Culzean Castle is a picture-perfect fairytale edifice atop bluffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde, a 1792 masterpiece of neo-romantic architecture even gracing the Royal Bank of Scotland's 5-pound note until recently. But under the veneer of respectability—literally under—the occupants of the property, Scottish earls of Clan Kennedy, likely conducted less savory business in a series of caves beneath the castle. An archaeological dig last month revealed a previously hidden doorway to one of the two caves, as well as a trove of 18th-century wine-bottle fragments and other goodies, possibly obtained through the dubious channels of smugglers.
"The width of the newly discovered door suggests it is wide enough to roll barrels through," Derek Alexander, lead project researcher and head of archaeological services for the National Trust for Scotland, told Unfiltered via email. "And I imagine that wine (claret and Port) and spirits (brandy) were transported in these (both legally and smuggled?)." The Kennedys occupied the tony property on the Ayrshire coast (it's pronounced "cull-lane") and oversaw construction of the present-day castle by architect Robert Adam, but the current Lord Kennedy "freely admits" that his ancestors were frilled-collar criminals whose taste for the finer things was rivaled only by their distaste for paying taxes on them.
Evidence suggests the caves are where castle staff received, sorted and stored supplies and sundries from ships arriving on the beach, away from the prying eyes of the crown's revenue collectors. Once inside, "wine and spirits may then have been recanted into bottles," explained Alexander. "I imagine that more expensive items would have been transferred up to the castle quickly." The wine bottle shards found during excavations are "generally dark green glass from hand-made blown bottles," said Alexander, which means they predate the mid-19th century. "There is a range of shapes and sizes, but some appear to be quite stumpy mallet-shaped bottles with short necks, while others are taller and more cylindrical."
The discovery of the conveniently-barrel-width doorway fills in a picture of the caves' structure and function. The doorways could be locked and guarded, and a stone hearth in one cave may have been where the guards and watchmen cooked their own nosh while keeping sentry over their bosses' duty-free comestibles. But the caves attracted dwellers and lurkers long before even the castle and Kennedys came along, according to radiocarbon dating: Fish bones and shells indicate people were slinking around (and snacking) down there as early as the Iron Age, around 2,000 years ago.
The 20th anniversary celebration of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation on Saturday arrived with no shortage of fireworks: Jackson Park Ranch, the Sonoma home base of Jackson Family Wines was transformed into a series of garden-themed rooms to host a lengthy A-list of environmentally engaged entertainers who helped raise $11 million in grants for the foundation, which funds research and conservation projects in eco-spheres from wildlife protection to green energy.
Leo himself and cohost Laurene Powell Jobs, along with luminaries like Edward Norton, Tobey Maguire, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Dakota Johnson, Catherine Deneuve, Mark Burnett, Mark Ruffalo and Sophia Loren descended upon Santa Rosa for an evening of food, Jackson Family wines, art and speeches. Co-chair and Jackson Family second-generation proprietor Julia Jackson explained the partnership to Unfiltered via email: "I’m inspired by the work Leonardo and his foundation do to support global projects that protect the earth from climate change and environmental crisis"; she sought out DiCaprio after seeing his climate change documentary Before the Flood.
Guests snacked on greens, herbs, eggs and more from chef Kyle Connaughton's SingleThread Farms and the Kendall Jackson Estate in a "zero waste" reception (leftovers went to Sonoma Family Meal charity), and bid on art like Wayne Thiebaud's Mountain Split, gaveled off for $4 million alone, while sipping Stonestreet Estate Aurora Point Sauvignon Blanc, Gran Moraine rosé from Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, Cambria Estate Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, Hartford Family Winery Four Hearts Chardonnay, and, in the starring role, Vérité La Joie 2006.
