June 2010


Shortly after pulling off a guest chef job for Parducci Wine Cellars, and having fielded offers from two other wineries to consider future culinary collaborations, I turned my attention to Sutter Home Winery’s 2010 Build a Better Burger Contest.

With dreams of my own big fat prize check, I went to Sutter home winery’s website.

I had a mental leap of creativity that would ensure that my submission would be unique, and I thought it a genuine stand out recipe idea, for good or ill; I was either go to turn heads or stomachs.

Visiting Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger, I was thrilled to find that the prize had been increased to $100,000 for 2010, the contest’s 20th Anniversary. My elation turned to confusion, then unhappiness, as I read of an exclusion that would effect me.

The Rules

2. The Contest is open to U.S. residents, aged twenty-one (21) years or older, except for the following:
(a)  Residents of California, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories or possessions…

I pored over Sutter Home’s burger contest site, and found some information regarding the exclusion of Californians, and other relevant information.

Sutter Home’s Burger Contest History Page

Shortly after the 1998 cook-off, Sutter Home Public Relations Director Stan Hock made the bleak announcement that “this was our last Build a Better Burger® contest. We are not discontinuing the promotion because of any dissatisfaction on our part but because the State of California has changed its regulations on contests. It is no longer legal for us to sponsor any contest in which the prize exceeds one dollar And that’s no prize, because for a buck you can only get one of those other burgers, not the one-in-a-million variety but just another one of the eight or twenty billion or so.”

As it turned out, the legal experts at Sutter Home determined that the new California law only made California residents ineligible to participate in the contest, joining the state of Utah where the contest is also illegal, so BBB was able to continue after all.

With Californians now ineligible to participate in BBB, [in 1999] an effort was made to generate more entries to make up for losing the state that had generated 50 to 60 percent of the contest submissions. A winning recipe was chosen each day from Memorial Day through Labor Day and awarded $100. Sutter Home wine bottles on grocery store shelves sported bottleneck brochures containing burger recipes, mail-in grocery and wine rebate offers, and instantly-redeemable coupons for mustard and cheeses.

In an effort to make it possible [in 2002] for Californians to once again participate in the contest, the American Culinary Federation presented the competition, with Sutter Home and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as sponsors. Finalists were chosen in two divisions: Best Beef Burger (Grand Prize) and Best Alternative Burger.

[In 2008] Jeffrey Starr, Sutter Home’s Culinary Director and Executive Chef, announced the winners and Bob Torkelson, Sutter Home’s President, presented them with giant checks and arty trophies.

Anthony Torres, Principal and Senior Vice President Administration of Trinchero Family Estates, welcomed the [2009] invited guests gathered under the big tent. Wendy Nyberg, TFE Senior Director of Marketing, announced the news that BBB would be doubling the Grand Prize money for 2010, making the contest the highest paying annual cooking contest in America!…Roger Trinchero, Vice Chairman and CEO of Trinchero Family Estates, joined his nephew Anthony Torres in welcoming all of the finalists back to the stage. James McNair announced the winners, who were presented with checks.

I contacted Sutter Home to ask about the exclusion of millions of Americans, roughly 12 percent of the US population, through Facebook, and the unsatisfying response came quickly.

“Hey John – Unfortunately, Californians are excluded from both Wine & Burger University and the Build a Better Burger competition due to California alcohol laws.”

I also e-mailed Sutter Home and asked for a more detailed response for a possible future article (you are reading it now). Again, the response was timely, and although more detailed, it was no more satisfying.

Dear John,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us regarding the Build a Better Burger Contest. We are as frustrated as you that we cannot offer the Build A Better Burger Contest or other sweepstakes promotions to California residents. However under California law and regulations, a California wine producer is prohibited from giving a California consumer anything of value over $1.

Under California Business and Professions Code Section 25600, no licensee, i.e. alcoholic beverage manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer, shall give any premium, gift, or free goods in connection with the sale or distribution of any alcoholic beverage, except as provided by rules that shall be adopted by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control (ABC). The ABC adopted regulation 106(j) which states that a supplier is prohibited from the giving of any premium, gift or goods of any sort, whether by way of sweepstakes, drawings, prizes, cross-merchandising promotions with a nonalcoholic beverage product or products or any other method if the value of the premium, gift or goods given to an individual exceeds $3.00 with respect to beer, $1.00 with respect to wine or $5.00 with respect to distilled spirits.

Until California residents convince the state legislature to change the law, we unfortunately have to prohibit California residents from entering our contest and sweepstakes. Maybe you can rally California consumers to work toward changing the law. We would love to open up the Build A Better Burger Contest to California consumers!

Graciela DeHaro

Trinchero Family Estates

Sutter Home Winery

While I think Graciela DeHaro was somewhat graceless in her communication to me – Trinchero Family Estates might have sought a solution in the California legislature anytime in the last 10 years rather than suggest the impetus for change is mine – I was inspired to see what I could do.

I initially contacted Mike Korson who heads up the Santa Rosa District Office of the California ABC, responsible for matters in Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Mike Korson directed me to contact Alma Yamada, District Administrator at the ABC HQ for the Trade Enforcement Unit.

I called and left a message for Ms. Yamada.

Chris Albrecht, Deputy Division Chief at HQ and member of the CA ABC’s Executive Management Team, overseer of the Trade Enforcement Unit, called me back.

My initial reading of 25600 and 106(j) did not lead me to conclude that the prohibition for Californians exists, the prize earning event was unrelated to the sale, distribution, or promotion of wine and 25600/106 did not obtain, but I am neither a lawyer nor certain that I was reading the most recent versions of the code and regulation. I found it odd that the California legislature could conceivably pass rules that punish only Californians, at least as it applies Sutter Home’s burger contest.

Sutter Home Winery/Trinchero Family Estates, a multimillion dollar wine industry leader, certainly makes political contributions to ensure access for situations like this. It boggles my mind that a smart and successful business would ignore the opportunity to correct an unnecessary inequity, but seems to take Californians for granted.

Albrecht did not understand how Sutter Home could possibly think they could hold the event in California, regardless of where the competitors hail from; he believes that the contest is a gross violation of 25600 and 106, and the case law that come from tests of 25600 and 106, preclude not only Californians from the contest but anyone from any place as the contest increases Sutter Home’s brand awareness, is held in California, and a gift/prize is being awarded here in California. Albrecht said excluding Californians from participating in the contest was had no bearing on whether 25600 and 106 were being followed or violated.

I find it funny that the ABC had no idea that Sutter Home ran such a contest, Food Network’s broadcast of the event is pretty showy; ironically, it took a suggestion from Sutter Home that I become involved to bring it to the attention of the ABC. While there are many wineries that run similar, smaller profile, contests – and do allow Californians, I did not mention them to the ABC. I only mentioned the Sutter Home event because Sutter Home sent me out on my own to do their work for them.

In view of the Albrecht’s statement that the burger contest is not legal, I asked Albrecht about options, and it was determined that Sutter Home could hold the contest out of state, in Las Vegas (where outdoor grilling in the Summer sun is close to Hell) as an example, and that a contest out of state could include competitors from California.

Laws are amended over time, and case law further clarifies what a law means. Albrecht explained that the giant checks, the enormous cash prizes, awarded at the California winery location, with television and other media coverage, generate enormous benefit and promotion. The recent June 11, 2010 Food Network rebroadcast of the 2005 Burger Contest featured hundreds of Sutter Home logo sightings, and the many if not most of the burger recipes chosen included Sutter Home wine as an ingredient; pretending that there exists no promotional effort or benefit on Sutter Home’s part stretches credulity. The winery owners and officers are tied to the giant prize checks by the winery’s own contest website.

Giant Sutter Home logo branded prize awards made at California winery site – as seen on TV

I shared my initial initial findings in an e-mail to Graciela DeHaro, asking for a response. In a very short time, Ron Larson, Sutter Home’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel called me directly.

Larson had never heard of Albrecht, but said that he had determined the appropriateness of the contest rules and operation with the “ABC’s head of enforcement Matt.”

While I assume Larson referred to Matthew Botting, General Counsel for the CA Dept. of ABC; in a follow up, Albrecht wrote that he was, “not aware of any specific conversation between Sutter Home’s counsel and General Counsel Matt Botting or any other Department employee, but I can assure you that during our conversation, I provided accurate and consistent information on the subject.”

