Oregon Wine Pioneer Dick Erath Dies at 87

Dick Erath, a pioneering winemaker and grower who helped lay the foundation for today’s thriving Willamette Valley wine industry, died March 29. He was 87. Erath had been in ill health in recent months and passed away in Vancouver, Wash., where he lived for many years.

Erath was among a small group of like-minded wine lovers who came to Willamette Valley in the 1960s convinced that Pinot Noir had a bright future in Oregon. The group included David Lett, Charles Coury, David Adelsheim and Dick Ponzi. “We relied a lot on each other in those early days,” Ponzi recalled. “We all had the same hardships and shared information with each other freely. He was a charitable guy and would share his time and expertise.”

Friend and fellow winemaker Rollin Soles of Roco winery described Erath as a formidable presence. “He was a passionate guy, a tall and barrel-chested fella,” Soles said. “He had strong opinions and enjoyed a good argument, but he was one of the most open and funny guys I ever met.

Ponzi agreed. “Dick’s stature and his laugh were equally as big. I can hear his laugh now.”

Richard Charles Erath was born Sept. 16, 1935, in Alameda, California. He was fascinated with technology as a youth and after high school joined the United States Naval Reserve and studied electronics and engineering. He started making beer with a friend but quickly switched to wine. In 1965, he made his first barrel of wine in his garage.

After completing enology studies at University of California, Davis, in 1968, Erath relocated his family from California to Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, where he bought 49 acres and rented an old, unheated logger’s cabin to call home. He planted 23 grape varieties—including Pinot Noir—on four acres the following spring. “He always loved being in the vineyards, probably even more than the winery,” Ponzi recalled.

His first commercial vintage was 1972 and he produced 215 cases of Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir. He joined with friend and grower Cal Knudsen to form Erath Knudsen winery in 1975. That partnership split in 1987. Erath built his winery into a hugely successful brand and was producing more than 70,000 cases a year when he sold the business to Washington wine giant Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2006.

With the proceeds of that sale, he established the Erath Family Foundation, which has donated more than $2 million to wine and viticultural education programs at Oregon State University, Linfield College and more.

Erath is survived by his wife of 62 years, C.J. Suzi Erath, and their son, Erik Erath.

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Silicon Valley Bank and Its Wine Division Have a New Home

Silicon Valley Bank’s assets and liabilities have been bought by First Citizens Bank & Trust, a North Carolina–based bank that has been quietly growing over the last decade, now one of the 20 largest banks in the United States. First Citizens is taking on $110 billion in assets, $56 billion in deposits and $72 billion in loans from SVB, which failed this month after questions arose over the security of its deposits and a flood of account holders began withdrawing all their money in the span of just a few hours.

The deal includes SVB’s wine division, which has been providing financial advice and services to West Coast wineries in recent decades. More than 400 wineries are SVB clients, and the bank currently holds almost $1.2 billion in loans to wine clients.

What does the deal mean for SVB clients?

For starters, their money is secure. First Citizens executives say all SVB branches will be open and that account holders can use their existing debit and credit cards. When the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) took control of SVB on March 10, the federal government guaranteed the security of all accounts within a few days. But the long-term picture for the bank was cloudy. The FDIC invited large banks to explore purchasing SVB’s assets. Several looked at the financials before First Citizens made the deal.

First Citizens paid nothing up front. Instead, it gave the FDIC equity appreciation rights in First Citizens stock, which could be worth up to $500 million when cashed out. With roughly $209 billion in assets today, First Citizens has grown rapidly since 2009, in large part by scooping up troubled banks such as SVB. Many of its assets are in North Carolina and South Carolina, but the bank has expanded dramatically on the West Coast.

What about the wine division?

Anyone buying SVB could have decided to take or leave the wine division; the bank is primarily known for its work with the tech industry. Rob McMillan, founder and head of SVB’s wine division, said some banks inquired about buying the wine division separately. But he’s just happy it has a new home. “We don’t have many details, but we know that [the wine division] is included,” McMillan told Wine Spectator about the deal.

McMillan believes that First Citizens could be a good fit for the wine division. First Citizens already has a large agricultural portfolio, with farming clients on both the East and West coasts. “Likely it’s a lot of family farms, which gives them an appreciation for what [SVB does] in the wine industry,” he said.

“The other thing that’s encouraging is this company has a track record of making acquisitions of banks that have different business lines,” McMillan added. “It’s a good indicator that integration will work more toward keeping the businesses as they are versus coming in and making wholesale changes.”

