Laughably Litigious

We were heartened to hear that JaM Cellars invented butter. The first (and only) time we had one of their chardonnays, we said to ourselves, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”  But it WAS butter. And we have JaM Cellars to thank. What brilliance! What insight! The wine world should genuflect.  If it were not for JaM Cellars, we’d be sensorially deprived–driven to wander, butterless, in a linguistic wine desert. Butter, alas, was only the beginning. JaM has also given us jam. And god knows we need jam in our lives, especially right now. So, dear wine friends, a toast (with butter and jam) to JaM Cellars.

Napa-based JaM Cellars, maker of the wine brand Butter Chardonnay, has sued 6 wine producers for trademark infringement based on their use of the word “butter” to describe chardonnay. Just recently, they also sued Franzia for its use of “jammy.”


“Waiter, There’s a Person in My Soup!”

Billing itself as a “spa theme park,” the Yunessun Resort in Japan’s Hakone prefecture—an hour and a half bullet train ride from Tokyo—offers bathers the option of soaking in a pool filled with red wine.  Several times each day, the bath is replenished by a stream of red wine from a giant wine bottle suspended over the pool. Traditional bathhouses and hot springs (known as “onsen” in Japanese), are a centuries-old tradition in Japan, but the offerings at Yunessun are decidedly, gastronomically, modern. Additional bath choices include a Sake Spa, Coffee Spa, Green Tea Spa and a pepper-water filled Ramen Noodle Spa. More than just colored water, these baths are filled with the actual beverage or soup.


Nose Job

The Portuguese company Amorim—the leading supplier of cork stoppers in the world—has just come up with what we hesitate to call an innovation: scratch and sniff closures (yeah, no kidding). Part of the company’s new “Top Series,” the scratch/sniffer is supposed to expand consumers’ sensory experiences.  The top of the closure is coated with a special varnish impregnated with micro capsules of a fragrance that is released when the surface is scratched.  A transparent film laid over the top prevents the surface from being scratched accidentally.  Ah, can we just smell the wine, please?



The rocket scientists at NASA will have a new home come 2020. Opus One has confirmed that it will be acquired by the space agency next year. Details of the sale and the sale price were not disclosed by Opus’ owners, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. and Constellation Brands. NASA technology has already been in use in numerous Napa Valley vineyards for nearly two decades. The agency plans to use the iconic winery as a new facility devoted to research on climate change and the impact of climate change on agriculture. According to a NASA spokesperson, the winery’s evocative space ship-like exterior was a major draw in the decision. And yes, we are just kidding. Opus One is staying Opus One and going to continue making its beautifully classic cabernets. (But the part about NASA technology being used in Napa Valley vineyards is true!)


Chernobyl Vodka—No Kidding

In the please-tell-me-it’s-not-true department comes this: a new “artisan vodka” is being made in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s “Exclusion Zone,” according to The Smithsonian. The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the Ukraine exploded in 1986, spewing radioactivity for 1,000 miles in every direction. Scientists estimate that the site will remain unsafe for the next 24,000 years. The vodka—named ATOMIK—is made from radioactive grains and underground mineral water from an area where it is now forbidden to farm. The scientists who made the vodka hypothesized that a distilled spirit would be safe to drink, even when made from a radioactive crop. That’s because during distillation, heavy elements (like strontium-90) are left behind in the waste, leaving the distillate itself pure. When tested, Atomik showed no radioactive elements. The devastated area around Chernobyl has, of course, become a vast social and economic wasteland. The vodka is considered the first step on the road to economic recovery.

Would you drink a spirit from this, ahem, terroir?


Let’s See: Should It Be “Napa” or “Runaway Cow?”

The excitement about Long Dai―Château Lafite Rothschild’s new winery in Shandong province on the eastern seaboard of China―continues unabated. It’s been 11 years since the complex winery/vineyard project began, but only this fall will the first vintage (2017) finally come on the market. The wine, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and marselan, will cost $34,110.

Decanter magazine’s Bordeaux specialist Jane Anson visited, and this tidbit from her report caught my eye: “It’s surely no coincidence that, just standing on the terrace of Long Dai, you see four or five newly completed wineries, with others on the way. All are lavish projects with names that include Napa Village, Santa Fe, and Runaway Cow.”

Hmmm. Coming up with a winery name is admittedly difficult, and must be especially hard in China where the name needs to have local appeal. But Napa Village? (I guess the Chinese don’t legally honor place names). Santa Fe? (curious) and Runaway Cow (A protest against biodynamics perhaps!) Can’t wait to taste all of them.


