Gala Rouge rolls out the red carpet


As a youngster, I became enamored of the artwork of Henri Toulouse-Latrec and his ilk, those gaudy, active posters of a certain time in Parisian cafe society portrayed in such films as 1952's "Moulin Rouge."

Many years later, my never-flagging interest in the genre was moved to new heights by the addition of Nicole Kidman and some really funky music in the oddball 2001 remake of "Moulin Rouge."

So, it was with great interest I observed the introduction of Gala Rouge, a new wine from Brown-Forman's Bon Vivant Vineyards in France that made its debut in a decidedly unorthdox venue: last fall's International Vintage Poster Fair in New York.

The idea, says Laura Simmons, Gala Rouge brand director, was to avoid being one more data-laden French label in an already overcrowded market by presenting a classic Parisian poster-style face to the consumer world.

Brown-Forman certainly went to the right source for its labels. Jim Salvati, a California painter and designer who works with the Disney and Warner Bros. studios on a regular basis, came up with a 1920s look for an 1890 genre, depicting a flapper -- wearing a red skirt on the pinot noir label, a light amber version on the chardonnay -- on a swing and four different type fonts that, curiously, enhance rather than clash with the design.

The brand name itself is explained in a lighthearted way on the back label of the 2004 vintage debut varietals: "Ga-la Rouge (ga-luh roojz) n. 1. A red carpet event [see charity fundraisers or black tie weddings]. 2. A fun evening of your choosing [see Bunko night or poker club] ... " and so forth.

Beyond the design (the labels are available for sale in poster form), let's get down to some essentials:

• Price: $9.99 retail for 750ml bottles.

• Alcohol by volume: 12.5%

• Availability: Theoretically, as of Jan. 1 the test market phase ended and distribution went national. If it hasn't become available in your market, check the Gala Rouge Web site.

• Tasting Notes: The pinot noir is a fruit-rich wine with berries and woody elements in the nose. Soft tannins help make this a bold yet silky offering with a decent, lingering finish. Enough character to hold up to tomato sauces, grilled meats or woodsy elements such as morels, truffles and the like. The chardonnay presents a softly floral nose, then an initial citrus taste that quickly gives way to those floral notes and a touch of pineapple. Slightly astringent finish. Would pair nicely with lightly sauced foods, salads and wide-ranging tapas dishes that present sweet to salty to savory.

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'05 Bordeaux: Let the hype commence!

How good is the 2005 Bordeaux winemakers will be putting on the market next month?

To hear the French wine mavens tell it, the various ailments plaguing their industry are having no effect on the Bordeaux. In fact, the 2005 vintage is being hailed as one of the great vintages ever.

Anthony Rose, wine writer for The Independent newspaper in London, is among the most vociferous journalists calling for a bit of restraint. He wrote in the April 22 edition:

"Apparently insulated from the crisis engulfing the rest of France (where supply of wine outstrips demand, regulation reigns supreme, and producers find it harder to compete with foreign imports), Bordeaux châteaux set out their stall this month for a first taste of the 2005 vintage from the barrel.

"Such is the lavish wining and dining of the world's trade and press during the week-long tasting that Bordeaux might have a serious case to answer for deliberately fattening the calf. Amid the hype surrounding what some Bordelais are calling the greatest vintage ever, the knives are being sharpened for the killing they expect to make next month when they announce their prices."

This isn't to say it's all hype and hyperbole. Early tasters are saying highly complimentary things about the vintage. Here's a small sampling, beginning with Rose himself:

• "Despite inevitable variations in style, 2005 is likely to go down as a great vintage in line with the most recent classics of 1982, 1990, 1996 and 2000. Investors will cash in, but better news for wine drinkers is that many fine, lesser classified châteaux such as Batailley, Belgrave, Brane Cantenac and Talbot should be relatively affordable, as should good crus bourgeois in the mould of Beaumont, La Tour de By, Phélan-Ségur and Charmail."

• John Hunter of the Belfast Telegraph: "The good news for embattled Bordeaux producers is that the 2005 vintage seems to be the best in years."