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Champagne Maneuvers: Nicolas Feuillatte Owner Buys Henriot

Champagne Henriot has new owners … again. Six months after Artémis Domaines bought majority control of Maisons & Domaines Henriot, which included the Champagne house as well as Bouchard Père & Fils in Burgundy, William Fèvre in Chablis and Beaux Frères in Oregon, the Pinault family-owned firm has announced it will sell Champagne Henriot to Terroirs et Vignerons de Champagne (TEVC) for an undisclosed sum.

TEVC is the owner of Nicolas Feuillatte, the third-largest Champagne brand in the United States by volume, and the largest union of Champagne cooperatives, representing some 6,000 growers. Why the deal? TEVC executives were looking for a luxury label to add to their growing business. And Artémis already owns another premium Champagne brand.

What TEVC wanted

“Since 2017, Terroirs et Vignerons de Champagne was searching for alternative houses to complement the broad international success of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte,” TEVC general director Christophe Juarez told Wine Spectator. In 1808, the Henriot family established their house, which has enjoyed growing success in recent decades under the late Joseph Henriot.

But Henriot only owns 7.4 acres of vineyards. Juarez believes the ability to align Henriot’s négociant business with top fruit from major regional cooperatives will pay off. And he believes Henriot will give TEVC additional international visibility and sales expertise.

This will also allow TEVC to continue its shift toward premium wine. Henriot isn’t the first négociant that TEVC has added to its portfolio—in 2019, the company purchased Henri Abelé, rebranding it as Abelé 1757. As with Abelé, Henriot will run independently from Nicolas Feuillatte. “Champagne Henriot is at a much more mature development than Abelé 1757 when we bought it back in 2019,” said Juarez. “[It] is already well established and it will be even more autonomous.”

And what Artémis wanted

Artémis Domaines won’t be left without a Champagne brand. In December 2022, the company completed the purchase of Champagne Jacquesson. While Artémis executives say the Jacquesson purchase wasn’t the driver behind spinning off Henriot, they do admit to wanting to focus entirely on the one Champagne brand. A representative for the company said this would enable them to concentrate fully on Jacquesson. The representative added that after the Maison Henriot merger, the company received several inquiries about whether Henriot was for sale.

Established by François Pinault, founder of the Keurig luxury group, the Artémis Domaines portfolio includes Château Latour in Bordeaux, Clos de Tart and Domaine d’Eugénie in Burgundy, Château-Grillet in the Rhône Valley and Eisele Vineyard in Napa Valley. The sale is pending regulatory approvals, and company officials believe it should close by September.

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Exclusive: Ornellaia’s Axel Heinz Will Become CEO of Château Lascombes

After more than 17 years producing some of Tuscany’s most renowned wines in Bolgheri, Ornellaia winemaker Axel Heinz is going back to Bordeaux. Wine Spectator has learned that Lawrence Wine Estates has hired Heinz to serve as CEO of Château Lascombes. Partners Gaylon Lawrence and Carlton McCoy purchased the Margaux second growth six months ago.

“Axel is a master of his craft and the work he has done while overseeing Ornellaia and Masseto have taken this already heralded estate to new heights,” said McCoy, CEO of Lawrence Wine Estates. “I am thrilled to work with Axel to bring Château Lascombes to its full potential as one of the greatest wine estates in the world.”

Heinz has been estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany since 2015, after starting as winemaker for Ornellaia in 2005. He has earned a reputation as one of the world’s top winemakers during his time there. Born in Germany, Heinz grew up in Bordeaux, studied agronomy with a specialization in viticulture and enology at the University of Bordeaux and worked at Château La Tour Carnet and other Bordeaux wineries during his early career.

“In life, there are moments where you feel you must make important steps,” Heinz told Wine Spectator. “For personal reasons, for my family and professional reasons, it was time to go back home. I’m half Bordelais, so it was time to make the move.”

He added that he felt Ornellaia was in good hands. “I’ll do my best to make a great transition. We have a seasoned team and I’m sure they will continue to do great work.”

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Gaylon Lawrence owns one of the largest farming empires in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of acres of cotton, rice, corn and citrus stretching across parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois and Florida. He owns eight regional banks in the South as well as large real-estate ventures in his hometown of Nashville and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He grabbed the wine world’s attention in 2018 when he purchased the historic Heitz Cellar in Napa. Since then, he has bought or launched several other boutique wineries and founded an import/distribution firm called Demeine Estates. Lascombes has a long history dating back to the 17th century, but local industry members say it needs investment.

