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Dave in Indiana
post Dec 15 2002, 07:36 AM
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Judge OKs Interstate Wine Shipments

NEW YORK (AP) - New York state must allow out-of-state wineries to ship their products directly to consumers, a judge ordered.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman issued the ruling Tuesday, a month after deciding that a law forbidding direct out-of-state shipments to consumers was unconstitutional.

The order follows a lawsuit by Swedenburg Estate Vineyards in Middleburg, Va., which produces about 2,500 cases annually.

The New York law, similar to laws in 29 other states, requires that imported liquors be distributed only through licensed wholesalers and retailers to ensure accountability and responsibility and that taxes are paid.

Berman ruled Nov. 12 that the state law was discriminatory since New York allows in-state wineries to ship directly to New York consumers. New York is the second-largest wine market in the nation, behind California.

Berman said he would delay the enforcement of his ruling, allowing state officials and wholesalers to appeal.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer plans to appeal, a spokesman said.
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Dave in Indiana
post Feb 26 2003, 07:03 AM
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Company's plastic wine corks finding global market

By EMERY P. DALESIO, AP Business Writer

RALEIGH, North Carolina - People love to hear that familiar POOCK! as they open a new bottle of wine and anticipate the first sip.

A plastics manufacturer is banking on the power of that ritual as it ships plastic corks to vintners around the world.

Nomacorc LLC of Zebulon, a Raleigh suburb, is growing as some in the wine industry — beset by a global grape glut and falling prices — consider shifting from costlier natural corks that are sometimes blamed for mustiness, sediment or leakage.

The company is doubling output as it maintains customers from France to Australia and targets new markets in South America.

Removing the chances of tainted taste or a crumbling cork dropping into the bottle are why one of California's largest wine makers, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, uses Nomacorc stoppers exclusively in three brands ranging from $7 cabernets to the U.S. top-selling Chardonnay.

"It's a quality issue. It's not a cost issue," spokeswoman Elaine Mellis said.

The tainted taste is believed to be caused by a chemical found in some natural corks, which are made from the bark of a particular type of tree. Taint is blamed for about 2 percent to 10 percent of all spoiled wine bottles.

Tainted wine can hurt a vineyard's revenues when it has to absorb the costs of returned bottles. That makes satisfied vintners the best salespeople for synthetic cork manufacturers.

"Their customer complaints have gone down significantly," said Cecilia Redding, Nomacorc's chief operating officer.

A second reason for Nomacorc's sunny forecast is that wineries are facing a sales slump that's caused some California grape growers to rip out vines. Wine producers are consequently looking at ways to cut costs, and the cork is getting renewed scrutiny.

Synthetic corks cost 8 cents to 9 cents — far less than the 20 cents to $1.50 natural corks cost, she said.

Synthetic corks represent about 5 percent of those now in wine bottles, according to SupremeCorq of Kent, Washington, a Nomacorc competitor.

With more major wine producers using artificial corks, the market share for Nomacorc and the half-dozen other artificial cork makers has grown from 2.7 percent to about 18 percent in seven years.

Nomacorc was spun off from Nomaco, a plastics company started by a Belgian family that relocated to Zebulon in 1988.

The plastic cork idea came in the early 1970s, when Nomaco founder Gert Noel was opening several bottles of wine for a business celebration. He noticed the irregularities and varying quality of natural corks and thought plastic could do a better job.

Now, 1.1 billion natural and synthetic corks are sold per year in the United States and as many as 20 billion internationally.

The Zebulon plant, from which the company's stoppers are shipped around the world, makes 500 million artificial corks per year. An expansion scheduled to be completed this year would boost capacity to 1 billion corks. The company produced 10 million during its first year of production in 1999.

Another competitor has popped up as some wineries abandon corks — screw caps.

Bonny Doon, a respected winemaker in Santa Cruz, California, announced recently that it was using screw caps in 80,000 cases of wine. The company had been using synthetic corks.

Redding said screw caps aren't likely to pose a long-term threat to the plastic business. Winemakers have different opinions about whether the wine should be able to breathe slightly. Corks allow a small amount of air to pass, while a screw cap seals out the air.

There's also consumer preference to consider.

"The whole connotation that a screw cap suggests cheap wine has certainly inhibited its acceptance," Redding said.
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Dave in Indiana
post Jun 2 2003, 10:52 AM
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Wine Tasting Takes Brains, Italian Study Finds

By Estelle Shirbon

ROME (Reuters) - Wine-tasting takes more than a perfect palate and a fruity vocabulary -- you have to use your brains.