James Suckling of Wine Spectator: "Just how special the 2005 wines in Bordeaux are will be better understood in late March, when the wine world descends on the region to taste the new wines. However, the first indicators of Bordeaux 2005 look very exciting, even if it was only sips from a few vats and barrels."

• Bill Blatch of Vintex, a Bordeaux wholesaler, quoted in Agence France-Presse: "I have never seen a vintage like this one. here's power, 14 percent alcohol, tannins, acidity and fresh fruit."

And then, there is Robert Joseph, noted English wine critic, putting things in his own perspective:

"Come off it, this is the third 'vintage of the century.' Three already, with 2000 and 2003, and we are only in 2006. It's a bit much."

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Aussie grape dumping begins

Tens of thousands of tons of Australian Riverland wine grapes will be dumped on the ground or left to rot on the vine this season.

As I reported back in February, the drastic action was looming because of a national oversupply of grapes that would force down wine prices.

Some South Australian growers have been left with no market for their fruit because some could not get contract renewals with wineries and some had contracts suspended. Industry officials say the region's lost income could hit at least $65 million.

Glenn Arnold, a grower in Loxton who was interviewed by ABC television, said, "We're just trying to survive. Everybody says there's swings and roundabout and you know good times are followed by bad times, bad times are usually followed by good times ... . We've just got to hang in there.

"If we don't we're out, we're gone. And that will happen to some people unfortunately and that's pretty bad."

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Shiny new Trucks on the road to market

Red Truck of Sonoma, CA, is best known for its Red Truck and White Truck blended wines. They may take a back seat for a while as promotion attention is lavished on four new single-varietal wines: 2004 Red Truck Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Red Truck Merlot, 2005 White Truck Chardonnay and 2005 White Truck Pinot Grigio.

Red Truck was introduced in 2002 by Fred and Nancy Cline of Cline Cellars, wrapped in an eye-catching label created by local artist Dennis Ziemienski. It was a blend of syrah, petite syrah, cabernet franc, mourvedre and grenache, made by Charlie Tsegeletos. When Wine Business Monthly named it one of the "hottest small brands of 2004," the Clines and Tsegeletos last year added White Truck, a blend of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay and viognier.

Dan Leese and Doug Walker, who purchased a majority interest of the brand from the Clines last year and formed the Axiom Wine Co., are behind the latest expansion of the line.

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Texas cracks down on wine shipping

Texas has, for years, had a law on the books banning ordering wine from any out-of-state location. But, showing some common sense in favor of consumer freedom of choice, it has been operating under a 2001 court-orderd injunction not to enforce the law because of questions about its constitutionality.

That, apparently, has changed. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has been sending out cease-and-desist notices to out-of-state retailers that "were shipping the wine in illegally," according to TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck.

The state legislature passed Senate Bill 877 last May, allowing out-of-state wineries to ship wine directly to Texas consumers, but prohibits out-of-state retailers from doing the same thing.

The notices have prompted several members of the Sacramento, CA-based Specialty Wine Retailers Association and three Texas wine consumers to file suit against TABC Administrator Alan Steen. They allege the TABC action violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause.

"They basically invited this particular lawsuit by sending out these cease-and-desist orders," says John Hinman, a partner with Hinman & Carmichael LLP in San Francisco and general counsel of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association.

Of course, not all wine retailers are opposed to the TABC stance.

Jim Cubberley, manager of Austin fine wine merchant Lake Travis Wine Trader, told the Austin Business Journal that out-of-state wine retailers have been making sales without adhering to the same regulations he must contend with, such as those that require working through Texas' three-tier system of wine importers, wholesalers and retailers. That system adds about 20 percent more to the cost of his wine, as compared to the products sold by out-of-state wine shops, he says.

"People are able to sidestep the local retailers such as us by purchasing things that we cannot purchase," Cubberley told the Journal. "It's hard to be competitive with the extra hoop that we have to jump through."

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Worried French put wood in wine, not vice versa

The sagging French wine industry often tries to put a good face on its situation despite increased global competition and less than stellar sales.

That now will be a little more difficult to accept since the French government plans to allow vintners to flavor their wine with wood shavings, a technique French winemakers have derided as the work of lesser mortals.

