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  • Wine Talk: Reggae-Rock Band Pepper (Wine Spectator)
    by Lexi Williams on December 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Since forming in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in 1997, Pepper has become one of the most popular reggae-rock bands on the scene. Members Kaleo Wassman, Bret Bollinger and Yesod Williams have been traveling the world for more than two decades, releasing seven studio albums along the way, and performing everywhere from sold-out amphitheaters to surfing competitions to low-key, hyperlocal festivals. And while plastic cups filled with beer usually litter the place at these joints, on the Pepper tour bus, wine has long been the drink of choice. In the fall of 2017, Thomas Booth, a winemaker and the owner of Wine Boss wine bar in Paso Robles (and a longtime Pepper fan), approached the band with an idea to make a wine using the cover art of Pepper's most popular album, Kona Town. It didn't take much for the trio to embrace the wine business: Less than a year after the band's initial conversation with Booth, Pepper Kona Town wine is a fixture onstage at every show—and with the creation of their second and third releases, the band have become regulars at the Paso winery as well. Following the success of the original 75-case run of the Kona Town Red Blend 2016, the band has just released a 2017 Red Blend "2"; now more tuned in to the winemaking process, they sourced only organically grown grapes from the Clarksburg area (the wine is Certified Green by Lodi Rules), decided to limit oak influence to neutral barrels, and put out a blend of 60 percent Petit Verdot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. A 2017 California rosé is also available, and the wines now ship to 35 states, though the brand continues to gain fans locally—and converts among fellow reggae-rockers. "What we're doing with Pepper wine is a grassroots type of movement," Booth told Wine Spectator.Wine Spectator assistant editor Lexi Williams spent time with the trio during a recent concert in Coney Island, Brooklyn, to talk about the band's humble wine roots, first "oh yeah!" wines and grand plans for wine to conquer the alt-rock scene. Pepper at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn; photos by Cheyne Dean/Voyage in Veil PhotographyWine Spectator: How did wine come to be a staple on your tour bus?Bret Bollinger, 38, bassist-vocalist: Oh man. We got into wine a long time ago. There's obviously great cuisine in Hawaii, and we kind of cut our teeth just [working in restaurants]. The tourists would come in and try all these different wines. We learned a lot about wine and wine pairing. We all kind of fell in love. Yesod Williams, 38, drummer: I worked at Roy's [the flagship location of chef Roy Yamaguchi's Hawaiian-fusion restaurant chain] for years on the Big Island. We all know what we're talking about when it comes to wine and what good wine is.Kaleo Wassman, 40, guitarist-vocalist: It was like the most important luxury that Pepper could always kind of afford, because no matter what, there's always a price range that it would fall into.Wine Spectator: What are your personal wine tastes like?YW: We started out with reds, but as time has gone on [we got more into whites]. My favorite white wine is Ramey Chardonnay. That shit is like—it almost coats the whole inside of your mouth. I found out about Ramey in '96, when I was working at Roy's. It was the $150 bottle of white. Someone would order Ramey, and you'd be like, "Oh yeah!" KW: My go-to is actually Chile. Chilean Cabernets are one of my all-time favorites. Also, I was in Portugal for about three weeks … [for] a little surf trip. It was the first time that I'd ever had a Vinho Verde. It was the most incredible, effervescent white wine that I've ever had. It was so delicious with all the seafood that they served. BB: I like Old World wines. It could be because I spend so much time in Europe—I've lived in Spain part-time for about the last five years, and I have a home that's almost done there in Madrid. I like [wines] to have a lot of personality. I love Bordeauxs. I love Riojas. I like a Chianti. I'm getting into Malbec a lot too. Wine Spectator: People might not necessarily associate your kind of music and lifestyle with wine. What would you say about that?KW: The one thing about that is that I'm really interested in wine. I've always been a firm believer in making sure that you fill your own cup before you try to fill anyone else's. What we've done here with Thomas [Booth] is kind of really special. It seems like every single one of our peer [bands] have launched a beer—311, Rebelution, Sublime, Dirty Heads. We're kind of like the only band in our genre that is spearheading wine. BB: It doesn't seem like it would go, but it absolutely does. I think it can enrich and invigorate certain types of music. Do I want to go see Slayer and drink wine? Maybe not right off the top. But do I want to see Maynard [James Keenan] and Tool or Perfect Circle? I do! Especially because he's so invested in wine culture and his journey with that.YW: Some people think like, "Oh, band guys are going to make a wine." And then they're like, "Holy shit, this is actually good." And then they're like, "Wait, I didn't mean it like that!"Wine Spectator: What's the next step for Pepper wine?BB: We're excited to have quality wine. We took the time with [Booth] up there in Paso Robles to enjoy it and, you know, take it nice and slow. We're not just unleashing a bunch of wines on people. We're tasting and tasting and tasting until our teeth are red.KW: We want to make it accessible. If you are able to help a novice and get them willing to try it, that's fantastic. For people to just enjoy, and then think, is what I want. Sometimes I listen to a song and I just enjoy it. I don't think about it. I'm not even listening to the words, I'm not trying to figure out what key it's in or what the tempo is or who's it by. I'd say our three-year plan is to make sure that our wine is at every festival that includes this genre. I'm talking a huge presence, like our own parties and after-parties. And just make it fun, make it a lifestyle, because that's what it is. The ambition runs pretty rapid, so now it's like, what's next? [In five years], a destination concert festival for our wine with bands in our genre, maybe that is in multiple places. The Warped Tour just got done, maybe we'll take over. The Wine Tour! […]