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David Burke Arrives in Rhode Island

Along with opening a new restaurant in White Plains, N.Y., and another in Manhattan, acclaimed chef-restaurateur David Burke has brought his flair to Rhode Island, his first location in the state. Earlier this month, Burke and David Burke Hospitality Management (DBHM) took over food and beverage operations at the Preserve Sporting Club & Residences in Richmond, R.I., including the 3,500-acre luxury resort’s centerpiece restaurant, Double Barrel Kitchen.

“I got a phone call from the owner of the Preserve Sporting Club & Residences, Paul Milhailides, last fall,” Burke told Wine Spectator via email. “It’s a great partnership. He’s got an energy that matches mine.”

Now called Double Barrel Steak by David Burke, the restaurant offers an overhauled menu featuring everything from regional favorites (lobster dumplings, oysters dressed with crab) to dishes like burrata and prosciutto salad and butternut squash ravioli. This is, of course, in addition to a wide range of steaks that are Himalayan salt–aged on site (from an 8-ounce filet mignon to a 40-ounce tomahawk), classic steak-house fixings and other seafood options such as swordfish chops—a Burke mainstay. “The location itself is the main inspiration,” said Burke, “the surrounding nature and resources, like Rhode Island’s fishing and agriculture industries.”

The new menu is a fitting match for a Preferred Hotels & Resorts destination that is centered around the outdoors and country sport. “[Burke is] perfect for a high-class, white-glove, sportsman–oriented property,” said Milhailides. “He loves working with game and saltwater fish.”

General manager Steve Lieberman oversees a list of more than 200 wines, distilled from a cellar worth around $1 million. The main focus is on steak-friendly reds from regions such as Napa Valley, the Rhône Valley, Bordeaux and Piedmont, but also well represented are Burgundy, Sonoma Pinot Noir, dessert wines and more. “We are privileged to have adopted the Preserve’s list, which is a great Old World classic one, like that of a collector who’s been curating it for 20 years, with a lot of big red verticals,” Lieberman explained, noting that he plans to add picks like Malbec and Petite Sirah, working with the resort’s director of operations. “Our goal is to make it the best list in Rhode Island and one of the top on the East Coast.”

The restaurant stretches across an impressive 7,000-square-foot space, with seating for 350. In addition to wood and leather elements and original art depicting horses, the space now boasts a new Himalayan salt wall, a hallmark of Burke’s restaurants.

Alongside Double Barrel Steak, the Preserve’s room service and special events, Burke’s team will oversee operations at the resort’s H2O Café, White Birch Café, Bourbon-focused Maker’s Mark Hobbit Houses and Cohiba & Laphroaig Safari Tasting Tents, where guests pair small plates with Scotch and cigars.

“The natural beauty of the Preserve is astounding, and it puts people in a relaxed, happy mood,” said Burke. “It’s up to us to assure that continues and actually improves. They’re in a special place, and they expect a special dining experience; we have to meet—and are meeting—those expectations.”

Double Barrel Steak joins a wide collection of restaurants, bars and event spaces where the culinary vision is led by David Burke and his team, including the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence–winning Red Horse by David Burke in Rumson, N.J.—C.D.

Left Bank Brasserie Expands into Oakland, Calif.

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Since the first Left Bank Brasserie opened in 2003 on San Jose’s vibrant Santana row, the Parisian-inspired restaurant—today a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner—has gained two Award of Excellence–winning siblings in the San Francisco Bay Area, in Larkspur and Menlo Park. On Feb. 17, a fourth location opened in Oakland’s Jack London Square, a waterfront dining and retail area.

Owned by Vine Hospitality, the brasseries are part of a group of diverse establishments throughout the Bay Area, including two Best of Award–winning LB Steak restaurants and Award of Excellence winner Meso Modern Mediterranean.

“When I first became aware of the opportunity at Jack London Square, I was thrilled by the thought of bringing our brasserie to such a vibrant part of Oakland,” said Left Bank Brasserie and LB Steak CEO Obadiah Ostergard. “The moment we saw the space, we knew it was perfect for Left Bank. Who wouldn’t want oysters and Champagne on this beautiful waterfront?”

The all-day menu will look familiar to those who have dined at Left Bank’s other restaurants, with dishes such as the popular “Left Bank Petit Plateau,” a platter of raw seafood (including oysters) for up to three guests. In addition to brasserie hallmarks like salade niçoise, moules frites and boeuf Bourguignon, executive chef Larry Finn has added a personal touch with new menu items like the poulet frit, fried chicken served with root vegetable remoulade inspired by his experience dining at New York’s Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken.