I do not know whether the contest is legal, but I would encourage Sutter Home and Trinchero Family Estates to work to make it so for Californians – the CA ABC does not operate in a vacuum; Sutter Home can and should use whatever political influence a multi million dollar California business leader, with decades of past political contributions to pave the way, enjoys to create an environment where California wineries can hold contests, with prizes over $1, that generate promotional benefit and feature branding and press coverage, without fear of bending and breaking the law.

It is obvious that Sutter Home must see the effect of 25600/106 differently than Albrecht, and I will cut and paste any comments left by Sutter Home or the CA ABC in response to this post into the body of this post where it will be more visible.

Contest or not, I tried out my revolutionary burger idea and can report that the cutting edge ingredient and preparation that inspired me to go to Sutter Home’s website in the first place was a complete and total disaster. I have subsequently come up with a delicious new twist, a burger recipe unique to me, and look forward to the day Sutter home is able to include Californians again.

I’ve missed you. Thanks to everyone who visited John On Wine, looking to see if my favored iMac was repaired and if I was back to writing new posts; thank you for your loyalty, kindness, and patience.

I took my computer to Simon Kerbel, an Apple certified Mac specialist who runs his Mac Angel business out of his Sebastopol home. My computer was repaired in less time and at much less cost than I had initially feared, and I highly recommend Simon to any North Coast wine country Mac owners who find themselves in need of repair or upgrade. Simon, Mac Angel, macangel.biz, (707) 861-0606.

My writing station; a PC, and my iMac with a second display monitor to work with.

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ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is an organization that celebrates Zinfandel, the red wine varietal grape, and works to bring attention to Zinfandel, publicizing the varietal’s primacy as the wine that is California’s own.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Zinfandel tasting events surrounding ZAP’s 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival; the Zinfandel Festival is held late in January each year at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason.

All varietal wines bottled in California, from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, must have at least 75% of the varietal named on the bottle to be varietally named or the wine must be called table wine. Zinfandel often has a little Carignane blended in, just as Cabernet Sauvignon often has a little Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc often has a little Semillon. These blends are traditional because over time these wine blends have often improved the unblended wines they came from. The sum is greater than the parts, winemaking as alchemy – gold (medals) from the crucible of the wine lab or cellar. There are wines that take the blending farther, and end up with no single varietal reaching the necessary 75% required for varietal naming on the bottle, 40% Zinfandel, 35% Carignane, 25% Grenache as an example; sometimes these wines, often tasting incredibly delicious, carry the name “Red Table Wine.”

Wine lists and market shelves are not set up for “Red Table Wines” or “White Table Wines,” and many wonderful expressions of a winemaker’s art become unwieldy, difficult to market or sell, wines.

ZAP is dedicated to Zinfandel and has required that the wines poured at their major tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, be Zinfandel, containing at least 75% Zinfandel.

Last year, at the Flights Zinfandel panel presentation tasting, an exploration of Zinfandel blends, many of the wines were “Red Table Wines,” with no varietal reaching 75% content. Some of the blends were the winemaker’s art, cellar or barrel blends, but some of the blends came from what are known as field blends.

Zinfandel has been planted in California a very long time, many old vines are from century blocks, plantings at least 100 years old. Many of these old vineyards have other grape varietals intermixed with the Zinfandel, some Carignane vines planted among the Zinfandel vines. At harvest, the winemaker could pick everything at once, crush it all at once, age it all together, and, in time, bottle a blended wine, a field blend.

ZAP has announced that with a unanimous vote of their Board of Directors, traditional Zinfandel blends, based on historical field blends, where Zinfandel is the dominant grape variety and Zinfandel accounts for at least 34% of the blend, may be poured at the 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting at next year’s 20th Zinfandel Festival.

