It began as a festive display to delight all assembled: Huge LED formations of fanciful wine bottles and Champagne flutes lighting up the sky in a drone show over Victoria Harbor at last week's Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival. But the show, and 46 drones, came to an abrupt end when said drones unexpectedly made a plummet-out-of-the-sky formation into the water. Authorities are now investigating what went wrong.
The 100-machine show, which commemorated the 10th anniversary of the four-day wine and food event, went off without a hitch the first two nights. It's still not certain exactly what caused the drones to fritz during their third act, though local publications are blaming GPS interference, with some speculating that the signal was intentionally jammed. According to the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which organized the festival, estimated the calamity caused at least HK$1 million (about $127,500) in damage. (So far no one had suggested that the wine robots, silently chafing under their human masters and forced into menial vineyard labor, wine bar servitude and, now, humiliating aerial dances, were finally revolting, until we just did.)
However, at least some of the festival's estimated 140,000 attendees were too preoccupied with the main draws of the attraction—wine-pairing meals created by top chefs, tasting classes led by industry experts, and 450 booths showcasing wines, beers, snacks and more by vendors from all over the world—to even notice that something had gone awry in the sky.
“Actually, we didn’t know the show was going on," Hongkonger Eva Ng, a regular festival attendee, said to the Post. "But we really like to join the wine-tasting classes."
Benjamin Hessel, winemaker at Château des Annereaux in the small Bordeaux appellation Lalande-de-Pomerol, lost almost all his crop to frost in January. Every year, it seemed to him—hail, frost, erratic weather! So he did as any frustrated citizen might: Write his representative, French President Emmanuel Macron. Hessel emailed that climate change conditions were hurting his vineyard's production—hurting his business—though "[the letter] was more like how you write a book, as a therapy," Hessel told Unfiltered. He didn't expect a response.
When Hessel heard back from Virginie Routis, Macron's head sommelier at Élysée Palace, exactly one week later, the response was even more than he had hoped for. "She wrote, that after my letter to the President Macron, she would be glad to receive me at Élysée and taste the Château des Annereaux," Hessel said. "I was really surprised—first to get an answer, then a personal answer from the sommelier, then to be invited at Élysée to taste my wine."
In addition to Routis calling the wines "excellent," as Hessel recalled, the 30-minute meeting ended with her ordering cases of Annereaux's 2012s and 2015s. "All the work and the effort we make to produce the best wine was judged by the most important sommelier of France," Hessel said. "[It felt like] a sort of knighting of our wine by the president." While Macron has made great strides in blind tasting and decreed wine o'clock for lunch and dinner, it remains to be seen how much he can influence the fickle depredations of the angry weather gods.
Being Unfiltered means learning surprising tidbits about the pop cultures of the world's major wine producing countries, so here's something about the French: They love, love, love comic books, almost as much as bicycles, selfies and vandalism. Naturellement, the intersection of BD ("graphic novels") and vin was inevitable (there is now, in fact, an annual BD & Vin festival at Bordeaux's Château Lacouture).
The latest addition to the canon is particularly ambitious: L’Incroyable Histoire du Vin, published last week, is a 232-pager from author Benoist Simmat and illustrator Daniel Casanave that travels 10,000 years of wine from Noé (Noah) to Chine (China). "What we wanted to show is that the story of wine is a story of world conquest," explained Simmat to Unfiltered via email. "What seems surprising to [our French readers] is that this story is not a 'French' story, but a global conquest, that concerns all continents and civilizations."
From L’Incroyable Histoire du Vin, by Benoist Simmat and Daniel Casanave. Simmat and Casanave, "L'Incroyable Histoire du Vin," ©Les Arènes BD
Indeed, our intrepid guide through the book is a friendly orange-bearded, flannel-clad time-traveling bon vivant who walks the vines from Stone Age Mesopotamia through ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, through medieval France and Spain, and into California, Australia, South Africa and China. All our favorite wine superheroes are there, Avengers-style: Dom Ruinart, the duke who banned Gamay from Burgundy, the popes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Thomas Jefferson, mononymous novelist and wine aficionada Colette, André Tchelistcheff, Prof. Patrick McGovern, a gender-non-specific phylloxera and many more.
Simmat, who's also a journalist with La Revue du Vin de France, said the book has already been picked up for translation into Spanish, and he hopes to see an English version soon. "I had written this story for the global public."
Once upon a time, if you were riding the rails to destination unknown with nothing but knapsack on your shoulder and a song in your heart, your trusty companion in said knapsack was bottle of Thunderbird, the flavored, fortified, wine-adjacent drink from the original E. and the original J. Gallo. "What's the word? Thunderbird. How's it sold? Good and cold," went the jingle in ads for a product that, really, sold itself.
And now, like some sort of mythical bird that dies and is reborn from the ashes, Thunderbird is back! Gallo's new 'bird is neither flavored nor fortified nor 60 cents (as the jingle had it), but its packaging preserves the retro font and the mighty winged logo: "We have always felt there was something powerful about the Thunderbird logo," Leon Susen, senior director of marketing for E. & J. Gallo Winery, told Unfiltered via email. "It is bold, disruptive and hardworking." The new T-Bird comes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and red blend, with a Zin on the way, and Gallo began the rollout in the Midwest's great M cities (Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis), sponsoring performances of local musicians like Greatest Lakes, Luxi, Lost Lakes, Guerilla Ghost and General B & The Wiz. Next up, Gallo is casting around for more musical partners and markets for expansion. And a final tip for anyone in the market for either a piece of collectible Americana or one last citrus hangover: "We are discontinuing the old Thunderbird," Susen confirmed.
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