  • Unfiltered: Scott Pruett Designs Custom Lexus Wine Car; Bugatti Gets a Carbon-Fiber Champagne (Wine Spectator)
    on December 11, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    You're at the dealership ready to sign a lease on a brand-new Lexus. The 302-horsepower V6, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive variable suspension and Apple CarPlayTM come standard, but as a discerning wine lover on the go, might you be interested in some upgrades? Onboard temperature-controlled wine fridge? Iceless bottle chiller? Insulated four-glass case? All of that set in a tasteful oak frame with repurposed wine-barrel accents in the trunk, plus wine-cork floormats and festive stemware-and-utensils headrest trim, wrapped in a zippy Tempranillo paintjob? Welcome to the Lexus ES 350 F Sport "Culinary Build," powered by champion pro race-car driver–turned–Syrah star Scott Pruett. If that sounds like your dream car, the bad news is it probably is, in that you'll never own one. It's a concept car that's been making the rounds from auto shows to the Napa Valley Film Festival to upcoming food-and-wine fests like Pebble Beach and Aspen, and Lexus gave Unfiltered a definitive-sounding answer to our obvious question: "None of the features are expected to be available in a production car."Photos courtesy of LexusPruett has raced in all sorts of 4-wheeled contraptions, from karts to Indy cars to NASCAR to Grand-Am, and he's partnered with Lexus behind the wheel, in front of the camera and in the design studio since the early 2000s; he's also been making some of the top-finishing Syrahs and Cabernets in the Sierra Foothills since putting down roots in 2006. When Lexus needed to figure out what kinds of features a winemobile should have, they knew who should copilot the project. "So, obviously not wanting to have anything alcohol-based in the cockpit area," Pruett told Unfiltered of the design process. "Doing something in the trunk, and then talking through, 'How would it work, how would you use this as a consumer, going out on a beautiful day to a picnic, something romantic or special?'" Pruett provided some bottles—and even staves and heads from some old barrels to furnish the trunk. Concept cars can get pretty fanciful and the ideas, like most of the cars themselves, don't always fly. But "people are digging it," Pruett said of the vinous ES. Lexus said there would be no commercially produced car with all the wine mods. But … maybe there should be, Scott Pruett? "Lexus just did this as a one-off. But with that being said, I think there's some elements—especially the wine fridge and stuff in the trunk—it's really cool!" he laughed. "I'm going to have to see if I can get one for myself!" Champagne Carbon Mods Bottle into Race Car, Fuels the New Bugatti DivoWhile Lexus was imagining the car-as–wine bar, Champagne Carbon in Reims has been designing its bottles like race cars. Each is clad in three layers of carbon fiber in a packaging process done by hand that takes a week to finish, head export manager Jean-Baptiste Prevost told Unfiltered. The inspiration is Formula 1 cars—also made of carbon fiber, as the polymer is considerably lighter than steel. Somewhat surprisingly, given the crowded podium of driver-winemakers out there, F1 was without a Champagne sponsor for a few years until 2017, when the relatively new winery shifted into the position. (Carbon CEO Alexandre Mea was an amateur karting jockey, Prevost explained.) Photos courtesy of Bugatti and Champagne CarbonAfter clinching the partnership with the world's fastest car sport, Carbon announced last month it would also be riding along with the manufacturer of the world's fastest sports car (or one of them, anyway): Bugatti. "Bugatti was looking for partners who have the same vision … in terms of design and quality and craftsmanship—and French!" Prevost explained. The house unveiled a special cuvée for Bugatti's 110th anniversary victory lap. Called EB01, it's a 2002 vintage Chardonnay-dominated wine from grands and premiers crus. While Prevost and his team have created a special blend and bottle, and mind-melded with their Bugatti counterparts on events planning and sales synergy (the U.S. market is Carbon's next race), Prevost noted that a recent work trip also involved strapping into a brand-new Bugatti Divo, a perfectly street-legal automobile that happens to have a 1,479-horsepower, 16-cylinder quad-turbocharged engine, goes 236 miles per hour, 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds and costs $5.8 million. Which is a very impressive feat of engineering. We humbly submit if they can do that, we should also be able to get the wine fridge in the trunk thing. Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more. […]

  • Malibu Wine Region Wildfire Survivors Brace for Mudslides (Wine Spectator)
    by Lynn Alley on December 7, 2018 at 11:00 pm

