Dust off your ostentatiousest hat and stock up on Bourbon and mint: Derby Day is mere hours away. And this year's Run for the Roses holds special interest for wine lovers, none more so than Jackson Family Wines chairman and 2017 Wine Spectator Distinguished Service Award winner Barbara Banke, who will be cheering on her thoroughbred Good Magic. He'll be wearing the Stonestreet Stables silks, just like his father, Curlin, did. (Longtime Unfiltered readers will remember Curlin taking Banke and her late husband, Jess Stonestreet Jackson, to the winner's circle at the Preakness Stakes in 2007.) Good Magic is getting long odds at 12-1, but Banke likes his chances: "Experience matters," she told Unfiltered this week. "[The Kentucky Derby] was Curlin’s fourth race and it will be Good Magic’s sixth … [but] anything can happen with a 20-horse field, so you need to enjoy the experience."
Last year, Good Magic won the Breeder's Cup Juvenile and also took runner-up honors at the Champagne Stakes, earning him the title of Champion 2-Year-Old, but on Saturday he'll be competing against two of his brothers: Vino Rosso ("An apt name for a mellow colt bred to be better with age and maturity," says Banke) and Solomini, both also sired by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. (Their older brothers include 2013 Belmont winner Palace Malice, 2014 Preakness runner-up Ride on Curlin, 2016 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up Exaggerator and last year's Belmont runner-up, Irish War Cry.) "I'm hoping for a Curlin trifecta, with Good Magic on top," says Banke, who'll be passing on the Derby mainstay mint juleps in favor of Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay and Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet. She also has a tip for Derby Day best practices: "Don't wear a hat that blocks your view of the race!"
When Bob Dylan went electric it caused a major stir. Now he’s going liquid, distilling a line of boutique whiskeys. Heaven’s Door launches this month with three expressions: a Tennessee Bourbon, a double barrel–aged blend ($50 each) and a straight rye ($80). The line, developed with Spirits Investment Partners [SIP], marks Dylan’s first foray into branded products, but the move is consistent with the Nobel laureate’s freewheeling persona. The spirit runs freely through Dylan’s discography, from the down-and-out bootlegger of “Moonshiner” to the step-by-step distilling instructions of “Copper Kettle.”
“Bob works in mysterious ways,” says SIP CEO Marc Bushala. “In addition to being a whiskey enthusiast his whole life, my feeling is that there may be an emotional connection as well through storytelling: Whiskey is deeply rooted in American music lore, from folk to country to rock.”
Rather than focus on a single style or region, Heaven’s Door will employ a changing cast of master distillers and blenders, developing a catalogue of American whiskey that’s part greatest hits, part remix. A distillery in Nashville built in a 140-year-old church is slated to open in 2019. The limited-edition Bootleg Series will debut the same year, with bottles decorated in Dylan’s paintings and offering samplings of rare stocks and blends.
The latest music-wine collaboration is an easy-drinking red blend with hints of … Pepper. The Hawaii-born, San Diego–based music group has partnered with a Paso Robles vintner and retailer to create their own blend, which was bottled and launched April 20 (wink).
Thomas Booth, owner of Paso Robles wine bar Wine Boss and a longtime Pepper fan, first got the idea for a Pepper wine when the group announced a show at Vina Robles, a nearby winery with a full-scale amphitheater. "I thought it'd be pretty cool to come up with a prototype," Booth says. "I took their original cover [art] of Kona Town and I did a little mockup. I ended up just going to Staples and put it on adhesive paper, slapped it on a couple bottles of my Petit Verdot and went to the concert."
Booth got the bottles onto the band's tour bus, and that's where guitarist, vocalist and lead wine-lover Kaleo Wassman discovered it. "There's a lot to be said about instinct, right?" Wassman told Unfiltered. "So when Thomas got this bottle onto our bus … I was so blown away, and that's what really got it going. … [later] we drank, we talked, and the instinct kind of took over."