That's the finding of a study undertaken by a team of researchers at a Rome hospital.

"We wanted to find out whether there was a difference at brain level between a trained and an untrained person drinking wine," said Gisela Hagberg, a Swedish bio-physicist, at the study's presentation at the Wine Academy in Rome Tuesday.

"What we found is that the training does not just educate your palate, it also affects how your brain responds to the taste of wine."

Researchers conducted brain scans on seven sommeliers and seven casual drinkers while they sampled wines.

The scans showed strong activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that reacts to sensations of pleasure, in both groups.

But the sommeliers also displayed a burst of activity in parts of their frontal cortexes, an area of the brain used for thinking, while the amateurs showed no reaction there at all.

"Both groups were asked to pay close attention to what they were drinking, so it's not that the control subjects weren't thinking," said Hagberg.

The difference appears to be that while both groups' brains processed the sensory aspects of drinking, the taste of wine triggered a rational, even intellectual response in the experts.

Andrea Sturniolo, one of the sommeliers who participated in the experiment at the Santa Lucia research hospital, was thrilled with the results.

"This is fantastic. This proves the reasoning, the intellectual effort that goes into breaking down the many tastes of a wine and assessing its full flavor," he said.

"It's not that sommeliers are superior beings of course, it's all in the training and the experience."

Sturniolo's only objection to the whole experience was having to drink wine lying down and through tubes inserted in his mouth -- a technique necessary for the brain scan to be conducted even as the subjects tasted the wine.

"It certainly didn't do much for the seeing and smelling parts of wine-tasting," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it."
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Dave in Indiana
post Jun 3 2003, 04:10 AM
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Fine wine to be sunk in Pacific brine

KOFU (Kyodo) Japanese wine makers are planning to sink 20,000 bottles of white wine in the Pacific Ocean to give their vintage a unique taste.

Local government officials in the major wine producing town of Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture, are upbeat about the joint project with the Pacific island nation of Palau and aim to market the wine in Japan during the Christmas season.

Officials of the town said around 20,000 bottles of white wine will be sunk off Palau between July and December.

According to the Japan-Palau friendship organization that initially proposed the project, sending the bottles to the bottom off Palau is a good way to mature the wine because the sea in the region is the ideal temperature for allowing wine to mature, while the depth will also shut out sunlight.

An official of the group said that as well as the scientific reasons behind the plan, "it would be romantic to drink wine that has matured under water."

Neptune 3000 and Mermaid 1000 wines will cost 5,000 yen a bottle, the Katsunuma officials said.
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Dave in Indiana
post Jul 31 2003, 05:34 AM
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Can This Wine Travel?
Thursday July 31, 2:01 am ET
Marcia Coyle, The National Law Journal

To Juanita Swedenburg, vintner, farmer, rancher and Daughter of the American Revolution, the issue is simple.

"I don't have any problem shipping a bull to Montana," she says. "What about a case of wine? Both come from the soil of Virginia. That's what the interstate commerce clause is all about. That's what the Founding Fathers meant."

Swedenburg runs the Swedenburg Estate Vineyard and a large Angus cattle operation. She admits she knows little about constitutional law. But she knows a lot about the frustration of New Yorkers and other out-of-state visitors to her winery in Middleburg, Va., popular hunt country and tourist magnet.

"People come from all over," she said. "They'll take a few bottles home, and once they get back home, they telephone us and want us to send them a few bottles more. I did for a few years, and then I discovered the problems with all of these laws. Such a hodgepodge. Such a mess."

Laws in 26 states prohibit the direct shipment of wines to consumers across state lines. New York is the largest prohibition state and the second-largest wine market in the nation. At the same time, New York and some of the other 26 states allow the in-state direct shipment of wine to consumers.

That interstate-intrastate distinction, she and others believe, is unconstitutional economic discrimination under the commerce clause. Swedenburg, other winery owners and wine lovers are challenging direct-shipment laws in suits around the country.

Their primary opponents are state officials and wine and beverage wholesalers -- the middlemen between producers and retailers in the distribution system common to most states. That group argues that the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition and gave states the authority to regulate the importation of alcohol, trumps the commerce clause.

