Although I am a long-time member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (since 1972, when my production of Lady Sings the Blues received five nominations), I chose to spend Oscar night Sunday comfortably ensconced in my warm bedroom watching the show while wining-and-dining on various favorite things. This year it was a bottle of Laetitia's Brut Cuvee, a sparkling wine which I really favor. (Their Brut Rose, incidentally, is the finest on the planet, more than equal to Dom Perignon's version.) A bottle of Justin's Isoceles red was waiting in the wings. Food was some home-made chicken liver pate, much better than the store-bought version, made with sauteed onions and mushrooms, one anchovy filet, secret spices, the fresh livers cooked 'til rare and then blended in a food processor. Delicious. Followed by braised short ribs and sautéed Chinese vegetables. Ending with a few pieces of rich dark chocolate from Monsieur Marcel's shop. However, sitting on my dining room table are two spectacular bottles of wine, which I had received that very morning after a very special lunch this week with a female winemaker named Alison Crary. I had been curious about the wine being served by Chef Wolfgang Puck at the exclusive Governor's Ball after the Oscar ceremony on Sunday... and she had all the answers.
Alison Crary (right) with journalist Sophie Gayot and the wines being served at the ball.
At a lunch on Saturday at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at the Hotel Bel Air, Wolf had detailed for me the 50+ selection of hors d'oevres, small plate entrees and desserts he was serving to the 1,500 guests the following evening. He previously had told me to speak to the Sterling Vineyards people about the wines being served, the ninth year they were doing so. (And whispered to me that he had a hundred bottles of Dom Perignon chilling on ice for after the Governors Ball and invited me to join him, which I politely declined.) The one party on Oscar weekend which I never miss is the Mont Blanc Unicef "Signature for Good" event hosted by Lutz Bethage, CEO of Montblanc International, together with Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. This Saturday afternoon at the Hotel Bel Air, actress Hilary Swank joined them to make an impassioned speech about their recent trip to Ethiopia for the "Montblanc Signatare for Good Initiative," a cultural and charitable project benefiting UNICEF educational programs. Wonderful cause and I made a nice donation.
The Montblanc-Unicef event was held on Saturday at the Hotel Bel Air.
Wolfgang Puck at the Bel Air on Saturday.
Wolf's earlier suggestion had led to my lunch at Le Petit Four with a charming woman named Alison Crary, the red wine maker at the vineyard. It was nice to see a lovely woman wine maker in a mostly-male and oft-chauvenistic world. Alison told me that they would mainly be serving two Sterling wines at the dinner, a 2007 Reserve Cabernet and a 2009 Reserve Chardonnay:
We will provide 640 bottles of the cab and the same number of chardonnay, as well as 120 bottles of Late Harvest Riesling, 120 bottles of Muscat Canelli, and 120 bottles of Late Harvest Zinfandel dessert wines. At the pre-show reception we'll be pouring our Napa Valley wines.
The Oscar people also served Thienot Champagne, a wine I didn't know. Allison went on to tell me that Sterling would be providing 2,280 bottles of wine in total for the event, which adds up to 13,680 glasses if you figure six pours from each bottle. "Here's a fun fact," she added:
There are an average of 800 grapes in a bottle of Sterling wine, so you can figure 1,824,000 grapes gave their all to the spectacular wines for this Oscar celebration. And we just learned that an Oscar weighs about the same as two bottles of wine, or a magnum.
Alison Crary is one of the few female winemakers in the mostly-male industry.
I was curious how she got to this prestigious position at such a major winery, since Sterling is a division of Diageo, one of the world's leading premium drink businesses:
I got a degree in wine-making from a famous German school, then worked for two years at Acacia Vineyards and went to Sterling to work under Harry Hansen, their senior winemaker. I've been there eight years, and love what I am doing as a winemaker for the red varietals. I have the opportunity to harvest over 200 vineyard blocks within Napa County and to evaluate the wines made from these sites year after year. I constantly marvel at what nuances the unique combinations of vineyard site, soil, slope, sun and winemaking philosophy can evoke from carefully-tendered vineyards. I've traveled to more than 32 winegrowing regions in nine countries, and am convinced that the opportunity to walk the vineyards, dig my feet in the soil, taste the wine and tour the cellars of these diverse areas has helped me develop an understandng and respect for the indigenous winemaking traditions.
She told me that she is currently very excited about the new Sterling Platinum that just come to market, a proprietary red blend of 94 percent cab, 3 percent merlot and 3 percent petit bordeaux. "We only had 6,500 cases of it and it's all sold out," she laughed.
"I'll send you a bottle of the next vintage." We clicked wine glasses on that promise.
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