    First came fire, then rain. As if recent devastating wildfires hadn’t caused enough suffering for the beleaguered Malibu Coast wine region, an unexpected severe storm dumped an estimated 2 inches of rain on Southern California yesterday. Mud and debris flowed down from the fire-scorched Malibu hills onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) during the morning commute, forcing officials to close the road until late afternoon. (The storm also dumped several inches of snow on a stretch of Interstate 5, California’s main north-south thoroughfare, that passes through the Santa Monica Mountains, forcing its closure too).An already massive and complicated cleanup of the hills between Highway 101 and the Malibu coast that was devastated by the Woolsey fire is now even more complicated. Not only are vintners and growers in the appellation dealing with the loss of homes, vineyards and habitat due to fire, but now they’ve got to think about rain, flooding and mudslides as California’s rainy season begins. (Fires increase the risk of mudslides by stripping the hills of vegetation that holds the soil in place.)The Malibu Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA), established in 2014, encompasses some 50 vineyards totaling approximately 200 acres spread out over 44,598 acres. None of the producers have winemaking facilities on site, due to local restrictions. Wines from Malibu grapes are generally produced in facilities in the Central Coast area. They are all small-production wines, sold mostly to high-end local restaurants in L.A. and consumers in the local tasting rooms or wine clubs.The recent Woolsey fire devastated the area and hit many of the vineyards and wineries hard. Although the extent of damages and losses may not be fully known for many months, some vintners have lost everything: homes, vineyards and tasting rooms.Dakota Semler, owner of Semler Malibu Estates and Saddlerock Vineyards, lost his house and vineyards and narrowly managed to save the exotic animals that were a part of Malibu Wine Safaris, his company that runs open-air vehicle “safaris” through his hillside vineyards.Others' homes were spared, but still face damaged vineyards. Howard Leight, owner of Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards, said, “Our vineyards and estate were originally planted for erosion and fire control, so I took everything and threw it into the house, which was like a fortress—covered French limestone. The vines actually took the brunt of the hit.” In the days following the fires, locals and celebrities, many of whom had lost their own homes, banded together to form the Malibu Foundation to aid those who needed help the most. Gathering at the home of actor Gerard Butler and partner Morgan Brown, the celebs managed to raise $2 million to aid victims of the fire. Jamie Foxx, Sean Penn, Cindy Crawford, Rande Gerber, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver and Robin Thicke, along with Butler and Brown, were among those on hand. Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth (who lost their home in the fire) donated $500,000 to the cause. The Malibu Foundation’s website continues to accept donations for victims.What’s next for Malibu’s vintners and growers? There will be a need for vine cuttings to replace damaged or destroyed vines. And more immediately, growers will need to prepare for the effects of rain. “There will be a very high potential for debris flow for the next three or four years,” said Chris Stone, assistant deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “But we can identify where they will likely go. That helps us to plan, evacuate and be prepared.”With the rains falling hard today, rebuilding will have to wait for now. […]

  • 8 Gifts for Every Kind of Wine Lover (Wine Spectator)
    by Brianne Garrett on December 7, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Searching for the perfect holiday gift for the wine lover in your life? We’ve got ideas for everything from stocking stuffers (you can never have too many corkscrews!) to gifts for gadget geeks and professional-grade wine region maps for the true student of wine. Pulltap’s Corkscrew$7, iwawine.com The classic waiter’s key is a marvel of simple, efficient design, and these double-hinged versions are Wine Spectator tasting department–approved. They’re also simple to tuck into a pocket (or a stocking), come in pretty much every color of the rainbow, can be personalized, and cost a measly 7 bucks—that’s buy-by-the-case value! Courtesy of Artificer Wood Works Artificer Wood Works Wine BoxesStarting at $35, artificerwoodworks.comThere’s a reason that so many of the world’s most sought-after trophy wines come in fancy wood boxes emblazoned with the winery’s logo—it adds an element of luxury that makes the moment you open it feel that much more special. If you’re giving a bottle of wine to a friend or loved one this holiday season, you can add that same level of sophistication with a personalized wood box from Artificer Wood Works. The boxes are made from aspen and Baltic birch, come in a range of sizes and finishes and can be customized in limitless ways. Artificer also plants one tree for every product sold through a partnership with Trees for the Future, a non-profit working to end hunger and poverty among farmers on degraded lands around the world.Of course, you might be reading this at the last minute, in which case you'll want to check out our video for tips on how to personalize a gift bottle with all kinds of fancy gift-wrapping ideas …[videoPlayerTag videoId="5852516410001"] Courtesy of Wine by Your Side Wine by Your Side Ice Bucket$110, enjoywinebyyourside.comThis innovative ice bucket saves valuable space by easily but securely affixing to a table or counter via a steel extension with rubber-sleeved ends that both grip and protect your surfaces. The stainless-steel bucket is double-walled to both prevent sweating and keep ice from prematurely melting. Just add wine! Courtesy of WineGame DIY Blind Tastings with the WineGame AppFree download, winegame.comSpeaking of entertaining, any wine lover with a smartphone will appreciate the WineGame app from chef José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup, available on iOS and GooglePlay. All your party needs is four bottles of wine and a way to conceal them for the blind-tasting element. (Kraft wrap, perhaps?) Just make sure no one peeks! Here's how it works: The designated host enters the information about the wines into the app to begin a new game. They can then invite others with the app (did we mention it's free?) to join. Each player samples the wines blind, and the app generates questions about the wines' grapes, regions and vintages. Clues and second guesses are welcome, but the attainable points diminish with each incorrect answer. Technically the person with the most points wins, but we all know that no one loses when it comes to wine tasting. Courtesy of Savino