Proponents of direct shipment received a boost this month from a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that concluded that consumers could "reap significant benefits" if they could purchase wine online from out-of-state sources and have it shipped directly to them. States that permit interstate direct shipment, the report said, report few or no problems with shipments to minors or with tax collection -- two major objections to direct shipment voiced by opponents.

The litigation thus far has produced mixed results. But because of a recent decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the wineries, lawyers agree that the stage may be set for the entry of the U.S. Supreme Court into this dispute.

"This is almost a classic, moot-court type of case in that it pits the 21st Amendment against the commerce clause, and the boundaries between those two constitutional provisions are not entirely clear," said Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, which is representing Swedenburg, three New York wine consumers and California vintner David Lucas in the effort to topple New York's prohibition.


For Bolick and other lawyers pressing the direct-shipment assault, the litigation is a labor of love of wine. They are handling their cases pro bono.

It was during a wine-tasting visit to Swedenburg's winery in his home state of Virginia that Bolick learned about the direct-shipment bans and began thinking about a lawsuit.

Robert Epstein of Indianapolis' Epstein & Frisch, a wine collector and former chef, was once the wine columnist for the Indianapolis Star.

His successor, Russell Bridenbaugh, came to him and complained that he could no longer get samples from out of state for his column because a new law made those shipments a felony. Epstein, Bridenbaugh (a nonpracticing lawyer) and Alexander Tanford of the Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington filed the first direct shipping challenge in Indiana.

They lost in the 7th Circuit. Bridenbaugh v. Freeman-Wilson, 227 F.3d 848 (7th Cir. 2000). And the Supreme Court in 2001 denied a petition for review.

Now they have filed suits in North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and, just this month, in New Jersey and Ohio.

In Texas, Sterling Steves of Forth Worth's Lane, Ray, Wilson, Carr & Steves, has been a freelance wine writer, along with his wife, for 15 years.

"We know a lot of people in the wine business and we were familiar with their problem," he said.

Steves was researching a suit at about the same time as Mark C. Harwell of Houston's Cotham, Harwell & Evans. Harwell's partner had been unable to ship a wine that he liked to his home in Houston.

The firms joined forces to file the successful challenge to Texas' prohibition. Dickerson v. Bailey, No. 02-21137 (5th Cir. June 26, 2003). Texas officials are now weighing whether to seek Supreme Court review.

Most wine in the United States is distributed through a three-tier network that developed after the repeal of Prohibition. A producer must obtain a permit to sell wine. The producer then sells to a licensed wholesaler, who pays excise taxes and delivers the wine to a retailer.

The retailer sells the wine to the consumer. The FTC report noted that, as demand for wine has increased in the last two decades, the number of wineries has grown to well above 2,000. Many are small, producing fewer than 2,000 cases a year, compared to large wineries' 300,000.

Meanwhile, the number of wholesalers has shrunk, according to the FTC, from several thousand in the 1950s to a few hundred today. The smaller wineries complain they cannot get wholesalers to carry their labels.

Gallo, Mondavi, Kendall Jackson -- the big wineries -- need to go through wholesalers, said Epstein, but two types of wineries don't do well with wholesalers.

"Mom-and-pop operators don't have great name recognition," Epstein explained. "And boutique, highly allocated wines -- Screaming Eagle, Helen Turley -- those wineries don't need distributors. They can sell every drop they produce and don't want to give up 20 percent to distributors." All of the suits, except Bolick's in New York, rely only on the commerce clause. Bolick also raises claims under the First Amendment and the privileges and immunities clause.

The commerce clause empowers Congress to regulate commerce among the states. The Supreme Court has recognized that this provision has a logical corollary: States lack the power to impede interstate commerce with their own regulations. This "negative aspect" of the commerce clause has become known as the "dormant commerce clause" doctrine.

The direct shipment suits rely on the dormant commerce clause, arguing that discrimination against out-of-state wineries is economic protectionism and that the 21st Amendment cannot be invoked as a pretext for protectionism. They cite Bacchus Imports v. Diaz, 486 U.S. 263 (1984).

"We think it's really a clean issue as to which trumps which -- commerce clause or 21st Amendment," said Epstein. "If you look at the evolution of the law, which, unfortunately, is not recognized by all judges or justices, we see a trend, which basically says, in our opinion, if there is discrimination on its face, you need look no further. Generally that would strike down the discriminatory statute."