Wine folks in attendance included JFW chairman and 2017 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner Barbara Banke, CEO (and sometime Undercover Boss Rick Tigner) and VP of sustainability and external affairs Katie Jackson, who told Unfiltered, “Our partnership with LDF is a natural fit and stems from mutual respect and our shared desire to protect the natural environment …. At Jackson Family Wines, our sustainability efforts are designed to make wine according to our values and long-term vision, and to look at how we can minimize our environmental footprint."
For all the glamour and gastronomy, Julia Jackson told us her highlights were the speeches, especially from legendary primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall and Amazon preservation activists Nemonte Nenquimo and Flor Tangoy. The night marked the LDF's total impact surpassing $100 million, but the Jackson partnership continues: They're now the foundation's exclusive wine sponsor and will be supporting a new "Art and Environment" series of events and exhibitions.
Champagne house G.H. Mumm pushed its experiments in zero-gravity Champagne even further this month, hosting VIP (g)astronauts Mumm “Chief Entertainment Officer” Usain Bolt and “Master of Celebrations” actress Minnie Dlamini on a zero-G airplane flight and tasting above the vineyards of Reims to inaugurate the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar, the space-ready bottle the house has designed.
Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist, naturally took the occasion to attempt a sprint sans gravity, as he already holds the land speed records for the 100 and 200 meters.
The Champagne house announced the Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar in June, after a three-year-long quest with design agency Spade to make zero-gravity wine a reality. The resulting unique bottle expels the Champagne, and special flutes collect the floating foamy spheres through the physics of capillary action. If such antics can be replicated beyond the stratosphere, Mumm may be on track to stock the minibars of the first wine hotel in space.
The North Bay, it turned out, was a real hotbed of wine and showbiz star power on Saturday. Over in Napa Valley, Staglin Family Vineyard was throwing a charity fête of its own this weekend. Some 500 guests flocked to the 24th annual Music Festival for Brain Health on Sept. 15, hosted at the Rutherford winery. With a performance by Grammy Award–winning musician Jennifer Hudson, tastings from more than 75 wineries across the country (including Napa's own Abreu, Harlan, Joseph Phelps, Mayacamas and Screaming Eagle, poured in the Staglin’s caves) and a goal of advancing toward cures for brain-related diseases, there was something for every kind of wine lover in this pairing of hedonism and philanthropy. To cap it off, chef Christopher Kostow of Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the Restaurant at Meadowood cooked up dinner.
“The Music Festival for Brain Health allows us to champion finding the causes of, and cures for, brain illness, which effects everyone in the wine industry and the world either directly or through family and friends,” owner Garen Staglin told Unfiltered. The event raised $6 million to benefit the mental health organization One Mind—contributing to the $380 million total raised by Staglin's festival since its 1995 inception. By all accounts, the festivities were pretty epic: “After a day beginning at noon, at 10 p.m. the ‘party’ was still going strong, with after-dinner dancing, cigars and specialty-crafted bourbon,” said Staglin. “Where else do you get to dance on the stage with Jennifer Hudson?”
The 15th annual “A Second Helping of Life” event in New York City brought together women chefs, actors, journalists and 750 attendees on Monday for a night of breast and ovarian cancer advocacy, organized by the national nonprofit organization SHARE. The night kicked off with a walk-around tasting featuring international cuisine—from lobster rolls to braised brisket tacos—washed down with myriad pours donated by more than 15 wineries, from Valdo Prosecco to Cesari Mara Valpolicella.
“It’s a high-energy event,” SHARE executive director Jackie Reinhard told Unfiltered. “It’s an incredible commitment that these individuals make, and we’re just grateful for that.” Bites were contributed by participating Big Apple chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy and Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread. The latter portion of the night was dedicated to the event’s honorees, including 48 members of the Empire Dragons—a dragon boat–racing team of breast-cancer survivors. A live auction topped off the festivities, where guests claimed lots like a trip to Paris, contributing to the total of about $500,000 that the event raised. “There’s such a sense of pride,” executive chef of the event Barbara Sibley told Unfiltered. “It’s been a commitment that has really shown to have such a positive impact on so many women.”
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