Adding wood chips to wine to increase oak flavor has long been practiced by some winemakers in the U.S., Australia and South America. The idea is to avoid the cost and time involved in aging wines in oak barrels.

"The use of wood shavings is already authorized by the European Community and will soon be entered into national regulation," France's Agriculture Ministry said in a formal statement, an effort to "open up the range of authorized winemaking practices."

Wine purists in France predictably have objected to the move, but others in the industry are all in favor of it. As Roland Feredj, director of the Bordeaux wine council known as CIVB, told the Associated Press:

"It is a remarkable and very realistic advance -- it's practically miraculous. In general, France always wants to give lessons to the rest of the world, and in winemaking we are realizing that the Australians and the Americans also have things to teach us about wine regulations."

The decision comes just a week after the government announced a $108 million bailout to help the national wine industry. More than $14 million of that sum is earmarked to increase exports. The industry has been on the decline in terms of sales and prestige for a half-dozen years, losing the leadership position in numerous countries as other nations' wine industries have grown and improved.

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Breaking the Cornell code




Mmmmm, that's wine.

Those are the current designations of three wines in the Cornell University grape breeding program that will be named in July.

Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva in New York's Finger Lakes region is the center of creation of new grape hybrids. One of the most successful recent products is the Traminette grape, a superb descendant of Europe's Gewurtztraminer -- gewurtz the German word for spicy, tramin for the northern Italian town that was home to a grape varietal brought to France by Napolean's troops.

The above-mentioned species will get their names in July. Then it is up to winemakers whether they want to use that name on their labels or sell the wines as generic stuff, like Joe's Red Wine. For the most part, winemakers like to use the official names to sell to an increasingly wine-savvy market.

I had the opportunity to try the code-named wines during a visit last weekend with owner/winemaker John Brahm at the Arbor Hill Grapery, a small but very productive winery and specialty foods manufacturer in Naples, N.Y., on the west side of Canandaigua Lake.

Brahm, 63, a Cornell grad who was born and raised in the Finger Lakes, is someone to listen to when he's excited about a grape. His track record for producing award-winning wines is admirable. Among his most recent triumphs were a pair of gold medals in the 2005 New York State New York Wine & Food Classic with a best-of-class Rhine Street White and a 2002 Classic Traminette.

Brahm shared a taste of NY70.0809.10 (SV 18-307 x Steuben), a light-bodied, late-maturing vinifera type wine with an emphatic blueberry nose, finishing with a darker berry flavor and a hint of vegetal notes.

The NY73.0136.17 (NY33277 x Chancellor x Steuben), a mid-season maturer, has a distinct peppery character with moderate tannins and a much more complex structure.

"My biggest decision now is whether to leave these alone, or figure out exactly how I want to blend them," Brahm said. "Sometimes you get it just right on the first try and shouldn't keep fooling with it. I'll have to give that some more thought."

The third coded grape (Couderc 299-35 x Muscat Ottonel), also a mid-season ripener, is a highly-flavored muscat that would be best used in blending or as a dessert wine. It has a banana start and citrus finish that immediately makes one think of pleasing food accompaniments.

Whether any of these three will join Traminette as an emerging star will take several years to determine.

Traminette was the fifth wine grape cultivar to be named by the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station, following the release of Cayuga White in 1972, Horizon in 1983, Melody in 1986 and Chardonel in 1991.

It's a late mid-season white wine grape that has shown good productivity, partial resistance to several fungal diseases, and cold hardiness superior to its parent Gewürztraminer. Traminette resulted from the cross of the Gewurtz and the Joannes Seyve 23.416, made in 1965 at the University of Illinois, which abandoned it, then picked up and planted by Cornell in 1968. The first fruit was in 1971 and the original vine was propagated in 1974.

Traminette is considerably hardier than Gewürztraminer and the equal of other similar cultivars such as Seyval, Vidal blanc, Cayuga White and Aurore. Three growers in New York and one each in Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Michigan tried test-growing it in its infancy, with the best results in New York leading to the spread of its use there, where it ripens in the early October.

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Constellation firmament expands again

Constellation Brands Inc., the world's largest winemaker, is shelling out $1.09 billion to buy Vincor International Inc., the Canadian company.