The wine program, too, sticks to Left Bank’s roots, with an impressive mix of selections primarily sourced from California and France. However, wine and spirits director Serena Harkey said the Jack London space allowed them to offer more, including a dedicated Champagne room. “We currently have just under 150 wine selections, but I hope to double this over the year,” she detailed, noting that Oakland is a community of wine lovers. “We aspire to provide them with one of the more seriously impressive, yet approachable programs in the area.”

[article-img-container][src=2023-03/tt_leftbankfood032323_1600.jpg] [credit= (Leila Seppa)] [alt= Left Bank Brasserie’s shellfish platter, with lobster in the center surrounded by raw oysters, on a white marble tabletop accompanied by glasses and a bottle of white wine][end: article-img-container]

Per Harkey, cocktails are also a highlight at the new restaurant, including twists on American standards, as well as alcohol-free options “that have the look and feel of a cocktail without the buzz.”

The restaurant occupies the former Belcampo Meat Co. space, a sprawling 5,500-square-foot warehouse with an additional 2,000 square feet for outdoor dining along the waterfront. The interior of the restaurant is reminiscent of a classic French bistro, with mosaic tiled floors, tin ceilings, wooden bistro tables and tufted leather banquettes. In addition, Ostergard said the team refreshed Left Bank’s typical design palette, opting for light blues and deep hues of red, along with custom wallpaper with images of the Port of Oakland and Bay Bridge.

Francophiles can also enjoy Left Bank’s “Fun and French” events throughout the year, including Bastille Day, an Oyster Fête and a celebration of the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau.—A.R.

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Following Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand Winemakers Assess Damage, Prepare for Harvest

Two weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle devastated the North Island of New Zealand, residents are still assessing the destruction. The storm is already considered the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere, with damages estimated to be upward of $8 billion. The cyclone, which killed at least 11 people, hit the farming and winegrowing regions of the North Island particularly hard.

For winemakers in areas such as Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, the timing could hardly be worse. Harvest is just weeks away. Some vineyards were flooded, and in certain areas, tons of mud carried by the waters buried vines and pushed into buildings, leaving bottles and equipment trapped under heavy muck.

But many New Zealand winemakers aren’t eager to put the spotlight on their losses. “We feel that the loss of life and destruction to homes and personal businesses is so much bigger than the wine story,” said Warren Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay. His somber tone is consistent among the island’s winegrowing community—some winemakers are reluctant to go on the record to report damage, focusing instead on the loss of human life and damages to their communities.


A tropical cyclone is an organized, rotating storm system that originates over warm tropical or subtropical waters. Known as hurricanes in the northern Atlantic and typhoons in the northwestern Pacific, the storms are cyclones in the Indian and southwestern Pacific oceans and are just as deadly. New Zealand is no stranger to storms, but Gabrielle was especially dangerous.

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While vintners were aware the cyclone was en route, no one could have predicted the volume of water that came with Gabrielle—all days before harvest was expected to begin. The total rainfall was between 14 and 18 inches, which included a 24-hour period of downpours, from Feb. 13 to 14, that saw more than three times as much rain as the February average.

The cyclone comes after a January storm that caused widespread flooding. Gabrielle’s high winds and waters washed away coastal roads and destroyed bridges, while landslides created more damage. On Feb. 14, the country declared a national state of emergency for just the third time in its history. Early estimates are that 10,000 New Zealand residents were left homeless in the wake of Gabrielle. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called the cyclone the country’s “biggest natural disaster” of the 21st century.

Nick Picone, chief winemaker at Sacred Hill in Hawkes Bay, reports that approximately 200 acres of Sacred Hill’s vines were “catastrophically affected.” He says it’s unknown how much of those grapes will be harvestable.

“Some vineyards have been lost completely under silt, like our Dartmoor vineyard,” explained Picone. “Approximately 37 acres there have gone completely under and will not be recoverable. This was Sacred Hill’s first vineyard, which was planted in the 1980s. The costs and benefits of trying to recover versus replanting must be carefully considered.”

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The New Zealand Herald reports that winemaker Philip Barber, using a shovel, dug out 12,000 bottles of wine at Petane Wines in Esk Valley. The wine was stuck in a storage room behind nearly 10 feet of silt and mud. The bottles will be tested to make sure the wine is ok and hopefully auctioned off to recoup costs.

Harvest in a disaster zone

The surrounding devastation is another factor, with winemakers unable to reach some vineyards or move equipment. “We are also currently cut off from our Rifleman’s vineyard farther up the valley, with no bridge access across the river,” said Picone. “We are working on scenarios for how to get this fruit out of the vineyard in the next week or two. Vineyards that were flooded but not up to the fruit zone should still be harvestable, but any vineyard that was flooded up to the fruit (evident by silt deposits in the bunch zone) will need careful testing to ensure the fruit is safe to harvest. We don’t have any vineyards in this position.”

