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The soul of Indian Soil Carefully Crafted into our Boutique wines
--> Saturday evening at the Ottawa Two Rivers Wine and Jazz Fest, there was cool blues from "Daughter of the Blues" Shirley King, a child of blues legend B.B. King.

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But Saturday afternoon, it was Mother Nature who had fest-goers singing the blues with 90-plus hot and humid weather.

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Even so, the representatives of the 26 wineries from around Illinois were happy. By mid-afternoon, a sizable crowd was gathered under the white 60-by-180-foot tent that sheltered the winery displays and fest-goers from the broiling sun.

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London ’s recent wine fair, intent on separating the good fromthe bad. Instead of halos and wings, these 50 seraphim are armedwith lists and iPhones.

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Their mission is to sip and savor offerings from newindependent vintners for U.K. online retailer Naked Wines .

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After tasting Decanter magazine’s medal-winning sparklingwines, Archangel Peter Batty, a filmmaker and musician,dismissed the selections as “a lot of crap.” But at a table of Argentine labels, the Beviam reds fromMendoza’s Bodega Cavas del 23 wowed him. Two days later its 2007Beviam Syrah was offered on the Naked Wines website, and within48 hours the 600 bottles were sold out.

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In my last column, I wrote about Champagne vigneron Philippe Brun and his ironic take on being a “pirate” farmer. On a drive around his grand cru vine plots, Brun also instructed me in Champagne’s least-understood grape, pinot meunier.

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Pinot meunier, a black grape with green pulp, is one of only three grape varieties (including pinot noir and chardonnay) permitted in Champagne’s wines. “Meunier” means “miller”; Brun described the downy new leaves of the variety as “farine” (wheat) because they appear to be dusted with flour. From that moment on, I could identify the vineyards planted in meunier as we drove past them; they looked distinctly whitish-green.

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When I asked Brun what meunier does for champagne, he said, “It’s everything! We all talk about chardonnay and pinot noir because these are also grown in Burgundy [and all over the world]. But pinot meunier is the most characteristic grape of Champagne. In the 1800s, Champagne grew mostly meunier. It’s easy to grow, it gives immediate fruit, it’s round, it can age.” Another Champagne vintner, Bertrand Lhopital of J. de Telmont, explained the importance of meunier, saying, “It is the garçon difficile [difficult boy] of Champagne, but we find it essential. It does diplomacy between chardonnay and pinot noir [in a blend]. Chardonnay can be shy; pinot noir is full-bodied, powerful, explosive.” Champagne is at the farthest northern limits of viticulture, and pinot meunier makes up 40 percent of the region’s plantings, especially on the coldest slopes. Meunier bud break comes later (avoiding the risk of frost) than chardonnay or pinot, but it ripens earlier. It can also be found in Germany (usually known as schwarzriesling, müllerrebe and müller-traube). Other parts of the world that make sparkling wines in the Champagne style but don’t have the limiting climate conditions of northern France or Germany seldom bother with meunier, considering pinot noir and chardonnay to be more “noble” grapes.

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When Annebeth Bunker opened her specialty wine shop, Annebeth's on Maryland Avenue, in 1998, she had plenty of customers asking for Maryland-made wines.

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But things have changed in the last 13 years, she said. More of her customers are area residents are coming in asking for wine made practically in their own backyards.

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With Maryland's first ever Wine Week kicking off this past Friday, Bunker hopes that trend will continue.

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It is an honor to share that we recently celebrated excellencein education at the 28th annual Napa Valley Wine Festival Rally forEducation, sponsored by the Napa Valley Education Foundation inpartnership with the Napa Noon Rotary. A true celebration that notonly highlighted our community support for public education, butalso the world-class educators we have in the Napa Valley UnifiedSchool District.

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Teachers were nominated by their School Site Council, whichincludes staff, students and teachers who considered these honoreesto be outstanding in their field. Congratulations to NVEF winnersAmanda Collinson of Donaldson Way, Denise Keller of American CanyonMiddle School, Kathyrn Hoff of Redwood Middle School and WayneGilbert of Napa High School. Rotary Teacher of the Year winnerswere Matt Denney of Vintage High School, Miriam Kaufman of AmericanCanyon Middle School, Rob Kohl of Napa High School and ValerieRaymor of Valley Oak High School. The following teachers werenominated throughout the district: Jennie Andersen, MadriBienenfed, Jessica Bloom, Pam Bonotto, Paul Brochard, StephenFederico, Martha Franco, Ann Gaudagni, Jessica Hutchinson, CindyKobylka, Pearl Stalker, Debbie Walden, Kara Wilson, Tom Wolfe,Ronnie Riddell, Sara Kvidahl Schmitz, Marie Thornburg, BarbaraTotty, Sue Woodruff, Jeff Albertazzi, Laura Bell, Janet Borbo,Cathy Carmichael, Chrissy Cotton, Don Duehla, Patti Heffron, HannahHousley, Gail Keisling, Scott Thomason, Karol Underhill, JamesWaechtler, Lynette Young, Martha Calderon and Peter Hartnack.

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Yountville’s Community Center served as this year’s venue, where 12wineries and 11 restaurants served world-class wine and food insupport of world-class education for the 17,500 students in ourlocal public schools. The following local businesses helped makethis event a great celebration: Bouchon Bakery, Compadres RioGrille, Chef Elizabeth Skylar, Monticello Deli and Catering,Pacific Blues, Vallergas Market, Miss Jenny’s Cupcakes, Bottega,Fume Bistro, Napa Valley College Winery, Small World Cafe, SweetiePies, Cakebread Cellars, Clos Du Val, The Hess Collection Winery,Honig Winery, Louis Martini Winery, Pine Ridge Vineyards,Saintsbury, Shafer Vineyards, Truchard Vineyards, William HillWinery and Vineyard 29. We greatly appreciate the generosity of ourlocal businesses that helped make this celebration a truereflection of Napa’s commitment to public education.

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