“ZAP’s role in telling the complete, historically accurate story of Zinfandel will be enhanced by the inclusion of classic California field blends as part of the annual Festival and as part of the organization’s educational repertoire,” explains Joel Peterson, winemaker at Ravenswood, and ZAP Board member, “the Zinfandel field blend is the type of wine that would have made California famous 80 years ago, if it hadn’t been for Prohibition, this wine would have been California’s Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti—a blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of the region, through mostly trial and error, to produce the best wine they thought the region could produce.  In other words, a fine regional wine only associated with California made no where else in the world.”

Zinfandel blends that come from winemaker choices in the cellar or lab, but use the same grapes traditionally found in classic field blends, and meet the Zinfandel dominant and 34% Zinfandel minimum content, are eligible to be poured as well.

The grape varieties for these Zinfandel field blend inspired wines can be Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger Carignane, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Grenache, Lenoir, Mataro (Mourvedre), Black Muscat, Negrette, Peloursin, Petite Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and/or Teradalgo – and, of course, Zinfandel.

Closer to home, Coro Mendocino is a cooperative venture where 11 Mendocino County wineries make individual Zinfandel dominant blends; the idea is to produce wines featuring the best grapes of Mendocino County, thematically similar in style, yet unique to the individual winery’s vision, the blend containing 40-70% Zinfandel, with blending grapes being Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and/or Primitivo. Winemakers may also blend in up to 10% free choice in creating their wine. Wines must have at least 1 year in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle before release. The alcohol level must fall between 12.5% and 16%, pH, total acidity, glucose/fructose enzymatic, volatile acidity, and malic acid also have agreed upon ranges. Oak barrels may be 25%-75% new oak.

The 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage release party will be 6:00 pm on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Dinner for two, with a tasting of all the wines, and a complete set of all 11 2007 Coro Mendocino wines to take home is just $480. For reservations, call toll free (888) 466-5683.

Some Coro Mendocino wines could be poured at ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but others would be excluded because of varietal choices in conflict with ZAP’s traditional field blend varietal list.

Yesterday, I asked Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s publicist extraordinaire, about an odd anomaly I noticed in the list of ZAP approved field blend grapes. From my e-mail to Julie:

Semillon is a white wine grape. I know that there are numerous instances of white wine grapes being planted in “Zinfandel fields” or barrel blended, but I wondered at the inclusion of Semillon on the list in your press release, but the exclusion of other Bordeaux whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I also wonder at the inclusion of Rhone reds, but the exclusion of Rhone whites like Marsanne.

Are the heritage wines limited to those blended from the list below, or are other varietals allowed? I imagine some Mendocino Coro wines would be excluded if this list is set, while other Mendocino Coro wines, perhaps showing better Zinfandel blend characteristics might be excluded, if the list of varietals above is complete, finite, closed.

It almost seems as if a small handful of winemakers got together and made a list of grapes grown in their wine property blocks and called it a day.

Julie kindly forwarded my note to Zinfandel superstar winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who responded today:

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments on the list of grapes included in the Zinfandel field blends.  The inclusion of Semillon in that particular list was the result of an accident.  While we recognize that there were many white grapes that appeared in some of these plantings, (Palomino, Sauvignon Vert, Berger, and French Colombard, to name a few others), the number of vines was usually so small as to be insignificant and they did not warrant inclusion.  While these grapes were on our original list, it was decided by the ZAP board that they be stricken from that list.

The list of Heritage Blend grapes is derived from a number of sources; experience of people in the field with their own old vineyards and various historical records from the era that these blends were being formulated. Understand that the key word here is “Heritage” Field Blends.  While I realize there are a number of other blends being made today that include Cabernet and other varieties not on the list, they would not be included as Zinfandel heritage field blends.  This was meant to be a historical reference point and an augmentation to our understanding of Zinfandel and its kin.

I suspect the list as it exists is not complete and will undergo some modification.  The key to additions is that they exist in significant proportion in existing Heritage Field Blends or in pertinent reference literature concerning these blends.

I hope this is helpful.

Joel

If you read my companion pieces from this year’s ZAP Zinfandel Festival, you know I hold Joel in the highest esteem. In those pieces, I wrote, “I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. I asked Joel, “how much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?” when we met over lunch at a ZAP event back in January. Joel said, “It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay; Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel’s words then led me to suggest that ZAP might do just what they did, open the Zinfandel Festival up to more wines to be poured. Joel’s words today provide a foundation for a better understanding of ZAP’s announcement.