Despite worst-case scenarios, Kiwi winemakers are careful to not discount the vintage entirely. The region’s largest wine region of Marlborough, on the South Island, wasn’t affected dramatically. As for the North Island, “This week, those who are able are assessing vineyards, fruit and looking to the upcoming harvest, while assisting those who are less well off,” said Gibson. “For many, there is still good fruit out there. The vintage will be difficult, but it will not be impossible. Hawkes Bay wine folk will rally and there will be good wines produced.”

Julian Grounds, chief winemaker at Craggy Range in Havelock North, is counting his blessings. “From a Craggy Range perspective, we escaped with no damage to vineyards and buildings and consider ourselves very lucky,” Grounds said. “This was also the case for the wider Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa wine regions, as the river protecting the area held its bank but burst farther down.”

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“Unfortunately, around some of the areas located within 15 to 30 minutes [from us], flooding has caused significant damage,” he added. “And that’s an absolutely devastating outcome, as [it] will likely mean replanting. The region of Esk Valley was one of the hardest hit, so our thoughts are with them.”

Grounds adds that Craggy Range is approximately one week from harvesting Chardonnay, and he is hopeful the current dry, sunny weather will continue. Picking dates were already pushed back by a few weeks compared to 2019–2021 harvests, due to a cold and wet growing year.

Paul Brajkovich of Chardonnay powerhouse Kumeu River reported, “We are relatively unscathed in Kumeu. The cyclone came through last week; the flooding did not reach the winery, but the winds blew over a few trees and at least helped dry things out a bit. Coastal areas close to us, such as Muriwai, Piha and Bethells, have suffered quite a bit of damage, with slips and a number of houses now uninhabitable.” Brajkovich said a Dartmoor grower, whom the winery typically purchases grapes from, had to escape floodwaters of up to 13 feet. It’s believed their crop was destroyed.

He adds that Kumeu River started harvesting Pinot Gris and will begin picking Chardonnay next week. “This is not the fabulous vintages of 2019 and 2020, but at least the weather is fine and we are getting some decent stuff.”

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LVMH Decides One Top Provençal Rosé Brand Is Not Enough, Buys Into Château Minuty

The world of prestige rosé is consolidating. Moët-Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of LVMH, has purchased a majority stake in the fast-growing Provence estate Château Minuty.

Fourth-generation owners Jean-Etienne and François Matton will remain at the helm of the winery their family founded in Saint-Tropez in 1936. Minuty is credited with helping establish the classic pale pink, aromatic style of Provençal rosé that has become the gold standard, and with fueling the explosive popularity of dry pink wine. Today, Minuty is the best-selling premium rosé in France (premium is classified at more than €15 per bottle).

In the Moët Hennessy portfolio of luxury wine labels, Minuty joins rosé winery Château d’Esclans, producer of Whispering Angel. The French conglomerate became the majority owner of that estate back in 2019, joining forces with founder Sacha Lichine, and the alliance has proven highly successful.

“Since we entered into the partnership with Sacha Lichine on Chateau d’Esclans, the business has literally doubled, and we have no doubt that the growth will continue and that we can expand this success to Minuty,” Philippe Schaus, chairman and CEO of Moët Hennessy, told Wine Spectator.

How does Minuty’s Matton family feel about being under the same umbrella as another leading prestige rosé? “We do not see ourselves as direct competitors because we serve different customer bases,” said François Matton. “Château d’Esclans is the leading Provence wine brand in the United States, while Minuty holds the leading position in Europe, the Caribbean, and Dubai.” The wine styles are also different, he explains, with Minuty especially focused on lightness and freshness.

American wine drinkers can expect to see more wines from Minuty, including whites and reds, reports Schaus, as well as an increased focus on the luxury wines from the estate, namely the Château Minuty 281 ($85) and Rosé et Or ($55), a price jump from Minuty’s Prestige ($30) and M ($27) bottlings.

Schaus believes the Côtes de Provence will increasingly become synonymous with the world’s most elite rosé and top producers will continue to see growth. “Provence is increasingly becoming to rosé wines what Champagne is to sparkling wines.” And by leveraging the charms of Provençal lifestyle and heritage, he added, “these wines have found their place not only in the apéritif consumption moment, but also in fine dining and high energy bars and clubs.”

The Champagne comparison is not lost on Matton, either. While Minuty has seen impressive growth, especially in the last five years, he believes the synergies between LVMH’s Champagne brands, including Krug, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart, will build a wider audience for his rosés. “We share many of the same customers,” he said.

