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Basketball coach turns vintner, Champagne stolen from Wimbledon and Dolce takes on Dolce

Posted: July 5, 2006

• Basketball coach Gregg Popovich will soon have some of his own wine to stash in his wine cellar, which occupies a separate building at his San Antonio, Tex., home. The head coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs has signed on as a partner in Oregon's A to Z Wineworks, which specializes in Pinot Noir priced under $20. Bill Hatcher, one of the principals in A to Z, was managing Domaine Drouhin when he met Popovich in 1998, and they became friends. "He later mused that he would like to do a winery project together," Hatcher recalls. It took a while, but now Popovich can call himself a vintner. As part of the deal, the winery will bottle a limited-release 2004 Pinot Noir called Rock & Hammer, exclusively for him. (See Harvey Steiman's new blog post for more.) "Pop," as his players call him, plans to share the 50 cases with his friends in the basketball world and donate some to charity auctions.

Like American tennis players, the Champagne seems to have gone missing from Wimbledon.
• Usually all the action happens on the court at Wimbledon. But this year's tennis tournament, held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, was the site of a crime most foul: the theft of Champagne. According to the BBC, an estimated 300 cases of Lanson Champagne, valued at nearly 90,000 pounds ($165,000), was lifted last Friday by a group of men posing as delivery guys. After their van passed through security without problems (maybe all eyes were on the courts), they loaded up the cargo and took off. It was only after the real delivery van arrived for the Champagne that the heist came to light. Lanson, which makes the official Champagne of Wimbledon 2006, confirmed that a great deal of their special bottling was nicked, but spokespeople for the Champagne house declined to tell Unfiltered more. London's Metropolitan police have ordered them not to make comments to the press, at least until investigators find out who was behind the racket. The tournament is continuing as planned, despite the tragedy.

• New Jersey vintner Tom Sharko, whose small Alba farm and winery won a double gold for its Delaware Dolce dessert wine at the San Francisco International Wine Competition last year, might have been better off without the honor that brought attention to his little-known wine. When Dirk Hampson, director of winemaking for Far Niente and Dolce wineries in Napa Valley, learned that someone else was marketing a Dolce, he urged Sharko to cease and desist, informing him that the name was proprietary. Not that there was much danger of a mix-up. Dolce, one of California's best dessert wines, is a botrytized blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc that retails for about $80 and often receives outstanding and classic scores from Wine Spectator. The New Jersey wine is made from Delaware, a native American variety, and is priced at $20. Alba only makes about 200 cases a year of it. Disputes over brand names often head to the courts, but Hampson was easygoing. He asked the New Jersey vintner how many labels he had in stock. The answer: about 3,800. So Hampson told Sharko that he was free to market Delaware Dolce until his labels are exhausted, thus giving Alba a reprieve into 2007. (How sweet.) There's no word yet on a new name. Maybe Sharko can hold a name-that-wine contest, just like Montana's Rattlesnake Creek Vineyard did under similar circumstances.

• When Jacques Chirac became president of France in 1995, it turns out he left a lot behind from his nearly two-decade run as mayor of Paris: a wine auction lot. According to the Daily Telegraph and other press reports, Chirac's former Paris government still has more than $600,000 worth of fine wine stored in the cellars of the Hôtel de Ville. Auditors employed by the current, and less thirsty, mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, have ruled that the wines are at risk of flood damage, should the Seine overflow, so the city will auction off the 5,000 or so bottles this fall. On the block will be several first-growth Bordeaux, most notably bottles of 1990 Château Pétrus, as well as nearly 200 bottles of 1976 Krug Brut Champagne. Several vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are also reported to be on offer. Chirac, a well-known bon vivant, is reported to have spent nearly $3 million of taxpayer money on wines during his last seven years as mayor. Delanoë, on the other hand, is said to have slashed the drinks budget by more than 65 percent and has no use or want for Chirac's collection.

• Hurricane season is already upon us, but Vineyard 29, in Napa, has done its part to make sure that the recovery from the last one can continue. The winery usually sells Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel bottlings that cost between $60 and $125, but in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, the winery released a Petite Sirah called Hurricane Cuvée for just $25, with 100 percent of the sales going to charity. After selling about 420 cases since the December 2005 release, Vineyard 29 owners Chuck and Anne McMinn were able to present a check for $125,000 to the AmeriCares Hurricane Relief Fund. "We wanted to do our part to offer financial assistance with a substantial contribution and, at the same time, involve all our customers in the relief efforts," said Chuck McMinn in a release. Five hundred cases of Hurricane Cuvée--which bears an image of a rainbow in a stormy sky--were produced, so there's still some wine to be sold and money to be raised. Vineyard 29 should be proud of its effort to help restore the Gulf Coast to its glory days, as well as for reminding us of a time when Napa wine sold for a reasonable price.

• A British Member of Parliament has come up with a novel way of draining the European Union's wine lake--give it away to the elderly. Ian Davidson, the Labor Party MP in Glasgow, filed a motion this week asking Brussels to supply one case of wine, free of charge, to every single retiree in Scotland, to help reduce the 765 million gallons of wine the EU is keeping in storage. Davidson, who doesn't even drink wine, said the move is a political answer to the EU's wine subsidy policy. He even believes that German, French, Italian and Spanish vintners purposefully make more wine than they can sell, just to get higher subsidies--cash that comes, in part, from Glasgow's elderly. "It's a case of the urban poor overpaying the rural rich," Davidson added, "so the least they can do is give us the wine." If the deal gets approved, Davidson said he expects he will become much more popular among his constituents. But hey, if it doesn't, the Labor Party could always try giving away its own massive collection of wine.

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