A rivalry of a different sort was happening, aside from the Louis Vuitton Cup yacht racing on August 9, 2013, at a special event hosted by Penfolds Wines. The actual trophy of the America’s Cup, the ornate silver cup awarded to the America’s Cup winner since 1851, competed for attention with a rarefied wine, the Penfolds Limited Edition Ampoule of wine, valued at $168,000 at the Oracle Innovation Lounge at Pier 27 in San Francisco. With each in a class of its own, under the watchful eye of protective guards, guests bounced back and forth to snap photographs and admire the graceful lines of the elite products.
The Penfolds hand-blown glass Ampoule, one of only 12 in the world, contains a special wine, the 2004 Kaliman Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. The single-vineyard, single-block wine is made from the oldest continuously-producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world, being fortuitously planted in Australia just 30 years after the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, which allowed it to escape the phylloxera plague that first swept through France in the late 1900s. Understandably hand-picked and fermented in new oak the wine is said to be perfectly balanced. No, we didn’t crack open the Ampoule so whether the wine justifies the hype will remain shrouded in mystery for another day (or longer).
It’s not just the wine, it’s the vessel that makes the Ampoule so special. Honoring the South Australian heritage of the wine and winery, four artists from the region were commissioned to create a truly unique receptacle. Glassblower Ray Leake fashioned the scientific-grade Ampoule to store the wine in an ideal environment. Nick Mount designed the conical, elongated plumb-bob that contains the Ampoule, suspended in a Jarrah (the aboriginal word for Eucalyptus marginata) cabinet crafted by Andrew Bartlett, while Hendrik Forster prepared the precious metal detailing. The result is a museum quality piece of art.
If anyone is audacious enough to drink the wine a senior member of the Penfolds wine-making team will personally conduct a special ceremony at the location of the owner’s choice. The Ampoule will be opened using a specially designed, tungsten-tipped silver scribe-snap.
Penfolds started in 1844 when young Dr. Christopher Penfold and wife, Mary, bought of land and is a venerable winery with vineyards near Adelaide, South Australia. Mary had an active role in managing the estate, initially planted with Grenache grapes, producing wines that were prescribed by her husband as a tonic for his patients.
At the event we enjoyed Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay at the downstairs bar (SRP $12) while upstairs on the deck we sipped Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $69) and Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz (SRP $150) while watching the boats zip back and forth across the bay.
The San Francisco waterfront has been buzzing with activity the last few years as it went through renovations and preparations to host the upcoming America’s Cup, the esteemed race of all races in the yachting world. Said to be the most difficult trophy in sport to win, the cup itself has been passed back and forth to the winning team for 150 years, resting in the hands of just four nations. Only the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Spain have been in possession of the trophy, and on August 9th it was on display at the Oracle Innovation Lounge. Made exclusively of sterling silver by Crown Jewelers Robert Garrard in 1848 the trophy has expanded in size in the intervening years. Originally a petite 27 inches (68 cm) tall, it was enhanced in the 1950s and 1990s to provide additional space at the base for engraving racing results, with a current height of just over four feet (44 cm). A central spinnaker-like lobe is engraved with the following: “100 Guinea Cup Won August 22nd 1851 at Cowes England by Yacht America at the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta”. A cup with a graceful, fluted spout adorns the top.
Amidst the excitement of the Penfold’s ampoule and the arrival of the Cup two boats were actually racing the waters of San Francisco Bay under surprisingly clear skies after the gloom and drizzle of the morning blanket of fog dissipated. The gigantic silhouettes of the high and long AC-72 wing-sail catamarans could be seen rocketing by Alcatraz as Italy’s Luna Rossa sailed a strong race, beating Sweden’s Artemis Racing to take a commanding 3:0 lead in the Louis Vuitton Cup, America’s Cup Challenger Series semi-finals. Luna Rossa’s helmsman, Chris Draper, dominated from the start and controlled the seven legs of the race but the race was the closest in the series, with Luna Rossa winning by 1 minute, 18 seconds.
It was a special day at the Oracle Innovation Lounge, with special appearances by the Penfolds Ampoule, America’s Cup Trophy and two sleek boats fighting for the opportunity to face the final challenge against Oracle Team USA in the final series beginning September 7, 2013.