The purchase is Constellation's ninth since 2000 as it added Robert Mondavi Corp. and the Australian vintner BRL Hardy Ltd. Constellation had made two unsolicited bids and a hostile tender offer for Vincor late last year, all of which were rejected, before agreeing to a friendly takeover.

"We're combining our brands with the scale and distribution and marketing capabilities that the much larger Constellation brings to the party," Vincor CEO Donald Triggs said in a media interview.

Constellation is based in Fairport, near Rochester, NY. Vincor, founded in 1874, is based in Mississaugua, Ontario, but owns wineries in Canada, California, Washington, Australia and New Zealand, turning out such wines as Inniskillin, Toasted Head, Jackson-Trigg and Kim Crawford.

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NY wine center on a very fast track


... TO THIS ...

Photos by William M. Dowd


CANANDAIGUA, NY -- The New York Wine & Culinary Center project has gone from groundbreaking ceremony in August 2005 to under roof and 10 weeks from a projected soft opening.

I toured the facility, on the shores of Canandaigua Lake near Rochester, NY, this weekend and -- confession time -- was amazed at the rapidity of construction.

Walking through construction-dust-coated corridors, offices and public spaces, the impressive upscale Adirondack-style design was unveiled -- from multi-hued, handworked wood wainscoting, stair railings, display shelving and counters to a 36-station kitchen, slate-floored rest rooms and views of the lake, the roughly $7 million project is coming together at a pace that some doubters, me included, have difficulty believing.

The center, noted director Alexa Gifford, will include entrance landscaping geared toward representations of indigenous plants from the region.

"We'll have local flowers and shrubs, grape vines and the like that will set the mood for visitors," she said. "Americans in general are used to pulling into a parking lot that leaves you right up to the door. We'll be guiding people along a path that creates a mood, and then they'll walk into this beautiful facility that will build on that atmosphere."

The center is being financed by $2 million in state funding and the rest from various private funds. The major private backers are Centerra, formerly known as Constellation Brands, the locally-headquartered company that is the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of alcoholic beverages; Wegman's Food Markets, a five-state chain based in Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology's Hospitality and Service Management School.

The mission of the Center will be to foster knowledge in the wine, agriculture and culinary arts industries across New York State. To do so, the Center will offer hands-on courses in culinary science; interactive exhibits on New York State agriculture, foods and wines; demonstration space; and a live garden outside of the building.

"We have been doing a lot of talking to various businesses and organizations that, understandably, are asking, 'What's in this for me? Aren't you competition?',' said Gifford. "We've been explaining that in no way will we compete with private businesses. We're here to enhance an understanding and support of New York's wonderful food and wine products. They like knowing that, and we're planning to work with schoolkids as well as tourists and businesses."

The 15,000 square-foot facility will include a tasting room with a rotating selection of wines from New York's major regions (Niagara/Lake Erie, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Long Island), a wine and tapas bar for light meals and wine-and-food pairings, a theater-style demonstration kitchen, a training kitchen for hands-on cooking classes, and industrial kitchens for credited culinary classes and corporate training. It also will house the offices of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

Agriculture is one of New York's most vital industries, encompassing 25 percent of the state's landscape and generating more than $3.6 billion last year. It has 7.6 million acres of farmland with 36,000 farms and is the nation's third-largest wine-producing state after California and Oregon.

The project marks a major step in increasing the visibility of New York's wine industry to tourism and agribusiness interests. How significant the industry is to the state is shown in a just-released report from MKF Research, a California-based consulting firm analyzing New York's situation.

With 31,000 acres of vineyards, 212 wineries and 1,384 grape farms, New York is the nation's second largest wine producer after California and the third biggest grape grower behind California and Washington.

Wineries, grape producers and related businesses in New York, from liquor stores to makers of bottles, glasses and labels, account for almost 36,000 jobs and a $1.3 billion payroll, the state-funded study reported.

In addition, it said that wine sales alone generate $420 million in sales, but the state industry's multiplier impact on the economy came to $3.4 billion in 2004.


Photos by William M. Dowd

Alexa Gifford discusses the Center's progress with Jim Trezise, head of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

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