Wassman, for his part, is a longtime wine lover, having discovered it at a young age thanks to his Sicilian-Hawaiian heritage. Traveling around the world on surf trips and tours with the band cultivated that interest. "The funny thing is, being on tour all these years, it was always kind of a joke that the Pepper bus was kind of the wine locker," he said. "We'd always, always have a stash of wine."
Booth, in addition to running his wine bar, is a self-proclaimed "gypsy winemaker," making wines under his family's Harmata Family Wines label, with grapes from Paso Robles, Clarksburg and backyard vineyards he's planted in neighborhoods like Beverly Hills. For the 2016 Kona Town Red Blend, Booth and Wassman tasted samples from multiple AVAs, and came up with a 50/50 blend of Cabernet and Petit Verdot. Their initial run of 75 cases is priced at $40 a bottle. "It's a whole new side of life," Wassman said. "I never knew how I was going to sell wine, you know … but the universe is so awesome if you let it be, because all of a sudden, yeah, now I'm in the wine business. It's amazing."
A new chapter unfolds in the saga of Sonoma samurai Kanaye Nagasawa! Unfiltered readers will recall the 19th-century Satsuma samurai sent to Scotland as a boy who, through a series of unlikely events, became an early and influential Sonoma vintner, the so-called "Japanese Baron of Fountaingrove," and leader of the Utopian Brotherhood of the New Life cult near Santa Rosa, Calif. His training sword was believed lost in the October fires that burned Paradise Ridge Winery's tasting room.
But now wine history buffs can pay respects to the sensei—and his fellow travelers in California wine, if not questionable quasi-religious sex stuff—at the new exhibition "Lost Santa Rosa," which opened April 14 at the History Museum of Sonoma County. Artifacts like Nagasawa's sword, a Fountaingrove inventory sheet in Japanese and the graffiti-covered door to the old, demolished Fountaingrove winery are among the odds and ends of North Bay vinous history on display. "The Fountaingrove property, with its winery, round barn, mansions and vineyards established in 1875 faded away over the years for a variety of reasons," curator Eric Stanley explained to Unfiltered. "Everything from simple neglect, to the many hurdles faced by Nagasawa in his efforts to pass on his property—including the alien land laws. They all contributed to the slow disappearance of historic Fountaingrove.
"The door … is a symbol of things disappearing from simple neglect or lack of value placed on the historic fabric of the community." The fires and the town's 150th anniversary since incorporation brought added poignancy and timeliness to the exhibition, which runs through Sept. 16, 2018. The official opening reception is May 6, where a cash bar may well offer such lost-and-found wines as the "Zinfandel" advertised on an old Fountaingrove price sheet. "As we recover from the fires and look to rebuild, I think it important to learn from the past, carefully consider the choices we make and be aware of the variety of influences on our community," Stanley concluded.
When Sonoma restaurateur Sondra Bernstein (The Girl & the Fig) recently heard four Sonoma Valley residents in a cooking class commiserating over the loss of their cherished cookbook collections, along with their homes and personal effects, in October’s wine-country wildfires, she sprang into action. Bernstein well understood how these collections often reflect a lifetime’s worth of happy memories, and how heartbreaking their loss is, so she put out the call via social media and mailing lists, to friends, chefs, authors and the wine-country community, for cookbooks in an effort to help rebuild and recapture lost volumes.
Books came in from all over the country. “King Arthur Flour sent us cookbooks. Chef Rick Moonen sent a case of books. Bags and boxes of books came in from everywhere,” said Bernstein. “Eat Your Books donated a year’s subscription to their service.” More than 10,000 books filled a warehouse in Sonoma, ready for new, needy owners. On Sunday morning, April 8, the doors to the warehouse opened as several hundred people showed up to make a start at rebuilding the heart of their kitchens. People walked away with arms and boxes filled with books; the remaining are being donated to collections at local high-school culinary programs and libraries.
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