Anheuser Busch Wants Its Beer Drinkers Back

Note to all former bud drinkers: Anheuser Busch wants you back. The company has hired famed director Spike Lee to spearhead a new ad campaign aimed at those lost to wine and spirits. The company has come to the conclusion that the reason behind its weak sales is people moving to wine, not because of losing customers to it’s closest beer competitors. The theme for the ads?

“Here’s to Beer”, will feature celebrities talking about with whom they would most like to share a beer.

Here’s to boring. I’m predicting a poor return on investment.

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Russia Bans Wine From Moldova and Georgia

Claiming inferior quality wine, Russia has banned all wine coming from Moldova or Georgia. This follows a ban on Meat and Dairy from Ukraine.

Russia’s chief public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, signed a letter on March 25 asking the head of the customs service not to allow wine from either country into Russia. Hundreds of railcars laden with bottles have been halted at the border, according to Moldovan Economy Minister Valery Lazar.

The officials have stated that the ban is in response to the pesticides that have been used on the grapes from Moldova. Moldova exports about 80% of its wine to Russia.


NEW – Hacking Wine Spectator: Full Access!

Over the next week or so, everyone will be keenly interested in how the 2005 vintage of Bordeaux is going to turn out. Many are claiming this to be a great year for the region. To keep you up to date on the goings on in that part of the world, Wine Spectator has commissioned James Suckling to update his blog during the festivities in which wine industry professionals from around the world will be partaking. However, since this is a paid part of Wine Spectator’s site, I can’t see it.

Here is a simple hack for you to keep up with the action if you don’t subscribe. This process is inline with the previous method of hacking the site mentioned by Winexpression, but I have discovered that this new method works with every part of the website.

Click here, then click the top link. Easy right?
Here’s how it works:

  1. Navigate to the front page of Wine Spectator and right click on any link you want, then select copy link location (or copy shortcut if using I.E.)
  2. Open a new window or tab, and paste that link into Google
  3. Search for it, and you should get an error that says: Sorry, no information is available for the URL
  4. Right below that it will say: “If the URL is valid, try visiting that web page by clicking on the following link:” Click the link
  5. Voila! You have access to that story!

The only problem is you have to repeat this process for any other page on the site you want to see, you can’t simply click through the hyperlinks on the page. But, if you’re patient, this will work for any page you’re interested in, even videos.

This seems to be a problem with them allowing Google’s cache to index their site, and that opens up some sort of back door. Whatever it is, I’m now up to date on 2005 Bordeaux!

Update: This doesn’t work for Wine Scores, because those aren’t static pages, however, you can navigate to areas like Value wines, and get a list of recent reviews.

Edit: Simply click the link on the right under HACK WS, then click the first direct link to the story from Google.

Can A Rockstar Craft Good Wine?

Caduceus Winery Owner MJKMaynard James Keenan is attempting to do just that. After already successfully navigating the music business as lead singer for Tool and A Perfect Circle, his new venture, Caduceus, is an extension of a love he found for wine. I remember a few years ago reading an article in Wine Spectator about how he had found this profound love after trying a 1992 Silver Oak, and subsequently amassed an impressive collection of wine from around the world. Later, it was revealed that his great Grandparents and Great Uncle made wine in what was Northern Italy (now Southern France), and the stage was set for him to embark on his own winemaking project.

His canvas is the Verde Valley in Northern Arizona in the form of Merkin Vineyards. His vineyard site is composed of four different blocks with unique soil characteristics that vary from chalky sedimentary rock, to fine river sediment with calcareous substrate “peppered with evidence of volcanic intrusions”. Maynard also choose to employ the talent of Eric Glomsky as winemaker for the project, who was formerly co-winemaker at David Bruce Vineyards in California. The wine at Caduceus is produced from some 6000 vines, some of which were recently planted and are still unusable. In the meantime they have chosen to blend some local fruit with grapes grown in California from areas like Paso Robles, and the Pope Valley in Napa Valley.