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More Than One Million Acres Burn in Chilean Wine Regions

Chile’s firefighting efforts continue, nearly three weeks after hundreds of fires erupted in several Southern provinces, burning more than one million acres, destroying more than 2,100 homes and businesses, and killing at least 25 people. According to officials, dozens of uncontrolled fires are still burning in and around Concepicon province, which lies 350 miles south of Santiago. The majority are ablaze in the Ñuble and Bío Bío regions within the Itata Valley, home to some of the country’s oldest vineyards. Additional fires are spreading north into parts of Maule and south into Araucanía.

“The consequences of the fires have been terrible,” Eduardo Jordán Villalobos, technical director for Miguel Torres, told Wine Spectator. “Many acres of forests burned, and this time, unlike the 2017 fire, I have seen a greater number of vineyards, houses and even wine cellars [burn].”

Vineyards often act as buffers against fires, but these intense blazes have left many vines with significant damage. Many of the grapes slated for the 2023 vintage are all but ruined by smoke exposure or heat damage.

Villalobos said fires reached one of Torres’ estate vineyards in Bío Bío Valley, near the city of Nacimiento. “We have 10 acres of País vineyards over 150 years old that we managed to save an important portion of, thanks to the fire walls we had made.” Villalobos added that during the fire period, several vineyards that Torres works with in the affected valleys had endured fire and intense smoke damage. Yet, only one of its growers, Ernestorina Gonzales, suffered the loss of vines.

The 2022 to 2023 growing season in southern Chile, especially from December onward, has been marked by intense heat and gusty winds that help spark and spread wildfires. The absence of summer rains this year has increased the risk of wildfires. Villalobos said rainfall totals are the lowest southern Chile has seen over the last four years.

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In the hills of the Chilean Coast Range, Andrés Sánchez, winemaker for both the Gillmore and Dakél wineries, had a close call at Dakél’s Maricerro Vineyard. “When we saw the cloud created by the fire, we dedicated ourselves for two intense days to prevent the fire from reaching the vineyards, house and bodega,” he said. Dakél is made in partnership with Kendall-Jackson’s Don Hartford and Randy Ullom. Sánchez and his small, dedicated team managed to prevent the fire from reaching any of the property’s assets: “We slept in the cars, so as not to leave the place.”

In Guarilihue, Sebastián De Martino of De Martino has been assessing the damage to his estate vineyard. “It’s been quite shocking. I never experienced something like this,” he said. But like Sánchez, De Martino considers himself among the lucky: “The soils were horse-plowed and acted like fire stoppers. We estimate that 3,000 vines burned around the edges of the property. Other friends’ vineyards, wineries and houses burned.” De Martino noted that while the fire risk has diminished near his vineyard, there is still significant smoke in the air.

Preserving History

Chilean vineyards such as Torres’, De Martino’s and those in the surrounding Itata Valley have become pillars of the country’s identity—a way to preserve and rejuvenate ancient vines and old winemaking traditions. In Itata, grapegrowing dates back to 1551, when Spanish missionaries planted the first vines of Moscatel and País, also known as Listán Prieto or Mission. The area is home to dense concentrations of old vines, including 100-plus-year-old Carignan and País that are planted on their own roots. These head-trained, or goblet, vineyards are often tended by hand and dry-farmed.

While Chile’s wine production in and around its capital of Santiago swelled during the 1970s and ’80s, many of Itata’s vineyards were demoted for use in bulk wine and overlooked. Any new plantings favored fine wine grapes. But a small fraction of vintners never abandoned their prized heritage vines. Within the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in these vineyards and the wines made here, as well as a sustained effort to preserve its winemaking traditions.

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For De Martino, Torres and others, terroir isn’t just about farming. They not only revived old vineyards but also embraced local winemaking customs. De Martino naturally ferments some wines in amphora (viejas tinajas). This tradition began in Chile when the first vineyards were planted in the 15th century, using indigenous clay. Torres destems grapes from these old vineyards using a bamboo mat called a zaranda and ferments in open wood containers made from raulí, a tree native to southern Chile.

Perhaps more devastating than the sheer destruction of vineyards is how these wildfires have affected the livelihoods of locals. As for the wineries, it’s unclear whether any of the affected wines will reach the market.

“Undoubtedly, a year of great challenge for our technical team,” said Villalobos, noting that going through the 2017 fires helped prepare his team for this harvest, which began last week. “Another thing we experienced this season, and in 2017, is the importance of the design of forest plantations that allow greater security, the use of firebreaks and the earlier reaction of the government entities responsible for attacking the fires.”