A Lucky Accident

This is really an “Oh No” only for a certain server at the British steakhouse Hawksmoor Manchester. It was definitely a “Yes, Please!” for the two lucky customers in question. According to the BBC, two diners ordered a £260 (or about $330) bottle of 2001 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Bordeaux. Lucky for them, their server made a mistake. The bottle of 2001 Château Le Pin Pomerol they were actually poured cost £4,500, or over $5,700. So pleased were the diners with their “selection,” they ordered another bottle—only to find that a second bottle was, sadly, unavailable. When the management found out about the accident, they took to Twitter, encouraging the hapless staffer to keep his/her “chin up” in spite of the mistake. On the bright side, reservations at the steakhouse skyrocketed—and the staff member in question was in high demand.


A Champagne-Seeking Robot

This story is actually more of an “Oh Yes” than an “Oh No.” On February 23, 1900, as a result of a violent storm, the cellars of Pol Roger Champagne collapsed, burying the equivalent of 2 million bottles of Champagne beneath the rubble. It wasn’t clear if any of the bottles survived until last year when the Champagne house managed to excavate 26 bottles, some dating from the 1898 vintage. The wine was apparently so delicious that the company vowed to search for more. Alas, until now, all rescue attempts have been deemed too dangerous. Enter the most modern of solutions: a Champagne-seeking robot, which Pol Roger intends to deploy as soon as possible. As an homage to the Star Wars robot R2-D2, we think Pol Roger’s robot should be named RD—after all, the 19th century bottles may finally get to be “recently disgorged.”


A Solution to Climate Change? Wine.

Attention all wine-sipping Royal watchers. Prince Charles now drives a sports car fueled entirely by a white-wine-based biofuel. (Naturally, only English wine is allowed). Charles’ practice is part of the British Royal Family’s determination to find eco-friendly alternatives to gasoline for their vehicles. When the Prince asked engineers at Aston Martin to transform his Volante DB6 into a wine-guzzling automobile, they were skeptical. “The engineers at Aston said, ‘Oh, it’ll ruin the whole thing,’” Prince Charles reported. “I said, ‘Well I won’t drive it then.’ So, they got on with it, and now they admit that the car runs better and is more powerful than it was on petrol.” While “wine stations” may not replace gas stations anytime soon, we like where this innovation is going. But wait—there’s more good news: according to Prince Charles, driving a wine-powered car “smells delicious as you’re driving along.” (SRM)


The Bubbly Blaster

It might feel like summer is still a long way off, but we found the perfect pool party accessory for any wine-lover—the Bubbly Blaster. A water-gun-like contraption, the Bubbly Blaster fits into the cork of a Champagne bottle and, when the bottle is turned upside down, can shoot a steady stream of bubbles up to 30 feet. There’s even a GoPro compatible video mount to catch every foamy moment of party-goers frolicking in froth. Blasters ($100) come in a variety of colors—even a very millennial-friendly rose gold. As to why anyone would want their sparkling wine to go anywhere other than in a glass for consumption is beyond us. (We really do need to get out more). (SRM)


Cock Ale? Ahem.

Reading the words “Cock Ale” while finding myself in Portland recently led to a string of unintentional associations. Oregon. Craft beer. Lumberjacks.  Wow, who knew? Alas, cock ale has nothing to do with Oregon or its (no doubt sexy) men. It’s literal. Cock ale is beer made with rooster meat.  As reported by Gastro Obscura, cock ale was once a British mainstay and many a pub’s name is a tribute to it: The Famous Cock, The Cock and Bottle, and so on.  Much appreciated in the 1600s for its medicinal properties, cock ale was made (often by women) by immersing a rooster in a batch of boiling ale along with raisins, dates, nutmeg, and Sherry. Cock ale’s medicinal and restorative properties were legend. Besides purportedly curing tuberculosis, it was considered an early form of Viagra. So: cock ale to the rescue for what ails you. Think of it as craft beer meets chicken soup. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always a cocktail.


Pave the Way, Elon Musque: I’ll have a glass of Martian white, thanks

Ok, we don’t know if Elon Musk and his SpaceX project will be the first to try to plant a vineyard on Mars (his manned mission is planned for 2024), but we do know that scientists are already at work trying to figure out the Red Planet’s terroir and which grapes might grow best.  Scientists from the Republic of Georgia specifically. As part of their so-called IX Millennium Project, the researchers are conducting experiments at Georgia’s state-owned “grape library” where 450 indigenous grape varieties and 350 foreign varieties are grown. That Georgia is heading up a project on the future of wine in space isn’t all that surprising. Grapes have grown in that country, part of the original cradle of grapevine domestication on Earth, for more than 8,000 years. And while it would be cool to drink a glass of Martian Wine with Space food, the research’s primary purposes are practical—like attempting to understand the effects of radiation on life-sustaining agriculture on other planets.