The project consists of five unique bottles of wine: the Primer Paso, a blend of Shiraz and Malvasia, (a white varietal akin to Viognier); the Nagual De La Naga, a Tuscan inspired Cabernet Sauvignon/ Sangiovese Blend; the Nagual Del Sensei, a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Syrah Blend; Dos Ladrones (2 thieves), a white wine produced from delicate varietals protected from the Arizona sun under a canopy of Apricot trees; and the Chupacabra “Mystery Blend,” priced around $20. The Paso and the Naga were recently released on March 24, 2006.

The wines can be tasted and are available for purchase at Page Spring Cellars, the winery owned and operated by Eric. Considering Maynard probably has a lot of devoted fans, it’s probably a good idea he choose to separate the winery from his home. He joins a long list of celebrities that have chosen to make their own wine, but I have a feeling Maynard is a little different. His passion has put him on the front line in the vineyard and the cellar, and I doubt other celebs have had the same intense interest in their own projects. In his diary entries on the website, you can catch a glimpse of this mans devotion to his wine when you see pictures of him sealing bottles with wax and embossing them by hand, driving the tractors, or planting the vines. Now that my interest is peaked, I need to get my hands on a bottle or two.
Visit the website for more information and photos.

Update: The online store is now open (but will probably sell out soon).

APCOR and Balzac: Screwcaps are illegal

The dynamic duo is at it again, with a new press release that highlights the recent anti-competitive law miraculously passed at the end of 2005, banning alternative closures from being used on any wines from 11 regions in Spain. If any winery in those regions chooses to use an alternative closure, they will not receive Denominación de origen status, essentially making it illegal to use anything other than cork.

The law affects wines made in the 11 Catalan D.O.s including Catalunya, Costers del Segre, Montsant, Pla de Bages, Tarragona, Alella, Conca de Barbera, Emporda, Penedes, Terra Alta and Priorat.

Balzac quotes Elisa Pedro, Director of Communication & International Relations for APCOR (Portuguese Cork Association), absurdly insinuating “this is another endorsement for cork closures”, and that ‘Spanish lawmakers are responding to wine drinkers with this law’. Shaw, as if!

Balzac does point out that APCOR has put $3 Million USD into an international campaign to pump up corks, of which it’s American marketing agency, Balzac Communications, is probably a beneficiary. What Balzac fails to point out, but Tom over at Fermentation does, is that Spain accounts for 32% of the worlds annual cork production with 23% of the worlds cork forests. Add in the figures for Portugal, 52% annual cork production from 33% of the worlds cork forests, and we have an area that controls 84% of the worlds corks. Obviously APCOR has a vested interest in keeping the cork alive. Perhaps the reasoning behind Spain passing such an absurd law is to see if the rest of the worlds wine producing areas are dumb enough to follow suit.

Perhaps a good counter offensive would be a boycott of Spanish wine. Or maybe it’s time wine drinkers start to make an issue when we receive a wine that has been tainted by TCA. Although corked wines have been estimated to only effect 3% – 10% of wines, most people either don’t know when they have a corked bottle, or don’t do anything about it when they run into it. Perhaps demanding a new bottle from the winery is in order. If wineries had to take the loss maybe they would be more willing to use alternative closures to prevent TCA from ever happening. This in turn would expose consumers to alternative closures on a more regular basis, and help make these alternatives more marketable.

I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ll see from ABCOR and Balzac. APCOR is notorious for it’s one-sided marketing and twisting of facts, it’s surprising they had enough credibility to entice a U.S. PR firm to continue promoting their facade.

The Winery That Balls Bought

Basketballs that is. Oakville’s Screaming Eagle Winery has been sold for an undisclosed sum, (estimated around 20-30 Million), to Santa Barbara based Charles Banks (38), a money manager for NBA players and other athletes, and his business partner, entrepreneur Stanley Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets and a real estate tycoon. The transaction was reported on a few days ago by Wine Spectator (Click the 4th link down that says “Wine Spectator Online | Feature Teaser | Screaming Eagle Sold” to see the members-only article).