If facial discrimination can't be shown, then the state's interests under the 21st Amendment must be balanced with the dictates of the commerce clause, he said.


The two sides disagree as to the core purposes of the 21st Amendment, which says taking liquor into a state "in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited." Epstein and his colleagues say it was aimed at promoting temperance.

The states and wholesalers argue that the amendment also aimed to ensure orderly market conditions and let states raise revenue.

"Even if there are other interests, we think there can be some accommodation -- as pointed out by the FTC -- and we can win on that issue too," Epstein said.

But the states and wholesalers argue that the 21st Amendment was actually an exception to the commerce clause. They cite Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976), in which the Supreme Court said the amendment "primarily created an exception to the normal operation of the commerce clause."

The 7th Circuit in the Bridenbaugh decision agreed with the states.

"It's exactly what Judge Easterbrook said: 'Alcohol is not cheese,' " said Randy Mastro, a partner in the New York office of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, counsel to a wholesaler in Clint Bolick's New York suit.

"It is different from every other product," Mastro explained. "Going back to Prohibition and after Prohibition, we have always recognized that states should have the right to decide how to regulate alcohol imports. There hasn't been a single Supreme Court case to say otherwise."

If state direct-shipment bans are struck down, then courts will have created inequality, said Mastro. Out-of-state wineries, without licenses and with no effective obligation to collect state taxes, would be able to ship wine directly to consumers, while in-state wineries must have licenses and pay taxes, they contend.

Bolick, Epstein and the others pushing the litigation see the wholesalers as the real obstacles to ending direct shipment bans.

"They enjoy right now a monopoly," said Harwell of the wholesalers. "I don't think economically it's going to affect them because of the practical reality of interstate shipment -- shipment costs, time. Unless you're a collector or serious wine lover, it's cheaper and easier to go to the corner store. But they fear now there will be an end run and everyone will order it from the Internet."

Mastro countered, "It's really about states' rights to establish the kind of alcohol distribution system they choose. The three-tier system is an accountability system. It ensures monitoring of alcohol, promotes temperance objectives, keeps alcohol out of the hands of minors and ensures states collect the taxes to which they are entitled."

The FTC report, he asserted, is a "political document with a political point of view" and has nothing to do with the constitutional issues that ultimately will decide the dispute.

With the 5th and 7th circuits in apparent disagreement and circuit rulings expected in several months from the 2d and 6th circuits, the answer may well rest with the Supreme Court. Swedenburg said she is ready for the long haul.

A Maryland state beverage commission official recently said that Marylanders have all the wine they need in Maryland stores, recalled Swedenburg.

"What did he mean, 'need' " she asked. "Thinking like that makes me furious. What if they find a little winery and like a wine for themselves? I can buy a coat anywhere, but sometimes I like to buy a coat from L.L. Bean in Maine. I don't need that coat, but I like L.L. Bean."
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Dave in Indiana
post Jul 31 2003, 07:26 AM
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Nordic nanny states fret over Viking drink
Mon Jul 28,12:35 AM ET

By Stephen Brown

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Blame it on the long, cold winters, the bright summer nights or the fermented herring that can only be stomached when numb with alcohol, but the Nordics have a weakness for drink -- when they can get it.

Otherwise a beacon of moderation, their binge drinking -- which ironically makes them Europe's lightest drinkers by volume -- imposes on all but the easy-going Danes strict alcohol laws that are a hangover from 19th-century Temperance movements.

While Danes can buy drink freely except on Sunday, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland can buy strong liquor only from state-run stores, taxes on spirits are punitive and advertising strong drink is banned.

Even so, from Finnish saunas to the duty-free trolley on Icelandair, Nordic enthusiasm for drink has not been quenched.

"Be careful this weekend, everyone will be drunk," warned Bosse, a Stockholm pensioner, before the Midsummer festival on the June solstice, an orgy of vodka, beer and herring.

It summed up the way the Nordics drink: showing Lutheran austerity in the week, on Fridays they throng the state liquor stores which often still primly display their wares in locked glass cases like medicine cabinets.


Not only the prices -- a beer can cost you as much as $10 in some bars in Norway -- make it a serious business. A foreigner seeing Swedes booze en masse could easily mistake the drinking song "Helan Gor" -- "Down in one!" -- for the national anthem.

Even the word that defines Sweden's culture of moderation -- "lagom", or "just right" -- ironically has its roots in drink: it was the Vikings' word for the right measure to be swigged from the communal drinking horn.

