of the net proceeds of the sales go toward funding Newton-John family charities—10 percent to PB42 and 10 percent to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne.

Frescobaldi's Inmate Harvest Interns

If Italian prisons are anything like their American counterparts, there is a fine tradition of making vino della latrina with fruit salad cups and socks as agents of fermentation. But that’s not really the Frescobaldi Way, as the 700-year-old, 30-generation Tuscany-based Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has a bit of a quality reputation to uphold. Instead, Lamberto Frescobaldi is taking fine wine to the big house: Since the 2012 vintage, he’s been making a white blend of Vermentino and Ansonica from a vineyard on the prison island of Gorgona, and the 2014 vintage is now out. The prisoners—including, according to the Italian Tribune, “celebrity” killer Benedetto Ceraulo, who was famously contracted to off fashion heir Maurizio Gucci—work the project, and the goal is rehabilitation and education for them, most of whom are serving lengthy sentences for serious crimes. But Gorgona now boasts a recidivism rate of just 20 percent, compared to the 80 percent average for Italian prisoners.

“I’m very happy to see how the Gorgona project is growing from year to year,” said Frescobaldi in a statement. (This year he doubled the vineyard size by planting 2.5 more acres.) “Our family is very proud of what we’re achieving: providing practical training for the inmates on the island that will lead to employment opportunities after incarceration.” Frescobaldi so far has invested $130,000 in the project and partnered with the likes of tenor-vintner Andrea Bocelli; this year, Cescot, a hospitality company, is involved, and one lucky/industrious inmate will receive a full scholarship and internship in food studies.

For the 2014 vintage, 250 cases of Gorgona are being released, and Unfiltered can’t help but imagine this type of program being a success stateside. No one’s left to tend the North Coast terroir of Alcatraz, but the inmates at Rikers would no doubt lovingly tend the Merlot vines of Long Island Sound, and Walla Walla's notorious prison is conveniently located smack in the middle of Washington state's most important AVA.

New York's Next Winemaking Frontier?

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is reviewing an unconventional new American Viticultural Area application in New York state. The proposed Champlain Valley of New York AVA, with the backing of the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association, has designated itself specifically for hybrid grape varieties. (AVA applications do not require nor typically include grape designations). The area in question covers 500 square miles of the valley in the Clinton and Essex Counties of upstate New York, where there are approximately 15 acres planted to grapes, with an additional 63 acres planned for planting in the next few years; six wineries presently operate 11 vineyards within the proposed area.

According to the petition, filed by North Star Vineyard owner Colin Read, the distinguishing feature of the proposed AVA is its short growing season, suitable only for cold-hardy North American hybrid varieties such as Frontenac, La Crescent and Marquette. Rather than cite any distinguishing topographical or soil features, the entire premise of the proposal seems to be that the region is not suitable to Vitis vinifera grapes. Unfiltered will be watching closely, as our backyard is similarly not suited to any noble grape varieties.

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