Kroenke also owns the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and the Pepsi Center arena where his teams play. His wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, is an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, but Banks emphasized that the purchase did not use the Walton family’s money.

Banks is dedicated to keeping the prestige of this winery in tact. Parts of the vineyard need to be replanted, and he has signed up renowned vineyard manager David Abreau for the task. As far as keeping Heidi Barrett on as winemaker, Banks commented that she can stay as long as she wants. With a winery that Grosses around 1.8 Million a year profit, many have wondered if this purchase really makes much sense on paper, but Charles Banks seems to have found a personal treasure and appears to be a very successful businessman.

A letter from Jean Phillips, the original owner of the winery, was sent to her mailing list customers and appeared on this thread on the erobertparker forum. From reading her words it’s plain to see that this was both a joyful and painful transaction for her.

March 17, 2006

My faithful friends,

As you know each spring I sent out a newsletter and order form for the latest release. This year I am late for a couple of reasons. First, my wonderful assistant Martha Lopez has been busy applying for permits in different states to make it easier for many of you to take delivery of your wine. The direct shipment rules are complicated and somewhat confusing. The great thing about Martha is she worries as much as I do about taking care of the wine and your special needs, as you already know.

Secondly, and sadly I want to share with you that as of today, I no longer own Screaming Eagle, though it will always own me. I have lived and worked on this beautiful ranch for the better part of the last twenty years; a third of my life — sometimes it feels like my whole life. The joy came from the hard work alongside a terrific crew including Martha’s husband Luis among many others. The luck came by being blessed to have a following of people who have appreciated the wine and made this little label so famous. Thank you.

The good news is the new owners are going to make it even better. They will renovate the old structures or build new ones and replant the vineyard. I truly believe both the vineyard and the wine can and will be better utilizing some of the new techniques available. The owners have exciting plans to keep it small but raise the bar on quality. I will be cheering them on and be proud to see the Eagle soar even higher.

I am sure you will be getting a letter very soon about the release of the 2003. It is packed and ready to head your way. I feel the new owners will honor your devotion and history. My dear friend and winemaker Heidi Barrett put together a great blend and I know you will enjoy this vintage. I will miss laughing and working with Heidi. We were a good team. She deserves a lot of credit for tolerating my fanatically worrisome ways.

This letter is painful to write, because I feel I am saying goodbye to very dear friends. Some of you I have met in person, some just spoken with on the phone, yet I have seen all your names over and over and feel we have shared so much together. You have been generous with sharing your memories, photos, tasting notes, and humorous moments–inventing who knows how many stories–trying to buy the wine. I have loved them all, even the far fetched ones. I will miss you.

As I slow down a bit in life, I will lift a glass of Screaming Eagle and toast you. This incredible journey started when Robert Parker rated the first release, the 1992 vintage, 99+Pts and then the saga continued as James Laube followed with glowing articles in the Wine Spectator, but truly it was you that made it so special. You bought it, drank it, loved it. It now has a life of its own “Flying High and Proud”. You made my dream come true. I will remain forever grateful.

Jean Phillips

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Free Corkscrew From Wally’s

Who doesn’t like free stuff? I just signed up for a free USB thumb drive from Microsoft, all I had to provide was my email and mailing address, not a bad deal. Wally’s, “the #1 Wine Shop in Los Angeles” according to a Zagat survey, is offering a free corkscrew if you sign up for their mailing list. The offer includes shipping (in 6-8 weeks), so there is no cost to you. I don’t really need it, but I can’t resist.

Here’s the link.

Cracking The Pinot Code

In what’s being called the agricultural equivalent of the first moonwalk (not MJ’s, the other one), Italian scientists have successfully sequenced the Pinot Noir genome. The San Michele all’Adige Agrarian Institute, the group responsible for the 6 year study, remarks that this development “will make it possible to create new, more resistant grape plants that can produce superior wines.”

This is the first fruit and the second food item, (rice was first), to have it’s gene sequenced.