Anitra Steen of Sweden's retail monopoly SystemBolaget says heavy weekend drinking dates from when farm labourers got paid partly in liquor. Britain's Institute of Alcohol Studies says it is a northern European custom going right back to the Vikings.

Current policy is to try to encourage the genteel drinking habits of wine-sipping southern Europeans rather than benders blamed for crime and fatalities, especially among the young.

One Finnish study suggested under-18s are drinking less, but its author Arja Rimpela still felt "drinking with the intention of getting drunk separates our youth from the Europeans".

Monopolies and rationing were the response to the spread of alcoholism with industrialisation in the 19th century, when the average Swede knocked back 50 litres of alcohol a year.

Now Nordics boast the lowest official consumption in western Europe, with Norwegians drinking just a third of Ireland's 15.8 litres. But the World Health Organisation reckons duty-free, smuggling and illicit home-brew mean a 20-30 percent top-up.


Norway is now the strictest under centre-right premier Kjell Magne Bondevik, a teetotal Lutheran priest. Finnish leader Matti Vanhanen of the rural Centre Party also rejects the demon drink, offering guests water or milk. Sweden's Goran Persson, the lone Social Democrat premier, is dating the head of SystemBolaget.

Facing court pressure this year to relax the ban on adverts, Sweden's parliament permitted promotion for nothing stronger than wine and beer in the mass media.

This in the home of Absolut vodka, a byword for hip branding, made by Swedish state-owned Vin & Sprit; but Absolut's arty ads cannot be shown anywhere in the Nordic region except Denmark.

"A lot of advertising is aimed at young people, asking them to develop habits which are not so good," said Steen.

She sees no contradiction in her job of selling drink while discouraging drinking, saying her mission is to promote "a good drinking culture". Indeed, her knowledgeable staff give good tips on wine, which unlike spirits is not exorbitantly priced, and opening hours have been extended to evenings and Saturdays.

Jorgen Appelgren, an economist, says that in France where he holidays, any store has a huge wine range "but you can't buy wine that isn't made in France. In SystemBolaget I can buy wine from any part of the world. So I'm not sure the loss is so huge."

What does grate are tax-inflated prices which prompt Finns to get the ferry to Estonia to shop, Norwegians to go to Sweden and Swedes to cross to Denmark -- hence the Danish saying "drunk as a Swede". Even the Danes shop in Germany.

Tax cuts are promised, but not deregulation. One politician in Norway wants "bag-in-a-box" wine banned for "facilitating consumption". A businessman there wanting to import South African wine was told he could not advertise, must secure it with padlocks, chains and bars, and transport it in vans with dark windows so nobody could see what was inside. He gave up.
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Dave in Indiana
post Aug 18 2003, 02:41 PM
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Spanish Wines Make U.S. Push

Sat Aug 16, 2003

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Spanish winemakers are raising a glass to the U.S. market, where a consumer backlash against French wines is helping to boost sales of other imported wines.
In recent weeks, the Spaniards have taken out an ad in The Wall Street Journal describing Spain -- which, unlike France, backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq (news - web sites) -- as "A friend from Europe" with fine wine for sale.

"In Spain, gastronomy is all about culture and friendship," the ad says. "That's why we want to share some of our finest wines with you. They're among the best in the world."

The ad taps into a current trend among U.S. consumers, who are turning away from French wines, industry observers said.

Rich Cartiere, editor and publisher of Wine Market Report in Calistoga, California, said wine retailers and restaurant owners have become wary of keeping many French wines on their lists because they are afraid consumers will want alternatives.

"I'm not sure how deep it really goes, but it's definitely there," Cartiere said, noting the beating French wines are taking at U.S. cash registers.

When measured by volume, French wines sold in U.S. supermarkets fell 15.5 percent in the first half of the year from a year earlier, according to Cartiere. By contrast, Spanish wine sales rose 20.5 percent in the first half from a year earlier, he said.

Sagging French wine sales also reflect how rival winemakers are successfully catering to American tastes, Cartiere said.

"Spanish and Australian importers are the most aggressive in telling retailers they're the best alternative to French wine," Cartiere said.


He said that wines from Spain and Australia are "very consumer friendly" and "fruit-forward," whereas French wines generally are more subtle with the taste of fruit very much in the background.

