Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Napa Chards: Judgment of Paris Revisited

The appearance of the move Bottle Shock at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year caused us to cast an eye backward to the the 1976 Judgment of Paris at which Napa Valley wines, that is, its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, began to get worldwide recognition when preferred in blind tastings with the French classics. Judged by Frenchmen, no less.

Drinks magazine editor David Mahoney asked me to do a piece on how Napa Valley Chardonnays are doing today. The answer is, "quite well, thank you." The article, in the Summer 2008 issue, includes interviews with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena (played in the film by Chris Pine), former Flora Springs winemaker Ken Deis, current Flora Springs communications director Sean Garvey, Shaun Richardson of Clos Pegase, and Jon Emmerich of Silverado.

Two interesting notes. One, most California Chardonnays were called Pinot Chardonnay back then, a piece of trvia that many of us have almost forgotten. Two, I talked with Steven Spurrier, who conceived of and conducted the Paris tastings, in Bordeaux during this year's primeurs tasting. The Decanter contributor is played in the film by the accomplished actor Alan Rickman, but that doesn't keep Spurrier from labeling the film a bit of bowdlerized trivia. He much preferred the real version.

Scratch a wine critic and find a film critic!

If you would like a pdf of the whole article courtesy of Drinks, please contact me at

Until next time....

Roger Morris

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Headline Writer Tattoos J Winemaker

When I visited the progressive J winery in Sonoma County this spring with some other wine journalists, I was surprised to hear head winemaker George Bursick tell us to come back in two years and J would be making the best Pinot Noir in California. Normally, winemakers are as bland as football coaches in saying anything truly quotable. So Bursick's willingness to paint a bullseye on his chest for other winemakers to shoot at woke me up after a morning of sipping wines. The statement was especially daring as Bursick, formerly wine chef at Ferrari-Carano, had never made Pinot Noir commercially.

When I got back to my desk, I wrote my column for The NewsJournal in Wilmington on Bursick's pronouncements. Many readers don't know it, but writers don't write the headlines for their stories. Fortunately, I have good headline writers, and my column on Bursick and J appeared under the headline:

"Audacious Winemaker Shoots for the Top with His Pinot Noirs."

I was not surprised to find out that the folks at J did not go all spastic on me or George. A few days later, veteran PR head Tony Lombardi sent me a note with a link to the J blogsite ( There was a picture of George with a faux tattoo that says "Audacious Winemaker" that Lombardi had a local tattootist whip up.

Which goes to show you that Bursick, unlike the grape he plans to take to new heights, is not thin-skinned.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Counting Bottles on the Wall

I first met painter Thomas Stiltz at a reception at the University of Delaware in April, but I already knew about him through leering at his life-like paintings of famous wine bottles -- some in pristine lineups, others dishabille in the middle of affaires de table -- on gallery walls from Carmel to Martha's Vineyard.

A former commercial photographer turned serious painter, Stiltz was doing OK until a gallery owner suggested that he take the occasional glasses of wine he placed in his still lives and turn them into real bottles. Although he was hesitant at first, she loaned him a bottle of Opus One -- "1997, I think" -- and the rest is history. Stiltz has since painted through the famous vineyards of California and, more recently, Bordeaux to the praise of critics, wine lovers, and winery owners. The latter are very happy to exchange rights to paint their famous labels in exchange for giclee prints of his paintings, which cost from $850 to $1,500 each. Cakebread, Joseph Phelps, Beringer, Heitz, Shafer, and Chateau Montelena have been his muses in an official series that could be called, "Let Us Now Paint Famous Bottles."

In person, Stiltz is a delightful conversationalist. While he doesn't sleep with his models, he does consume them. "My strength is painting wood, glass, and metal, so wine bottles come naturally," he says. A graduate of Delaware, Stiltz returned to campus to give a lecture and to unveil a print of the painting above, "Five First Growths," (photo by Ella Morris) which he was donating to the university.

Next, Stiltz is turning his attention to portraits of famous musical instruments. While we all love classical music, I fear those of us who love his cellar collection are in danger of suffering from bottle-less shock.

To view or purchase Stiltz' paintings and prints, go to

Added Notes: Look for two new articles in the June editions of these wine magazines -- my report on the 2008 Bordeaux primeurs tastings of the 2007 barrel samples in Beverage Media and a look at Napa Valley Chardonnays 25 years after the Judgment of Paris in Drinks magazine.

There will be no new postings this week. We are away on assignment to Colca Canyon in Peru.

Until the next time...

Roger Morris