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Hospice du Rhône {Blackberry Farm}

May 22, 2012 The Press No Comments

On the Saturday of Hospice du Rhône, as lunch wraps up, the auction kicks into full swing. After introductions from John Alban and comments from Chris Cherry of Villa Creek, Jesse Ventura, a Central Coast Auctioneer, and his gang of cowboy side-kicks get down to business.

We mistakenly got a paddle, thinking there would be one or two items we could bid on. We were wrong. The first item up, a sea urchin excursion with the Rhône Prophet himself, John Alban…it went for $6,500. It was clear right away, this auction was way out of our league.

From private tours and tastings at estates from all over the world, to a magnum of Manfred Krankl’s newest joint venture with Philippe Cambie and Vincent Maurel that went for $5,000, the bidding was intense and fast. As Jesse Ventura sang his auctioneer song and his cowboys screamed in a flurry of bidding, the items came and the items went, for impressive sums of money.

Out of all the items, from seven magnums of Saxum, to a dinner for twelve at The Girl + The Fig, there was one item that blew the others away. As Sam Beall, Owner and visionary behind Blackberry Farm in Eastern Tennessee, sat watching, a weekend trip to his Blackberry Farm climbed to five-thousand, and then ten, and fifteen, then climbing past twenty thousand. In the end, a chance to experience one of the Country’s most prestigious resorts and diverse Rhône cellars went for $25,000.

We got a few moments with Sam just after the auction ended. Sitting on picnic benches, as most of the other guests headed towards the Grand Tasting, we spoke to Sam about Blackberry Farm’s sense of place and why Rhône wines speak to him.

ALP: Why Rhône?

Sam Beall: “It’s really been since day one of the program, for a few reasons. One, because our cuisine really connects with Rhône style wines. We are in the country; we do have some rusticity to our cooking, and game [foods], so the cuisine [matches].  But also, in the gastronomic world these days, you can go to the greatest restaurants and find that deep deep list of Bordeaux, old vintages and all the first fruits, and f you want to put that [kind of] list together, anybody can do it any day. If you want to pay the money, anyone can get any bottle, any first vintage, and go as deep as you want. Burgundy almost the same way, the great Burgundy is out there, the great vintages are out there, it’s just going to cost you.

With Rhône, one, you can’t just go get it, it’s not in every auction, every deep cellar. The older vintages are harder to come by. I think it’s a more rare and unique experience.

ALP: It’s not widely available…

SB: “And it’s not widely known, appreciated, recognized, etc…”

ALP: “So in doing the rustic thing with food, you kind of appreciate the rustic style with the Rhône s?”

SB:” I think it’s a more mirror image of who we are and you haven’t been to our property, so that doesn’t really make sense, but it’s a reflection of who we are, much more so than Bordeaux or Burgundy. It’s in our character.

In the value [too], the value is there, relative to Bordeaux or Burgundy.

I just think it’s more fun to… Actually I should have started with this.

If we were to share a great Bordeaux or Burgundy with a guest in the dining room, I don’t really feel like we are introducing them to much. It’s something that they can more often find, more easily understand. You know, Burgundy is a great Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, it’s much more defined. In the Rhône, in many cases we are talking about grapes that are more esoteric and less well known and understood. So you are introducing this new experience to someone. Anytime someone gets a new experience, it’s more of a memory. If that’s the first time I had, like Syrah, or Grenache, or Mourvedre, or Roussane, or Viognier, it’s like, ‘I had that at Blackberry Farm.’

It’s much more of a unique experience, therefore a memory, therefore [the] take away, it’s self serving to Blackberry because they are going to remember it.”

ALP:  “What do you try to convey through Blackberry Farm, what is your mission statement so-to-speak?”

SB:” In the wine program?”

ALP: “In the bigger picture.”

SB: “Well that’s a much bigger question really (laugh).

To wrap up the wine program, our message is: we are confident that we can offer the greatest enthusiast a unique wine experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Whether that be with some of the truly hard or impossible to get Rhône style wines. Whether it be Chavez Cuvee Catalin, or older vintages of John Alban’s. We’ve never claimed to have the deepest cellar, but we have selections that you just can’t find anywhere else.

As far as Blackberry as a whole, it’s just much bigger. Our mission first of all is to represent who we are, our place, East Tennessee, our property Blackberry Farm. That’s not just done through the cuisine and the wine; it’s done through many things.

The bigger story is the effort to represent our “place,” like many of these winemakers do trying to represent the terroir of where they are. The majority of the food that hits our table comes from our property, if not our property, our neighbors, and certainly our region.”

ALP: “So you are serving your terroir in that sense?”

SB: “We are. Our cornbread tastes nothing like, well I had some cornbread on the way up here [to Hospice] for lunch, and it was like ‘hmm?’ That’s interesting to see someone else’s cornbread, I haven’t done that in a while. We’re not trying to make cornbread that everybody will love, we are trying to make cornbread that tastes like our farm, because that corn was ground in our garden shed and that corn was grown in our garden and we don’t put any sugar in it or sweetener, that’s the real Yankee version (laugh). I don’t even care if it’s everybody’s favorite cornbread, but it’s our cornbread.

ALP: “What does it mean to have your auction lot go for what it did today?”

SB: “I like that. We get a lot of charity requests, this isn’t a charity, we have a relationship here, but for those very few that we do, I ask, ‘are you going to be able to ensure that it’s going to be represented well,’ because if it’s not, it’s a detriment to our brand, it’s going to hurt us. So it was with hopes that we would be recognized, but we are 3,000 miles away and there aren’t as many people out here that know Blackberry farm. That was the worry.

We are not about luxury, I hate that word. We’re about quality. We don’t do anything if we don’t believe that we can truly do it the best. So it’s important that our auction block goes at the top. I didn’t know what it was going to do today, but I’m happy.”


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