The research shows that the pinot noir genome is spread across 12 chromosomes and is made up of around 500 million bases of DNA. The institute, based in the northern Italian province of Trento, collaborated in the project with the US firm Myriad Genetics Inc., which has taken part in decoding human and rice genomes.

Many wine lovers have expressed concern with the ethical, legal, and safety issues involved if winemakers were to begin using genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Will the implied benefits of using GMO’s be enough to help consumers accept them? No doubt other varietals aren’t far behind Pinot Noir in being sequenced. It will be interesting to see how they are accepted by both winemaker and consumer.

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It’s sobering when you stop and think that two people visiting Napa Valley for a day of wine tasting can rack up a bill of $200 if they visit four wineries @ $25 a tasting. Honestly, that’s ridiculous.

I found an interesting piece in the Chronicle this weekend that was frustrating for my wife and I as we contemplated our place in it. It visits the idea that Napa Valley caters to those who can afford it, and if you want a personal experience, like a ‘private VIP artisan cheese and wine experience’, it’s going to cost you.

One of the wineries profiled by Stacey Finz in her article was Darioush. The idea that they ‘cater to people who spend 500 to 700 a night for a room’ wasn’t always a signature of the winery. There’s a different Darioush that I remember.

A few years ago, as you piloted your car down the dirt road littered with construction equipment, you pulled up on what was the Darioush winery tasting room, a double-wide trailer. It had a nice paint scheme and lots of vegetation that hid it’s cheap siding. Upon entering you were greeted with warm smiles, and CAD drawings of the glorious winery building soon to be. A small group of customers gathered around the six foot long wood counter, or ‘tasting bar’, munching on a couple small dishes filled with pistachios, while sampling the current flight of wine. The staff was friendly and, most importantly, passionate about the wines they were pouring. Obviously they weren’t relying on the grandeur of the building to woo you into making a purchase. It was always about the wine, and providing you with an enjoyable experience.

Sometimes you were treated by Bernard, the then president of Darioush, to a little extra taste of something special; a sample of his own salad dressing, maybe a sip of the desert wine that wasn’t being served, sometimes even a barrel sample of a soon to be released varietal. He was so passionate about the project and personally interested in the modest amount of visitors that came in, he was willing to take time out of his busy day to talk to you. Slowly, more people started showing up, as word of mouth spread between wine lovers. There was good wine and personal attention for you at Darioush, all included in the small tasting fee. It felt like a Napa Valley that once was.

Things have changed, and now Darioush is just like any other well known winery in the area, catering to the large tour bus visitors, offering wine and cheese sit downs for $65 a person. It’s still a friendly staff, but one that no longer has time to provide much personal attention or small perks unless you’re willing to pay for it. The now president of Darioush, Dan de Polo, remarks toward the end of the article that “It’s the golden age to be a wine enthusiast.”

Is it really? Have I missed something? Spending a ridiculous amount of money to sip wine in crowded tasting rooms while receiving drone like attention is not my idea of a golden age. The golden age of Napa already happened, and some saw it briefly again inside a double-wide trailor.

Merliance Merlot

What happens when you take 5 of Long Islands best winemakers, a few prized barrels of Merlot from each winery, and throw them all together? You get Merliance, the new wine venture by the Long Island Merlot Alliance to showcase the complexity of this grape and the terrior from which it is grown. The alliance is made up of Pellegrini Vineyards, Raphael, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Wolffer Estate Vineyard. Unfortunately this is a rather limited production wine, at a mere 250 cases, that will be available in the summer of 2006. A very small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec may sneak into the final blend each year, depending on what each vintage dictates, but it won’t be enough to crowd out the star varietal. Each winery contributes two barrels of Merlot to the blend, chosen by the group at a blind tasting. They are hoping that the final blend showcases the unique characteristics from each winery, while offering a pure look at Merlot.

This is a really good idea, and although I won’t be able to attend the preview barrel tasting of this in April, I’m sure one of my fellow bloggers will. Kudos to the Long Island Merlot Alliance, this sounds like it’s really going to be a great project.

For more information, visit the groups website at