Savino Connoisseur Wine-Saving Carafe$50, savinowine.comIn a perfect world, we would open and enjoy our wine all in the same day, but there's often some leftover after cooking or having a glass after work. This wine-preserving glass carafe keeps wine fresher than leaving it in the bottle with the cork, for up to a week. Just pour your leftover wine into the Savino carafe, then insert the provided float that protects the wine from oxygen. When you're ready to have another glass, you can easily pour from the carafe—no need to remove the float. Once you've finished off the wine, just run Savino through the dishwasher and it's ready to save more wine and money! Courtesy of Rabbit Rabbit LED Bottle Stoppers$16, rabbitwine.comWhile wine is naturally one of the highlights of any outdoor party or occasion, now it can literally light up the celebration with these L.E.D. bottle stoppers. This set of 2 batteries-included stoppers is good for 96 hours of festive bottle-topping nightlighting. They make for a great stocking stuffer! Courtesy of De Long De Long Wine Region MapsStarting at $20, delongwine.comFor the wine lover who loves to learn about where their wine came from, these De Long wine region maps are the perfect addition to a home, cellar or office. The maps, which can also be purchased handsomely framed, are available for a dozen wine regions, from California to France to New Zealand and beyond, and include index booklets for more context. Now you can learn as you sip! Courtesy of Zingerman's Zingerman's Oil & Vinegar Odyssey Gift Box$45, zingermans.comOil and vinegar are great staples for any kitchen, but the kitchen of a wine lover would especially benefit from a gift box filled with Spanish red wine vinegar that's been barrel aged for four years. Combine it with the extra-virgin olive oil for a vinaigrette that's something to celebrate any time of year. […]

  • Unfiltered: Silver Oak at Golden State: Winery Unveils Throwback Warriors Logo Bottles, Becomes In-Arena Pour (Wine Spectator)
    on December 6, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    The Bay Area is joining the NBA's wine league with a splash. The Golden State Warriors are partnering with Silver Oak, and the Napa and Sonoma Cabernet house announced it will be providing the team's official in-seat pours at Oracle Arena and releasing an etched set of five Warriors-themed Cabernet bottles. Courtesy of Silver Oak The starting lineup suits up. Platinum–ranked Silver Oak first came to Golden State in 2015 through All-Star Draymond Green. The power forward and Michigan State alum made a wager against LeBron James over a college football game: Green's alma mater versus James' home team Ohio State. Because James is the dean of NBA enophiles who drains Cabernet like he does three-pointers (enthusiastically but in moderation), he set the terms at two cases of wine. The Spartans won, and Green found 2 cases of Silver Oak Napa Cabernet in the mail. "The [bet] really kicked this off. We saw this incredible energy and very authentic interest, and a lot of new customers discovering us through that initial introduction," explained Silver Oak director of marketing Ian Leggat to Unfiltered. Soon after, Silver Oak partnered with the San Francisco Giants and discovered sports and wine fandom made for a natural pairing, with "people being kind of ritualistic in their sports routines, where they have certain traditions in terms of what they want to eat and drink." After the introduction at Oracle, the plan is for Silver Oak to follow the Warriors to the new Chase Center, where the Warriors will relocate next season. Warriors chief revenue officer Brandon Schneider told Unfiltered via email that his team is "looking forward to collaborating together on content and experiences we think our fans will enjoy, in addition to some great co-branded wine we know our fans will love."The first such wines are a collector set for superfans of the Silver and Golden, a 5-bottle pack of 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernets, each etched with the Warriors' five historical logos over the past half-century, to open "for five winning Warrior moments"—individual player records, going to the playoffs, winning the championship, winning the championship again ….'Three Days of Glory' Film Follows Five Months of Misery in Burgundy's Brutal 2016 VintageWhen frost smashed Burgundy vineyards on April 27, 2016, ultimately causing some winemakers to lose more than 80 percent of their crop, director and producer Scott Wright and his crew were in the middle of shooting a documentary—about the struggles of grapegrowing. "The idea was to show the stories of these small family winegrowers and the difficulties they were facing after all these difficult vintages [since 2009]," Wright told Unfiltered. "Then suddenly on top of this comes this crushing 2016 vintage. It just amplified the story we had already intended to tell, and it created a lot more drama then we had anticipated." The resulting film, codirected by Wright (himself an Oregon winemaker) and American Wine Story director David Baker is Three Days of Glory, which debuted last month for American audiences on streaming platforms like iTunes and Amazon.The severity of the 2016 vintage and the tiny crop it yielded might have caught the filmmakers by surprise, but the goal of telling the story of the small family wineries, remained intact and became perhaps even more urgent. "People probably think these winemakers are rich, and they have this very sexy, glamorous life, and that's not necessarily the case," Wright said. "They live wonderful lives, but at the end of the day, these are farmers out working in the dirt with their own hands." Still, even in the face of 2016's grind, vintners, merchants, chefs, critics and connoisseurs of Burgundy gathered to bid the harvest adieu with an epic annual fête—the titular Les Trois Glorieuses. Three Days of Glory Château des Rontets on a "Burgundy tropical" day After the headaches of 2016 subsided and filming wrapped, good news was on the horizon, with auspicious seasons for many in 2017 and 2018, Wright