"Spanish and Australian wines are very much in your face, which (U.S) consumers tend to like," Cartiere said.

Spanish wines, too, are less expensive than French wines at a time when U.S. consumers expect low prices amid a worldwide wine glut that has forced retail prices lower and led to challenging times for many U.S. winemakers like Robert Mondavi Corp. (Nasdaq:MOND - news).

The wine glut has spurred increased competition from "super value" brands such as the wildly popular Charles Shaw label, known as "Two-Buck Chuck," selling for $1.99 a bottle in certain California stores.

Moreover, Cartiere said there were many fine tasting wines now on store shelves in the under-$10 category.

Quality Spanish wines may be bought for $10 to $20 per bottle, while comparable French wines cost about $25 to $30, said Anne Pickett, a wine buyer with K & L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, California.

Spanish wines are getting a boost via expert opinion as well, Pickett said. A recent wine pick at http://erobertparker.com, the Web site of influential wine critic Robert Parker, is a 2002 Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha, a Grenache red table wine, from Spain's Calatayud region. It's estimated cost is $7.

The June issue of The Wine Advocate, Parker's newsletter, featured a considerable number of Spanish wines in its section of great wine values for under $20, Pickett noted.

Spain is a "brave new world" for U.S. wine drinkers and distributors, Pickett said: "In Spain, every five minutes there is a new winery ... They're really taking the science of modern wine making very seriously."
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Dave in Indiana
post Aug 25 2003, 05:42 AM
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Life-Extending Chemical Is Found in Certain Red Wines

By NICHOLAS WADE The New York Times

Biologists have found a class of chemicals that they hope will make people live longer by activating an ancient survival reflex. One of the chemicals, a natural substance known as resveratrol, is found in red wines, particularly those made in cooler climates like that of New York.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox, the fact that the French live as long as anyone else despite consuming fatty foods deemed threatening to the heart.

Besides the wine connection, the finding has the attraction of stemming from fundamental research in the biology of aging. However, the new chemicals have not yet been tested even in mice, let alone people, and even if they worked in humans, it would be many years before any drug based on the new findings became available.

The possible benefits could be significant. The chemicals are designed to mimic the effect of a very low-calorie diet, which is known to lengthen the life span of rodents. Scientists involved in the research say that human life spans could be extended by 30 percent if humans respond to the chemicals in the same way as rats and mice do to low calories. Even someone who started at age 50 to take one of the new chemicals could expect to gain an extra 10 years of life, said Dr. Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news - web sites), one of the pioneers of the new research.

The new result was announced last week at a scientific conference in Arolla, a small village in the Swiss alps, by Dr. David A. Sinclair of the Harvard Medical School (news - web sites).

The new development has roused the enthusiasm of many biologists who study aging, because caloric restriction, the process supposedly mimicked by the chemicals, is the one intervention known for sure to increase longevity in laboratory animals.

A calorically restricted diet includes all necessary nutrients but has some 30 percent fewer calories than usual. The diet extends the life span of rodents by 30 to 50 percent, and even if it is started later has a benefit proportionate to the remaining life span. Scientists hope, but do not yet know, that the same will be true in people.

A similar mechanism exists in simpler forms of life, making biologists believe that they are looking at an ancient strategy, formed early in evolution and built into all animals. The strategy allows an organism, when food is scarce, to live longer, postpone reproduction and start breeding when conditions improve.

Two experiments to see if caloric restriction extends life span in monkeys are about at their halfway point rhesus monkeys live some 25 years in captivity and the signs so far are promising, though not yet statistically significant. But even if caloric restriction did extend people's life spans, the current epidemic of obesity suggests how hard it would be for most people to stick with a diet containing 30 percent fewer calories than generally recommended.

Biologists have therefore been hoping to find some chemical or drug that would mimic caloric restriction in people by tripping the same genetic circuitry as a reduced-calorie diet does and give the gain without the pain.

Dr. Sinclair and his chief co-author, Dr. Konrad T. Howitz, of Biomol Research Laboratories in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., say they have succeeded in finding a class of drugs that mimic caloric restriction in two standard laboratory organisms yeast and fruit flies. Both mice and humans have counterpart genes that are assumed to work in a similar way, though that remains to be proved.