The loss of the vintage and the damage done to vineyards and facilities could be financially catastrophic for small wineries and growers, perhaps handicapping them for years. They face an uncertain future, but many Chileans are united in the idea of protecting and aiding their neighbors. The extreme heat and winds have subsided for now, but as De Martino noted, there are still fires burning throughout Itata and beyond: “It’s not over yet. We are now figuring out ways to help.”

Local donations and fundraisers are underway. Julio Alonso, executive director of Wines of Chile’s USA office, says the organization has started a GoFundMe effort to raise money to support winemaking families in Itata and preserve the region’s vines.

“We are organizing various areas of help,” said Alonso, noting a collaboration with Chile’s Talca University to provide advice and resources to rescue the impacted vineyards. “We know that old vines are the key asset of these small producers, so we are focusing on helping on that aspect.”

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Turning Tables: Wine Bar George Opens at Orlando Airport

If you’re looking for a fine wine pit stop during your travels, Best of Award of Excellence winner Wine Bar George—owned and led by Master Sommelier George Miliotes—now has a second location in Florida, at Orlando International Airport, in the Palm Court area of the new Terminal C.

“[On our first day], five guys walked up to the bar and their international flight had been delayed a little bit,” recounted Miliotes, who has spent decades in the restaurant business. “They sat down, ordered a bottle of Cabernet Franc, got a big old cheese and charcuterie board and ended up having three bottles of Cabernet Franc before their flight eventually took off. That’s exactly what I expected to have happen at the airport.”

Miliotes—who helped launch Disney World’s the California Grill before becoming director of beverage and hospitality for Darden Restaurant’s Seasons 52 and the Capital Grille—jokes that he gets every sort of clientele at the new restaurant, from frazzled passengers looking for respite during a layover to others looking to start their vacation after a long flight. “You have to be able to read [each guest experience],” he said. “If it is just a quick transactional experience, then it’s a transactional experience, but at the highest level that we can [offer]. If they do want to know a little bit about their wine, then we’re there.”

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With 75 offerings covering a range of varieties, regions, styles and prices, the new wine list is shorter than that at the original location in Disney Springs. Aside from a handful of wines on tap, each label is available by the glass or by the bottle, with around 18 selections also available in 1-ounce and 3-ounce pours, even more exclusive wines such as vintage Champagne, red and white Burgundy, classified-growth Bordeaux, Napa Cabernets and super Tuscans. Per Miliotes, a flexible beverage program is necessary to help his team find the right selection for each guest’s particular needs. Along with cheese and charcuterie, the wine bar also serves small plates such as warm crab dip and house-made hummus, sandwiches and salads.

Miliotes observed that fans of the original Wine Bar George have said they were happily surprised to see the restaurant at Orlando International, while those who first encountered the airport location have expressed their excitement at finding it in Disney Springs. “We want to continue to build that kind of cross-pollination,” said Miliotes.

The new outpost is a collaboration with Master ConcessionAir (MCA), an airport restaurant-retail group that only recently expanded into Orlando International. Miliotes notes that MCA helped him keep true to his original vision, while still developing a practical plan for an airport location. But there was one thing that stumped him: breakfast service. “A lot of people do early flights, particularly out of Orlando,” Miliotes explained. “MCA doesn’t choose my wine list—that’s what I do. So, at some point in time, I had to look in my heart and say, ‘You know what, they know much more about breakfast in the airport than I do.’ We took their ideas wholeheartedly and have really let them guide that part of the experience. And you know what? People want to get breakfast and a glass of wine, so we’re good with that.”—J.L

The Capital Grille Opens a New Illinois Location

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Fresh off the debut of its new location in Louisville, Ky., the Capital Grille will be opening a restaurant in Skokie, Ill., on March 10. The new location, in the Westfield Old Orchard center, joins the Capital Grille’s widespread portfolio, which includes 61 Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners.

“We have had our eye on the Skokie community for years and were excited to have found a location that suits our needs,” Keith Moore, senior director of real estate development for the Darden Restaurants group, told Wine Spectator via email.

Like its sibling locations, the Skokie Capital Grille will focus on steaks dry-aged on location and prepared daily by an in-house butcher. This includes a bone-in New York Strip, a porcini-rubbed Delmonico cut with aged balsamic vinegar and a filet mignon with cipollini onions. Chef and location partner Nick Santangelo, originally from Chicago, will also prepare dishes like calamari with hot cherry peppers, crab cakes and lobster mac and cheese, which are joined by a range of desserts. “Our team looks forward to joining the community as the destination of choice for family celebrations and business meetings alike,” said Santangelo.

