|From pedaling bikes to peddling wine|
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|From pedaling bikes to peddling wine|
|Written by Dale Robertson|
|Wednesday, 18 February 2009 00:00|
In the process of becoming the world’s most famous cancer survivor and a Tour de France-dominating cyclist, Lance Armstrong acquired a taste for many of the finer things in life, not the least of which was wine.
You can’t live in Italy, France and Spain and not come to appreciate the glories of the grape, no matter how obsessive your fitness routine. So it’s no surprise the seven-time Tour champion is following the lead of many sports and entertainment celebrities, has a wine of his own on the market today, just as he begins what may be one of the most compelling, captivating comebacks ever.
Nor is it a surprise that said wine — called “Cuvée 7,” a name now in danger of suffering early obsolescence — is as big and bold as a wine can be, or that it was crafted by one of California’s most celebrated vintners, who also knows the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Randy Lewis wasn’t the Lance Armstrong of auto racing, but he had his moments, arguably becoming the most successful American driver ever at the Formula III level in Europe. When he was in his 40s, he gained entrée to the Indianapolis 500, finishing as high as 13th.
But a terrifying crash during a qualifying run for the 1991 race made him stop and smell the roses ... rather, the cabernet.
“I could have been killed,” Lewis said of slamming into a concrete retaining wall at 220 miles per hour.
“I was a pretty good driver, but I didn’t have the sponsorship money to race a competitive car. I wasn’t in the sport to lose and, at 46, it was time to move on to my second life.”
Like Armstrong, he’d acquired a taste for fine wines while living in Europe — though unlike Armstrong, his home was usually the back of his van — and often daydreamed about making some himself. Bob Miner, a co-founder of Oracle and Lewis’ good friend, had recently bought a magnificent spread on a hillside above Oakville, where he owned 50 acres of vines.
“I called Bob up and told him, ‘Let’s do it,’” Lewis said.
They founded the Oakville Ranch Vineyards on a handshake. But in 1994, Miner fell ill with cancer and died soon thereafter. So Lewis went off on his own with Lewis Cellars, which debuted with the 1994 vintage. Although self-taught, by 2001 he was making world-class wine — and cycling regularly to stay in shape. Through “a friend of a friend,” he wound up hanging out with Armstrong’s family and entourage in Paris at the finish of the ’01 Tour de France.
“I met Lance briefly at the hotel,” he said, “We really just shook hands.”
With then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow in tow, Armstrong later showed up at Lewis Cellars following a 100-mile ride in the hills around Napa. After autographing a one-of-a-kind six-liter bottle of cabernet that Lewis made to commemorate his third Tour victory, he stayed for a couple of hours, and the duo broached the idea of making a wine together.
“If one wine was going to be better than the other,” Lewis said, “I wanted it to be his.” They made just four barrels. That translates to about 92 cases, which doesn’t make for much market penetration. For the moment, there’s none for sale in Houston, retail or restaurant. Lewis says that three high-end Austin restaurants — Mirabelle, 111 Forks and Eddie V’s — have it on their lists.
It’s not cheap. Lewis offered the Cuvée 7 to his wine-club members for $275, or $50 more than the Cuvée L. However, a sizeable chunk will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
“We did this for the experience, to have fun,” he said. “Not to make money.”
A 2006 is in the works. The name will have to be changed — perhaps wisely, it doesn’t appear anywhere on the label — if Armstrong’s pedaling prowess is intact. Lewis plans to spend a week at both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour to cheer on his partner and ride a little himself.
Although the Cuvée 7 and Cuvée L cabernets may be hard to find around town, Randy Lewis’ chardonnays, regular cabs, syrah and the popular Alec’s Blend are available in varying quantities. Check the following:
Retail outlets: Houston Wine Merchant, Richard’s, Spec’s
Restaurants: Backstreet Cafe, Brenner’s on the Bayou, Cafe Annie, Capital Grille, COVA Hand-Selected Wines, Cullen’s Upscale American Grill, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Gravitas, Jasper’s, Houston’s, Hugo’s, Ibiza, Lynn’s Steakhouse, Mark’s, Masraff’s, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Reef, Tony’s, Vic &
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle