Wine: Lightning in a Bottle

Photograph by Cordero Studios/www.corderostudios.com

“Each of us is all the sums he has not counted,” wrote Thomas Wolfe of the web of human relationships that controls our individual destinies. In life’s apparently random collision of human bodies and minds, Wolfe discovers a fateful order, “that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.” Coup de Foudre, a richly rendered red wine from California, offers a small example of this magic, having come about as the orderly result of a series of happy accidents.

The first of these events occurred when restaurateur and winemaker John Schwartz—who produces the celebrated Amuse Bouche with former Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barrett—was about 19 years old. At a party, a young woman caught his eye. “I was talking to her throughout the evening,” Schwartz recalls, “and then some French guy came in and started monopolizing her. I think I knew one French word at the time, feu—fire—so I yelled ‘feu’ and got everyone to look around. The Frenchman [left]. I asked the girl what he had said to her. She said, ‘Well, he taught me this great French expression called coup de foudre.’ ‘What the hell is that?’ I asked her. She said, ‘Well, that’s when lightning strikes in love at first sight.’ ”

It was a fitting coincidence, in which lightning did strike. Schwartz wrote the woman a long poem in which he incorporated the phrase. They eventually married and now have two children together.


The expression, naturally, has always had special significance to the Schwartzes, but it was not until Schwartz met Danielle Price, now director of wine at Wynn Las Vegas, that he began to think there might be another chapter to the story. A mutual friend suggested the meeting between the two, recounts Price. “When I was with Smith & Wollensky,” she says, “I got to know an elderly gentleman named Herb Silverman, who was very into the wine scene. He and I became good friends. He said to me, ‘You know Danielle, it’s my belief that like-minded people should get to know each other. I have this friend named John Schwartz. I really think you guys should get together.’ ”

The meeting, however, proved no simple matter. They first attempted to meet in California, but scheduling conflicts intervened. Then in New York. At last, they met in Italy. “John and I became really good friends—we are both passionate about the wine business,” says Price.

That shared passion prompted them to create a wine together. Price had done a private-label wine for Smith & Wollensky that proved a success, and through Schwartz, she developed one for Wynn, working with Barrett. Price’s palate and Schwartz’s marketing savvy made their collaboration a natural one. And Schwartz already had the name.

“We had fun with it,” says Schwartz, who wanted to incorporate the theme of significant moments and the relationships they spawn into the packaging. He decided to use the poem he had written to his wife as a motif on the label, which he wanted to make removable, having, during his long career in the restaurant business, acquiesced to many a request to peel off the label to save as a memento. “To capture the moment, we have a patented three-piece label, where you peel off the label and there’s a second one underneath,” he says. “On the back of the removable label, there’s a note pad to write down who, where, when, and why. It’s a keepsake.”

The wine, too, is as memorable as any moment. The second vintage, the 2005 ($570 per six-bottle case), is a vibrant Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 5 percent Syrah from Barrett’s vineyard in Santa Barbara County, which adds a spicy character to this immense, deep, and complex wine. Coup de Foudre’s remarkable range of textures and flavors works its effects gradually, like the courses of an elegant and ample meal. First, luxurious berry and chocolate caress the nose, then coat the palate in a silky-soft blanket of chocolate and smoke, before the final course—a rich and unique finish of coffee and cream. This dark miracle of chance is one with which you will want to have a long and lasting relationship.

Coup de Foudre, 707.253.8300, www.coupdefoudrewine.com

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