added. The vignerons "now have the ability to start digging themselves out of the hole that they were in." Take Note: 'Fantastic Beasts' Star Ezra Miller's Champagne PenEzra Miller is certainly not the first celebrity to accessorize with wine, but his intellectual-chic ensemble at a recent Dior fashion show in Tokyo made a splash nonetheless. Twitter / @bestofezra The vibes of Grindelwald Stepping in front of the paparazzi, Miller—known for his roles in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series and as the Flash in DC Comics' superhero movie universe, among others—took on a studious persona on the red carpet, wielding a clipboard and taking notes with Unfiltered's new favorite writing tool: a handsome silver pen that doubles as a stem for the flute of sparkling wine that rested atop it. No word on what the bubbly was, or who made the fantastic contraption that contained it, but there is one thing that those who follow the happenings in wine-style might speculate about this fashion choice: Rihanna would approve.Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more. […]

  • Restaurant Spotlight: La Grotta (Wine Spectator)
    on December 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    In South Korea’s Konjiam Resort, La Grotta delivers a wine-centric experience inspired by vineyard dining. Named for the Italian term for “the cave,” La Grotta is located in an actual wine cave, carved into the side of a mountain to create natural temperature control. The space protects an inventory of 30,000 bottles supplying the 800-selection, Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning wine list. Overseen by wine director Hyo Keun Lee, the program is strongest in Bordeaux, with numerous vintages from the region’s top producers such as Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Latour.There are also exceptional labels from Italy, California and Burgundy. Selections are presented on an iPad for regularly updated inventory and vintage information, and to make the list easier to read in the dimly lit atmosphere. Elements like the soft lighting, arched ceilings and warm color palette are meant to evoke the feeling of dining in a Napa Valley winery. Yet the cuisine is distinct, blending Italian tradition with seasonal ingredients and Korean flair. Chef Jong Hun Ahn’s menu consists of signature entrées and pastas like spaghetti in an olive oil sauce with mackerel and basil. Except during a few months in winter, the herbs and vegetables are sourced from the on-site organic garden. […]

  • 2018 Wine Harvest Report: Sonoma Sings of an Ideal Year (Wine Spectator)
    by MaryAnn Worobiec, Kim Marcus on December 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    After the stress of 2017, Sonoma winemakers hoped for a more relaxed harvest this year, and Mother Nature gave it to them. Last year brought scorching temperatures that triggered picking on Labor Day weekend. And that was before the wine-country wildfires began. But 2018 brought moderate temperatures and a long growing season, leading to relaxed picking and promising wines.Welcome to Wine Spectator's 2018 Wine Harvest Report, our coverage of Northern Hemisphere wine regions. (Our Southern Hemisphere 2018 harvest reports were published earlier this year.) While we won't know how good a vintage is until we taste the finished wines, these reports offer firsthand accounts from top winemakers in leading regions.A cool startDespite a warm February, the 2018 growing season started off cooler than the past few vintages. Stonestreet winemaker Lisa Valtenbergs reported a two-week cold snap in Alexander Valley, with frost fans blowing for two weeks straight. "We even witnessed some snow in our higher elevation vineyards," she said.A cool spring meant bloom lasted longer than usual, but fruit set was consistent. "There were a couple small weather events during set, but most Russian River and Sonoma Coast sites were not affected, and fruit set was very good in almost every vineyard site," said winemaker Jeff Stewart of Hartford wines.Summer temperatures were moderate with fewer heat spikes than in recent years. Veraison started later as well. "A cooling [period] in late July put the brakes on and meant that we avoided the late summer heat spikes that drove an early and compressed harvest in the two previous vintages," said La Crema winemaker Craig McAllister.Pick when readyAs a result, harvest started two to three weeks later than in recent years, but some winemakers said it was historically more typical. "Harvest stared 'later' but really back to 'normal' compared to the previous four years," said Valtenbergs. "It was the first Labor Day holiday our team enjoyed in the past six years or so.""The 2018 vintage required patience from growers and vintners alike, given that the development and flavor maturation took extra time," said Nicole Hitchcock of J Vineyards & Winery. "Wet weather in early October was followed by dry spells and moderate heat, rewarding those patient enough to sit tight."For Paul Hobbs, 2018 was "the most benign growing season in over 40 years," he said. It started with near-perfect fruit set in the spring, which led to large grape clusters that translated into a large potential crop, leading him to reduce the fruit ripening on the vine to enhance quality. "I was forced to convert several per-ton to per-acre contracts mid-growing season to coerce growers to perform the intensive thinning work needed—up to four full thinning passes," said Hobbs, adding that two passes is typical. "This long growing season, largely a function of fine weather—a full two weeks longer than average—is always a highly desirable thing. We are already seeing the benefits in the cellar with fully mature, sweet tannins, outstanding color and brightness, depth of fruit, naturally beautifully balanced wines." He called 2018 an exceptional vintage. Courtesy Stonestreet A worker brings fresh-picked Chardonnay down from the Red Point vineyard.Potential for greatnessVintner David Ramey, based in Healdsburg, concurred with Hobbs' characterization of the harvest as one of the smoothest on record. "Honestly, [it was] the easiest harvest ever," he said. "Never had to force a picking decision to stay ahead of rain or a hot spell—just beautiful, from start to finish.""