I am writing this blog post from a borrowed PC; I find the exercise nearly painful. I can use a PC at work, at school, but I have not used a PC at home for several years.

I have written every post on one computer, my iMac, and it was stricken a few days ago with a computer ailment and refuses to boot up.

In addition to the ease of article creation that comes with the Apple OS, allowing effortless manipulation of pictures and text, I had a second monitor linked to my iMAC allowing me two large screens to spread bits of text, quotes, pictures, articles, so that I could easily pull from them to craft a little blog post.

I have made an appoiontment with a computer psychologist to delve into why my iMac is impersonating a PC. I should be back writing posts soon. My next two posts, unless something juicier captures my attention, will be about 1) Sutter Home’s Build A Better Burger Contest (exploring the exclusion of Californians and whether the contest may be in violation of laws, codes, regulations) and 2) a follow up on my follow up of my article (or 3rd article in a continuing series) about the threat the European Grapevine Moth poses to Mendocino County’s green winemaking industry.

Two weeks ago, I first wrote about the European grapevine moth (EGVM) in a comprehensive story: The European Grapevine Moth, less welcome than your mother-in-law, is here. Since then, I had a chance encounter with one of the big wheels at Brutocao in Hopland who spoke to my concerns for the unique county wide passion for organic and biodynamic grape farming in Mendocino county in the face of the real threat of complete crop loss to the pest.

While there are completely effective insecticides that can be used by organic farmers, Dipel BT and Entrust Spinosad, they rely on ingestion by the caterpillar rather than acting through simple contact, they also have short periods of efficacy. While the organic options cost no more than their more powerful less green alternative insecticides, the organic insecticide cost is 10-12 times greater due to the need for larger and more frequent applications. Realistically, this means that some vineyards will abandon organic or biodynamic practices and certification; especially in a down economy when expenses cut closer to the bone.

In a conversation today, Mendocino County Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar confirmed the higher costs associated with treating the EGVM risk organically, and acknowledged that it hits Mendocino county especially hard because of the county wide dedication to greener agricultural options.

Commissioner Linegar remains optimistic that the infestation can be controlled and the threat to county agriculture fought and won. In addition to the 32 moths found at Dunnewood in north Ukiah, there have been just three single moths trapped; one in an Oak Knoll residence back yard, one in downtown Ukiah near Maple Restaurant, and one in a vineyard directly across from Weibel Vineyards three miles east of Hopland.

The EGVM is not a distance flier, it is suspected that the most found downtown Ukiah may have hitched a ride on a produce truck delivering to Maple Restaurant, and the moth found in Hopland came from trucks that had visited neighboring infested counties then parked for hours in the vineyard where the moth was trapped. It is known that Dunnewood had received fruit from Napa county.

Commissioner Linegar sees an end to the practice of transporting pomace from vineyard to vineyard. Pomace is used by some grape growers as part of a natural fertilizer. Linegar’s commission also will be enforcing tighter regulations regarding composting pomace, ensuring a minimum number of turns and a sustained temperature of 130° F. over 15 days.

Additionally, trucks moving from vineyard to vineyard will need to be cleaned completely, typically by power washing to remove all plant material. Meetings are ongoing regarding how this will be carried out in light of the remoteness of some dry farmed vineyards. Linegar said that there will be random inspections and failure to comply will result in fruit that does not make it to crush.

The EGVM has three cycles and we are coming up on the second shortly; Linegar feels that this is a most important time for Mendocino County’s wine industry and will determine much of what will follow in responding to the EGVM. While spraying of insecticide is voluntary, but recommended especially within a kilometer of a positive trap; increased numbers of moths, if found in the second cycle, could trigger mandatory spraying.

Both Napa and Sonoma Counties have established EGVM infestation, Mendocino County’s moth problem is in the early stages. With 70% of our grapes leaving the county, denying fruit from Napa or Sonoma becomes problematic; and much equipment moves by truck between counties, vineyard to vineyard and vineyard to winery, so while Linegar was absolutely upbeat, positive, and hopeful, it is understandable that many in the industry are expressing greater concerns.

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