Manager and location partner Thomas Dierking—previously the beverage manager at the Capital Grille in Lombard, Ill.—oversees a list of more than 300 wines, with plenty of steak-friendly reds throughout: Napa Cabernets, Rhône reds, super Tuscans and Washington state reds, for instance. This includes leading names like Paul Hobbs and Château de Beaucastel. A number of wines not often served by the glass are offered to guests using a Coravin system. “The dining scene in Skokie is already fabulous,” said Dierking. “We are honored to add to that and look forward to exceeding the community’s expectations.”

The 2,500-bottle, floor-to-ceiling cellar is on display for guests in the contemporary-design dining room, complemented by large chandeliers, original art pieces and photographs of Skokie. As at other Capital Grille locations, guests can store their wine in private wine lockers, and locker holders have first access to special wine tastings and events. The restaurant’s second floor serves as a private dining area.—C.D.

BLT Steak Closes in New York City

BLT Restaurant Group has closed its New York flagship, the Best of Award of Excellence–winning BLT Steak in the luxury Dorchester building on East 57th Street in Manhattan. True to its name, the restaurant had served up choice cuts—including filet mignon, porterhouse and New York strip steaks—alongside a 115-label wine list focused heavily on California, France and Italy. Fans will still be able to enjoy BLT Steak’s menu and wine list at sibling locations across the U.S., including Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners in Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C. and Honolulu. BLT Restaurant Group also holds awards for its BLT Prime and BLT Prime by David Burke restaurants. The Manhattan BLT Steak’s wine collection will live on just a bit farther uptown at BLT Prime New York.—C.D.

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Aureole Las Vegas Closing After 24 Years

Chef Charlie Palmer is closing his Aureole restaurant in Las Vegas, known for its Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list and its four-story wine tower, where “wine angels” sailed on wires to retrieve bottles. A centerpiece of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino since it opened in 1999, Aureole has been a training ground for many young chefs and sommeliers.

But after 24 years, Palmer is ready to focus on other projects. “It really doesn’t make sense for me to continue with it,” Palmer, 63, said. New ownership of Mandalay Bay and the addition of a convention center, “really changed the DNA of the hotel,” he added.

His company, the Charlie Palmer Collective, has been in transition in recent years. (Read our Aug. 31, 2022, cover story, “The Palmer Principle.”) In 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, the chef closed the original Aureole in New York after 34 years and rebranded the space as Charlie Palmer Steak, which holds a Best of Award of Excellence. That same year, Palmer’s steakhouse in The Four Seasons, Las Vegas, shut its doors because of COVID-19, and its future is uncertain. He still maintains numerous other venues, including Best of Award of Excellence–winning Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, Calif., other Charlie Palmer Steak locations and his newest dining concept, AperiBar, in New York’s Times Square.

Palmer’s attention has turned to a collection of upscale resorts, named Appellation, in the western United States. Four resorts are now in the works: Pacific Grove, Healdsburg and Petaluma in California’s Sonoma County, and Idaho’s Sun Valley.

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Appellation Healdsburg has already broken ground north of town. The plan includes a restaurant, mixed-use retail space, a high-end senior living community, residences, a large event center and intimate spaces for local artisans to teach their crafts. The Petaluma hotel is in the center of the historic river town, while the Pacific Grove facility will be a few steps from Monterey Aquarium, and the Sun Valley hotel is on Ketchum’s Main Street. “They’re all in places that I love,” Palmer said.

Aureole’s massive, impressive wine cellar—which has 26,000 bottles in inventory and holds deep collections of Burgundy, California, Italy and Bordeaux gems—is among the largest in Las Vegas and has held its Grand Award since 2000. But its future is out of Palmer’s hands. “Mandalay Bay owns the collection,” he said. Nor is he certain about the fate of the wine tower and wine angels.

Replacing Aureole, for a one-year culinary residency, is Retro by Voltaggio, from Top Chef stars and brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio. That restaurant will feature American family-style dining and a 1980s to 1990s pop-culture atmosphere that will extend from the cocktails and menu (think Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, pot roast and lobster thermidor) to the soundtrack, art on display and entertainment. The brothers have previously partnered with MGM Resorts at their MGM National Harbor restaurant Voltaggio Brothers Steak House in Maryland, which holds a Best of Award of Excellence. But for Bryan Voltaggio, the new project is something like a homecoming. He got his start at Aureole in New York under Palmer’s mentorship.

Aureole’s final service, Palmer said, will be sometime in April.

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