Independently, Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a company in Cambridge, Mass., found a different set of chemicals that mimic caloric restriction, Ed Cannon, the chief executive, said. "We can do the same things he can do," Dr. Cannon said of Dr. Sinclair's findings. Because of testing and regulatory requirements, "we are 8 to 10 years away from having an approved drug," Dr. Cannon added.

In an interview from Arolla, Switzerland, where he presented his findings, Dr. Sinclair said, "I've been waiting for this all my life," adding, "I like to be cautious, but even as a scientist, it is looking extremely promising."

So far, Dr. Sinclair and his colleagues have shown that resveratrol prolongs life span only in yeast, a fungus, by 70 percent. But a colleague, Dr. Mark Tatar of Brown University, has shown in a report yet to be published that the compound has similar effects in fruit flies. The National Institute of Aging, which sponsored Dr. Sinclair's research, plans to start a mouse study later in the year.

Despite the years of testing ahead to prove that resveratrol has any effect in people, many of the scientists involved in the research have already started drinking red wine.

"One glass of red wine a day is a good recommendation. That's what I do now," Dr. Sinclair said, adding he hoped the finding would not lead people to drink in excess. "One glass of wine is enough," he said. However, resveratrol is unstable on exposure to the air and "goes off within a day of popping the cork," he said.

Dr. Tatar, asked if he had changed his drinking habits, said, "No, I have always preferred red wine to white."

The finding is so novel that health authorities have not yet had time to make a detailed evaluation of the research. Dr. David Finkelstein, the project officer at the National Institute of Aging, which financed the study, said that he would not advise anyone to start drinking red wine. "At this point, we have no indication that there will be a benefit in people," he said, adding that the calories in a glass of wine would lead to weight gain.

Dr. Toren Finkel, the head of cardiovascular research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said that "I would be cautious in sending out the message that one glass of wine a day will make you live 10 years longer."

"The concentration of resveratrol in different wine differs," he said. "As a drug, it is not ready for prime time." But he acknowledged that the concept of a drug that mimicked caloric restriction "is a great idea.".

Dr. Sinclair said that he and Dr. Howitz were working on chemical modifications of resveratrol that would be more stable. Ownership of the patent will be split 50:50 between their parent institutions, the Harvard Medical School and Biomol.

Resveratrol is synthesized by plants in response to stress, like a lack of nutrients or contracting a fungal infection. It exists in the skin of both red and white grapes but is found in amounts 10 times higher in red wine because of differences in the manufacturing processes.

According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, Pinot Noir tends to have high levels of the chemical, while Cabernet Sauvignon has lower levels. "Wines produced in cooler regions or areas with greater disease pressure, such as Burgundy and New York, often have more resveratrol," the book says, whereas wines from drier climates like California or Australia have less.

Besides resveratrol, another class of chemical found to mimic caloric restriction is that of the flavones, found abundantly in olive oil, Dr. Howitz said.

The enthusiasm scientists are showing for the new discovery, despite its preliminary nature, stems in part from a train of fundamental discoveries stretching back a decade. In 1991, Dr. Guarente decided to study the basis of aging, then considered an unpromising field of research. He spent four years searching for strains of yeast, a common laboratory organism, that lived longer than others. By 1997, he and Dr. Sinclair, who worked in his laboratory at the time, had discovered the reason for the new strains' longevity. It centered on a gene called sir2, for silent information regulator.

Dr. Guarente next found that when yeast live longer because of starvation, sir2 is the gene that mediates the response. His research then started to fuse with longstanding work on caloric restriction as he and others showed that starvation is sensed by sir2, which triggers the cellular changes that lead to increased life span.

What Dr. Sinclair and Dr. Howitz did was to take the human version of sirtuin, the enzyme produced by the sir2 gene, and devise a test to tell when the enzyme was activated. They then screened a large batch of likely chemicals to see if any made the enzyme more active.

Their screen produced two active chemicals, both of a similar chemical structure and known as polyphenols. That led them to expand the search to more polyphenols. The most active compound in the second screen was resveratrol.

Dr. Sinclair said he was amazed "that in an unbiased screen we pulled out something already associated with health benefits."

Much attention has been paid to resveratrol in the last few years because it is a candidate for explaining the apparent innocuousness of the French diet despite its artery-weakening ingredients. Epidemiological studies point to red wine as containing some beneficial antidote, but it is not yet certain whether alcohol, or resveratrol, or both, are the active ingredients.