[2018] has a lot of potential for greatness," said Jason Kesner, the winemaker at Kistler Vineyards in Sebastopol. "I was very pleased with all of the fruit and the resultant juices. In general, the weather being as mild as it was allowed for a relatively relaxed pace of things and excellent development of flavors and retention of great natural acidity across the wines. In most instances, we were waiting almost solely on pH [a marker of acidity] to shift to make our picking call. That applies to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir."Yields varied, depending on site, variety and clone, but overall appeared to be average or slightly higher. "Across the board, Pinot Noir yields tended to be up, with crops reminiscent in size of 2012 and 2013," said McAllister. He reported that Chardonnay yields were also higher, but varied more based on site and clones.Winemakers report that the long growing season means that wines are showing structure and concentration without being overripe. "The Chardonnays really stand out to me," said Valtenbergs. "Harvesting with cool mornings compared to the heat waves of 2017 was a pleasure and far less stressful. The quality of the clusters, the juice and the natural acidity are going to produce some stunning wines.""At this point the 2018s seem to have good backbone, acidity and balance," said Stewart. "Chardonnay in the Russian River has good fruit intensity, with Chardonnay on the Sonoma Coast having more acid drive and finesse. Pinot and Zinfandel are both fruit-driven, but with very good sense of place and complexity showing from all our vineyard sites."Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts. […]

  • Wine & Design: Michael & Kim McCarty's Abiding Abode (Wine Spectator)
    by Hilary Sims on December 5, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    In 1979, Michael McCarty was getting ready to open his inaugural restaurant, Michael's, in Santa Monica, Calif. It would become a beacon of the California cuisine movement. (If McCarty flies under the radar as a founder of the genre, his pioneering influence is nonetheless unmistakable; Wolfgang Puck notably opened Spago three years later, in 1982.)1979 was a busy year for Michael: He and his girlfriend, artist Kim Lieberman, were also renovating their Douglas Rucker–designed post-and-beam house in Malibu. With the help of Rucker himself, they knocked down the walls between the dining room, living room and kitchen to create one big free-flowing space. Today, open floor plans, much like farm-to-table cuisine, enjoy great cachet. But not so in 1979. "I just wanted it open," Michael, 65, shrugs. "Drove me crazy. It was so beautiful."Five years on, Kim and Michael were married on their tennis court, cantilevered over the ocean. In 1985, they added a vineyard. "We were having a wild party at my house, and I had just received the sixth notice from the L.A. County Fire Department saying, ‘You must clear the obnoxious weeds that are surrounding your property,' because we had fire problems," Michael says. "So I said to Dick [Graff, of Chalone Vineyard], I said, ‘This is killing me, this is costing me thousands of dollars.' He said, ‘Why don't we plant a vineyard?' I said, ‘Done! We're doing it!' "They cleared an acre and planted cuttings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Eden Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Joseph Phelps in Napa. When the McCartys' daughter, Clancy, was born in 1986, the neighbors strung the vineyard posts with pink streamers. Son Chas followed in 1989, the year of the vineyard's first vintage.But in 1993, disaster struck. The Old Topanga Fire leveled much of the area, including the McCartys' home. Michael had just landed in New York to visit his satellite Manhattan restaurant when he got the call. "It was the winds that changed; that's what always happens," he says. "We got nailed." Vines often act as a firebreak because of their water content, but located downwind from the house, they couldn't save it.The McCartys called on Rucker again, this time to rebuild the house in its former image, only larger, stretching the noted Malibu architect's typical proportions. "He made beautiful little Craftsman-style houses, more what you would think about as a California bungalow," Michael explains. The home shot up from 3,000 square feet to 5,000, mostly thanks to the additions of a big deck and an upstairs master bedroom suite.But the footprint of the rest of the house expanded too. Pitched over the living space, Rucker's tongue-and-groove Douglas fir ceilings were done using wider-than-usual beams—6 inches across rather than 4—to better suit the room's amplified, 1,500-square-foot scale.Though it wasn't destroyed, "The vineyard was shocked," Michael says. It didn't produce fruit for three years. In 1999, the team, led by winemaker Bruno D'Alfonso, decided it just wasn't working—"so we took the whole goddamn thing out," Michael says. They had seen the most consistent success with Pinot Noir, so they added a second acre and replanted the land to three Dijon clones of the grape and updated the trellising. The wine was labeled The Malibu Vineyard. Since its first vintage in 2005, it has produced 100 to 200 cases a year, sold at Michael's Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning flagship restaurant in L.A. and his Best of Award of Excellence winner in New York, as well as at a few Malibu and Santa Monica restaurants and shops.At home, Michael often goes for Minuty rosé or a big Barolo; Kim favors Sancerre. They keep four or five cases at home—"and it gets consumed rapidly!" Michael says. "We always entertain on Sundays. We always cook." The patio can hold up to 80 people, as it does for their annual day-after-Thanksgiving get-together featuring Michael's turkey BLTs. Beyond the main house, two guest houses, one with a pool, provide ample hangout space. "We're not precious," Kim, 