In bucolic German Riesling country, small-town wine parties among the half-timbered fachwerkhäuser are the hottest ticket of the year, with everyone donning their finest lederhosen to hoist cups of the local wine and roll comically large barrels down the cobblestoned streets. As with all village pageantry, there must be a queen to ring in the weinfest, and in Germany, 13 different wine regions crown one each year (the queens also act as Riesling ambassadors). Readers might imagine a dirndl-clad blue-eyed fräulein, but this year, Trier—seat of the famed Mosel region—decided to go a different route: In the spirit of neighborly inclusion, Trier winemakers awarded the tiara to Ninorta Bahno, a local 25-year-old Syrian refugee who was a law student when she was forced to flee her home country in 2012 during the ongoing civil war.
Bahno had acted as an interpreter between Trevians and Syrians during last year's wine festival, and organizers were impressed by her poise and appreciation of German wine (Bahno is an Aramean Christian). Winemaker and organizer Peter Terges told the local Trier Volkfreund Bahno would be a "wonderful representative for the wine and the winemakers of her new home city," and hoped the selection would represent "a real coup in terms of integration and openness that makes waves far beyond Trier." Bahno is similarly enthusiastic about her new role. "I love wine. It is more than a beverage—[it's] a cultural asset."
In one interesting wrinkle, a Syrian wine queen may actually be the choice truest to Trier's roots: According to legend, the city was founded 4,000 years ago by a figure named Trebeta, who took to wandering after falling out of favor in his previous role: prince of Assyria. In another, much funnier, wrinkle, Bahno will compete for the role of wine queen for all of Germany against the "queen" from the town of Kesten: a zaftig, ruddy-faced man named Sven Finke who took up the robe when no women in the tiny hamlet volunteered.
Unfiltered had the unique pleasure of witnessing as a piece of centuries-old wine-family history was restored to glory before the current generation this past weekend, albeit far from its ancestral home. Alessia Antinori, representing the umpteenth generation of her winemaking and art-loving Tuscan family, gazed intently at the brilliantly-colored, multifigured Resurrection of Christ, by Giovanni della Robbia (1469–1530). The 1,200-pound, 11-foot-long ceramic tableau introduces visitors to "Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence," an exhibit that just opened at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Allesia pointed to a life-sized, dignified and prayerful figure on Christ's right hand. He's been identified as Niccoló Antinori, who commissioned the work to hang over the interior garden entrance to a family villa. "Yes, he definitely looks like an Antinori," said Alessia.
Resurrection was purchased in 1898 by a wealthy Brooklynite, Augustus Healy, directly from a branch of the Antinori family. Healy donated the piece to the Brooklyn Museum. And there it rested, mostly out of sight, until Antinori underwrote its restoration in preparation for the della Robbia show. "Our family has always supported art by purchasing it," Alessia said. "Here was an opportunity for us to support art by helping to restore a wonderful piece. That was the moral thing to do."
Niccoló died before the work, created out of 46 separately fired pieces, was completed. The project was seen through by his son, Alessandro. "Niccoló is the only person in the scene who has nothing to do with Jesus Christ," Alessia said. The abstract blue and yellow Antinori family crest is appended to each lower edge of the work. It will also appear on the label of a special release of 200 magnums of 2013 Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, honoring della Robbia.
France's Languedoc-Roussillon region has once again fallen again to an attack by CRAV (Comité Régional d'Action Viticole), a rather radical and militant group of wine activists that has claimed responsibility for arson, hijacking, bomb-making and all sorts of vandalism. The quiet seaside town of Sète, outside of Montpellier, awoke last week to a river of wine flowing down a few of its streets, courtesy of CRAV.
Sète is home to Biron wine distributors, whose five large vats were opened during the night, draining more than 50,000 liters of wine into the adjoining streets, flooding nearby basements and underground garages. Biron, at least according to CRAV, is guilty of the "crime" of importing inexpensive wine from other countries. The recent pushback from French winemakers over the import of cheaper, some say inferior, wine from Spain has been growing: Tankers filled with Spanish wine were recently similarly relieved of their contents.
Although CRAV's telltale graffiti calling cards were missing in Sète, the group did still claim responsibility for the vandalism, speaking to French TV's Channel 3: "We cannot continue like this, so I think we go further,” said an anonymous CRAV spokesman, hinting that the next step would involve “the retail sector … supermarkets and the like.”
Sometimes we like to fantasize about never-gonna-happen dinner parties with all our favorite celebrities, so imagine our surprise this week when we learned that VH1 will soon be airing one of them, every week! Martha & Snoop’s Dinner Party will begin this fall, starring eminent hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, who appreciates Chandon and especially Cognac, and hostess extraordinaire Martha Stewart, who has also previously released wines with E. & J. Gallo. Snoop says the idea for the show came about “with a glass of wine, herbs, tea, atmosphere.” VH1 hasn't released what type of libations will be poured on-screen, but Snoop expanded in a statement that he and his “homegirl, Martha,” will be “cooking, drinking and having a good time with our exclusive friends.” At each show, both celebs will invite a handful of friends over for the dinner party … we can only guess that VH1’s statement that “nothing is off-limits” for the “half-baked evening” refers to mushy cookies and not Snoop’s cannabis media startup, MerryJane.com. In the meantime, we're waiting to watch the show that Stewart promises will be "rizzle dizzle fo' shizzle" (if any Unfiltered readers out there know what that means, please tell us).
John Dyson, owner of Williams Selyem winery, is investing in the future of clean grapevine materials with a $500,000 gift to the department of plant pathology at the University of California at Davis. The cool half-million covers one-third of the $1.5 million campaign to create a new endowed chair position. The holder of this chair will serve as the director of Foundation Plant Services (FPS), a unit of the university’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences dedicated to the distribution of disease-tested, healthy plant materials. Dyson has worked with FPS since planting his first vineyards in 1982.
“This is an incredible investment in our program,” said FPS director Deborah Golino in a statement. “An endowed chair will ensure U.C. Davis will always be able to recruit a top scientist to lead FPS and continue to provide exceptional plant materials to the grape, rose, strawberry and other industries who rely on us.”