Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trudeau State Dinner at the White House: A Bitterly Ironic Wine List

The country is aflutter over tonight's state dinner at the White House with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, the Obama's and a finely curated guest list of celebrities and politicians.

The Obama's are huge fans of organic gardening and food. To celebrate Michele Obama's birthday, President Obama held a surprise birthday party at the delightful and acclaimed Washington institution Restaurant Nora, the first certified organic restaurant in the U.S. 

Tonight's state dinner menu is designed to include the best of American food, from Alaskan halibut to home made maple syrup in celebration of this historic meeting between the two North American leaders. Together they today announced their intention to move forward, as expected, on climate change initiatives.

For the meal, what will be served? And will it reflect these climate change or eco-friendly values?

To begin, the dinner feature Alaskan halibut, which aren't farmed, so we can be sure that the fish is wild. As for the rest of the menu, we can hope it's organic or close to, which is traditional for the Obama's.

As for the wine, in terms of matching the alleged environmentally friendly agenda that Obama and Trudeau share, the list is nothing short of a environmental and political disaster.

The first wine on the list, paid with the second course, is a Pence Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. This wine comes from the winery of real estate developer Blair Pence, who made his fortune creating offices and industrial parks in the Los Angeles area.

Of course, the White House somm could have chosen a nice, eco-friendly family farm vintner, committed to organic or Biodynamic farming. But no...

Pence is clearly a one percent (or a quarter percenter.)

His $20 million home in Pacific Palisades, built originally to showcase major artworks from his former wife, was the house of the day pick in the Wall Street Journal in 2013. (The two later divorced in 2008).

This gazillionaire came to Buellton after that and bought a ranch, where he keeps horses and grows wine grapes. Under his own label Pence Ranch, Pence also makes wine. 

But he didn't get along well with the locals when he tried, in true high-fallutin, one percenter, ball busting fashion, to change the boundaries of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to include his vines so he could get more for his grapes. The AVA did not allow the change, citing geographical inconsistencies in his claim.

Sadly, Pence is neither practicing nor certified organic, despite the claims of his wine tasting room manager, Anabel, who was quoted in Wine Imbiber as saying the winery uses organic methods.

This claim was also mentioned in a Santa Maria Times piece about the winery which claimed in its headline that the winery's farming was organic.

Pence Ranch's 2015 Pesticide Use Report, on file with the Santa Barbara County ag commissioner's office (and web site), says it uses Flint fungicide, Vanguard fungicide and Quintec fungicide, so it's clearly not organic.

Moving on to northern California, or perhaps Oregon or Washington, could the White House somm find a suitably, ecofriendly wine to pair with the lamb for the main course? Apparently not. And the choice here is truly galling.

The 2012 Cliff Lede Bordeaux blend High Fidelity is the pick here.

The Cliff Lede winery was born of the profits of Ledcor, an Alberta construction company that was the leading contractor for the Canadian oil tar sands project.

So much for eco-friendliness.

The third wine, paired with the dessert course, comes from a small, family owned winery in Michigan - Cheateau Chantal - that is also known for making cherry wines. Their ice wine is made from Riesling grapes. Perhaps you wanted something from just south of the Canadian border (Canadians make ice wine), so maybe that's why you chose a Michigan ice wine. But why no organic - like Washington's Pacific Rim Vin de Glacier, an ice wine? Or Robert Sinskey Vineyards's I. Q. (which stands for Ice Queen)?

So, White House sommelier, if you're listening, give me a call. I'd like to make some recommendations for the next state dinner with Trudeau or to celebrate climate change initiatives. I'd choose wines that showcases our very best great wines made from beautifully farmed vines and handcrafted by families who didn't make their money in real estate or constructing the tar sands project. And wines that are farmed in such a way as to reduce our chances of catastrophic climate change - using cover crops, organic farming (all the way) and preserving biodiversity and valuing the preciousness of life on earth over fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and pesticides.

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