62, says. "People come by with thousands of dogs, and our kids still come and destroy our pool house many times a year with all their friends."After four decades—including multiple renovations, a full-scale rebuilding, a home wedding, the growing-up of two kids, and the planting and replanting of an estate vineyard—Kim and Michael's place has endured. "Building something takes a long time," Kim reflects. "But we got to build the house we wanted."A version of this story appeared in the Dec. 31, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator, which went to press in early November. Shortly thereafter, the Woolsey fire ravaged parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including Malibu, displacing tens of thousands of residents and scorching local vineyards. Michael and Kim McCarty gratefully report that the fire did not directly affect their home or vineyard. However, relief efforts are ongoing. The McCartys encourage you to help by donating to the Malibu Foundation.Photo GalleryPhotos by Joe Schmelzer; click any image to enlarg […]

  • Turning Tables: The New Intersect by Lexus Is Danny Meyer–Driven (Wine Spectator)
    by Julie Harans, Brianne Garrett on December 5, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Intersect by Lexus Opens with Danny Meyer Dining ConceptsDanny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group is operating the dining concepts in the newly opened Intersect by Lexus, a three-story, multifunctional space with a first-floor cafe, a restaurant and a cocktail bar upstairs, as well as a retail area, a public gallery and a private space on the third floor.The restaurant will have rotating chefs: Every four to six months, it will transition to a new executive chef and an entirely different menu, highlighting up-and-coming chefs from different countries. First up, London-based French chef Gregory Marchand is showcasing dishes like duck with sunchoke and sesame, and beef tenderloin served with short rib and artichoke.The wine list will remain around 100 selections but will rotate with the resident chef. "It is a challenge, but it's one that I'm really excited about," said beverage director Andrea Morris. The opening list is mostly French, with focuses on the Rhône and Burgundy, Marchand's favorites, and the Loire, which is his birthplace. Value is a big priority for Morris: There are currently plenty of bottles under $100 and more than 20 wines available by the glass.Though an unlikely one, Morris says the partnership between the car company and the restaurant group, which has six Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners, was a natural fit. "[There's] a lot of the same sort of desire for over-the-top hospitality as well as more environmental initiatives," she said. "So I think the two companies just felt aligned and it was a really cool opportunity."—J.H.Michael Mina Brings Hawaii to San Francisco Nicola Parisi The arancini at Trailblazer Tavern On Dec. 3, chef Michael Mina opened Trailblazer Tavern in San Francisco's East Cut neighborhood, a new casual concept in partnership with wife-and-husband chefs Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka showcasing Hawaiian comfort food.The menu includes starters like unagi and butterfish arancini, hearty meat entrées like short rib pot roast with black truffle and soy, as well as fresh seafood, noodle and rice dishes, and a raw bar. Sommelier Rajat Parr's wine list reflects the eclectic menu, covering regions from the Jura to Australia's Tasmania, including low-intervention wines with the freshness and vibrancy to complement the dishes' sweet, spicy and fermented flavors.At around 80 selections, the list is shorter than the ones at Mina's Restaurant Award winners (which include five Bourbon Steak concepts, two Michael Mina locations and RN74 Seattle), yet Parr says it's the most interesting, personal wine list he's ever written. "This wine list is very current. It's a wine list of now," he told Wine Spectator. "It's producers and wines which are either hot or going to get hot very soon." He'll also be launching a reserve list with more heavy-hitters and older vintages in the next few weeks.—J.H.The Saison Team Opens Noosh in San FranciscoLaura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, the chef-couple from Grand Award winner Saison and Best of Award of Excellence winner Mourad, are gearing up to open Noosh, in partnership with restaurateur John Litz, by the end of the month."It's eastern Mediterranean–inspired, California-made," Litz said. "The goal with this is to really create a top tier in the casual dining space."There will be a main casual dining area and a ticketed pre-fixe, family-style concept. The latter will have a 60-selection wine list, overseen by beverage director Andrew Meltzer, highlighting countries like Georgia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece and Lebanon, as well as local California selections and a few Champagne options."As somebody who has lived in the conflict of the region all his life before moving here, I just get really excited that all of these flavors from a food perspective as well as from a beverage perspective can co-exist within one menu," said Sayat, who's originally from Turkey.—B.G.Wally's Beverly Hills Says Goodbye to Its ChefDavid Féau is no longer the executive chef of Grand Award winner Wally's Beverly Hills and its new Santa Monica location. According to co-owner Christian Navarro, Féau left to pursue other projects, including his vegan food line JeCook.His replacement is Ryan Kluver, who as chef de cuisine helped create the menus at Wally's Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Navarro said the shift won't cause any major changes; the core menu will remain the same, with a few added seasonal items."We're going to empower our entire staff to continue to execute and create things," Navarro said. "I'm happy for [Féau], and he'll carry our lineage with him and it'll be great."