Why should chemicals like resveratrol play a role both in the French paradox and in caloric restriction? Dr. Sinclair believes the chemicals are produced by plants in response to stresses like starvation and that browsing animals may have evolved to make use of the chemicals as a signal of hard times ahead. Other scientists said this idea was possible but not particularly plausible.

Dr. Guarente, his former mentor, founded Elixir Pharmaceuticals to pursue the same goal of developing drugs that mimic caloric restriction. Dr. Guarente said Dr. Sinclair's results were plausible and exciting. He said diet-mimicking drugs might add a decade of life to someone starting them at age 50, based on the calculation that the 30 or so years of life expected at that age could be increased by one third, and assuming that humans would benefit from caloric restrictions to the same degree as mice.

Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, of the University of California, San Francisco, an expert on aging in roundworms and a cofounder of Elixir, said from Arolla that Dr. Sinclair's work was "really remarkable."

Elixir uses the same screen for sirtuin activity as Dr. Sinclair did, one provided by Biomol. It is not yet clear if the efforts by Dr. Sinclair and Elixir will be competitive or collaborative, Dr. Howitz said.

In either case, considerable testing lies ahead to see if the promise of the new research can be fulfilled.
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Dave in Indiana
post Aug 25 2003, 05:43 AM
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French Winemakers Harvest a Hot Vintage

By CRAIG S. SMITH The New York Times

PARIS, Aug. 23 The blazingly hot summer has been brutal on Europe, particularly its elderly, but it may leave a more positive legacy behind vineyards are hauling in their most promising crop in years.

Vintners are busy with an early vendange, the annual grape harvest that normally does not start until mid-September. As a rule, hot summers and early harvests produce great wines, winemakers say.

"It is the earliest harvest since 1893," said Bernard Hervet, who runs Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy. Mr. Hervet said that his vineyards began harvesting grapes for its Beaune-Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus wine this week and that he expected to start harvesting farther north in Chablis on Aug. 25, the earliest date for that region on record.

To reach maturity, grapes require a long stretch of hot dry weather. Without it, they end up with too little sugar and too much acid to make a great wine. But an excessively hot summer like this one increases the sugar content grapes need for fermentation, particularly in temperate regions like Western Europe. Winemakers are expecting this year's grapes to produce wines with a slightly higher alcohol content that could make them last for decades.

"It looks like we're going to have an exceptional vintage, and the rest of France will as well," said Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces, head of Château d'Yquem, which makes the most famous of sweet Sauterne wines.

France is not alone. Italy's Tuscan vineyards and Germany's Rheingau wineries are harvesting early and hoping for a famous year.

An early harvest does not guarantee great wine. But picking the grapes in August helps because the longer they are on the vine, the more that can go wrong. Rain could bloat the grapes with water, diluting the sugar, and any hail could destroy the delicate ripe fruit.

"We must be cautious because there could always be an accident of weather," the count said.

And not all grapes have benefited from the hot weather.

"This year was so hot that it disturbed, even blocked, the growth cycle of the vines," said Christophe Mangeart, an oenologist at Yvon Mau, one of Bordeaux's largest wine merchants. He said wines made with cabernet sauvignon grapes "will be magnificent," but that the quality of wines made with merlot grapes, for example, still depended on the weather. "The coming two weeks will be critical," he said.

Temperatures were high this summer but rose early this month, surpassing 100 degrees for more than a week. The heat has been blamed for possibly thousands of deaths in France, causing much grief and some political infighting.

In farm areas, Normandy's cows are producing less milk, Bresse chickens are not fattening as they should, and even the country's famously stuffed ducks are growing smaller livers.

But grape growers have nothing but good things to say about the weather. The industry is in need of a great vintage to help restore prices, which have fallen steadily since 2000. Heat can reduce the amounts of wine produced, but if the wine is good enough, vintners more than make up for that with higher prices.

In Bordeaux, France's most important wine producing region, vineyard owners rushed back from their monthlong August holiday to bring in the grapes. Vineyard owners had to hunt for grape pickers because many of them were on vacation. Some started harvesting with a fraction of their usual hands.

"With Haut-Brion, we were the first two chateaux to pick our whites on Wednesday, Aug. 13, which never happened, I think, in known Bordeaux history," said Florence Cathiard, who with her husband owns Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

Many winemakers say the growing season has not been this hot since that of 1947, which produced a legendary vintage. "We hope that we will do as well as 1947," said Mr. Hervet of Bouchard.
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