—J.H.Del Frisco's Opens First West Coast Double Eagle Auda and Coudayre Photography Del Frisco's plans to further expand the Double Eagle brand in 2019. A Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse is now open in San Diego's InterContinental Hotel, the first West Coast location for the restaurant chain, which has 13 Restaurant Award winners. (The Del Frisco's Restaurant Group also owns Del Frisco's Grille and Barcelona Wine Bar.)Wine director Faith Fulginiti oversees the San Diego wine program, after serving on the sommelier team in the Grand Award–winning flagship in New York. The 1,100-selection list covers classic regions and emphasizes local producers from Southern California and Mexico's Baja California. Napa Cabernets are another point of focus, with verticals of cult producers like Dominus Estate, Opus One and Shafer Hillside Select."I hope that it elevates the wine scene in the area," Fulginiti said. "We're kind of pushing the envelope for what the standard should be." There are more than 30 wines available by the glass and an additional 15 poured by Coravin. Fulginiti plans to build the program with the goal of reaching nearly 2,000 selections by the end of 2019.—J.H.New York's Lambs Club Names New Executive Chef Alison Hale Geoffrey Zakarian (right) welcomes chef Galen Zamarra to the Lambs Club. Best of Award of Excellence winner the Lambs Club in New York has a new executive chef, Galen Zamarra, who previously owned two restaurants in the city, the now-closed Mas (Farmhouse) and Mas (La Grillade)."Galen's world understanding about the techniques driving food today, combined with his classical French training, speaks to his sophistication and his adept culinary talents," chef and partner Geoffrey Zakarian told Wine Spectator via email. "I'm honored to work alongside him daily at my flagship restaurant."Zamarra plans to emphasize the Lambs Club's seasonality through more frequent menu changes, and has already added dishes like Piedmontese steak tartare and bone-marrow gratin.The shift won't impact wine director A.J. Ojedas-Pons' list, but Zamarra stressed the importance of creating dishes with wine in mind. "I think the celebration of a meal isn't complete if the wine and food haven't been considered together," Zamarra said. "It is a massive learning experience to take on, but for a chef it is very rewarding."—J.H.San Francisco's West Coast Wine & Cheese Branches OutOn Nov. 30, after more than a yearlong location search, the team behind San Francisco's West Coast Wine & Cheese opened its second wine bar, in Mill Valley. "In San Francisco, the business is fast-paced with very high foot traffic and relatively quick turn of seats," said owner and wine director Chris Wanner. "In contrast, Mill Valley will be a little slower paced, so we are investing more in the comfort aspects of the space for customers to hang out with us and stay a while."Like the original outpost, the Mill Valley bar has a 325-selection wine list, with strengths in California, Washington and Oregon. The menu will be smaller, focusing on high-quality local cheese and charcuterie selections. "We're hoping to establish ourselves as the neighborhood gem that we've become in San Francisco," Wanner said.—B.G.Philadelphia's Vetri Cucina Gets Second Location Steve Legato The new Vetri Cucina's dining room has great views of the Las Vegas cityscape. Philadelphia-based chef Marc Vetri opened a second location of his Best of Award of Excellence Vetri Cucina in the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. The menu will feature the same Italian-inspired fare, with a 450-selection wine list strong in Piedmont and Tuscany, which will soon grow larger than the Philadelphia location's 500 selections.—B.G.Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at wsrestaurantawards. […]

  • Co-Owner of Château Cheval-Blanc Albert Frère Dies at 92 (Wine Spectator)
    by Suzanne Mustacich on December 5, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Albert Frère, co-owner of Bordeaux's famed Château Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion, died Dec. 3 at age 92. The Belgian billionaire was a co-investor with Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, when they acquired the legendary estate in 1998."I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend," said Arnault, in a statement. "Albert was an extraordinary man and a truly exceptional entrepreneur. Throughout our 35 years of faithful friendship we forged extremely close ties, both personal and professional."With diverse investments that stretched from steel to fashion to oil, the Belgian business titan was also famously passionate about wine. He enjoyed his times at Cheval-Blanc, where he developed a strong camaraderie with the team running the estate. "He was both a businessman and a man of the Earth, a real vigneron. He often came to see us and he was a great ambassador for our wines," Pierre Lurton, director of Château Cheval-Blanc and Château d'Yquem, told Wine Spectator. "He was a real visionary."Frère was the wealthiest man in Belgium, with a fortune estimated at $5.8 billion. King Albert II of Belgium made him a baron in 1994. Frère started his rise to riches during World War II, at age 17, when he left school to run the family's modest nail business.From the start, he was a savvy entrepreneur, rebuilding the company in the years after the war. By the 1950s, he was investing in steel factories. Two decades later, he dominated Belgium's steel industry. Eventually, after a lucrative merger, he sold his steel business and created a holding company, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, that invested in oil, insurance, telecommunications, finance and other sectors. He helped negotiate some of France's largest mergers and acquisitions.In addition to Cheval-Blanc, Arnault and Frère bought Château Quinault l'Enclos, also in St.-Emilion, in 2008. "Beyond his innate business sense, I will always remember Albert's passionate love of life, his great skill in unifying people and his tremendous commitment to everything he undertook to accomplish," said Arnault. Frère is survived by his wife, Christine, two of his three children and several grandchildren.Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts. […]