@CityofRiesling Diary: Day 4 – Tonight’s the Night (of 100 Rieslings in Traverse City, Michigan)

Other wines have their annual day and Riesling used (in theory) to own the summer, but actually most people enjoy wine as part of a great night out, and I’m not arguing with that. It may be a simple observation, but if Riesling is the Best White Wine on Earth (the title of my book on the subject published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang), then it could well be the best wine to drink tonight. And this will be particularly true here in Traverse City, Michigan, because tonight the second @CityofRiesling festival kicks off with the Night of 100 Rieslings downtown close to the shore of Lake Michigan. Normally I don’t kick off a posting with a landscape image, but this picture shot from the deck of a boat on the lake last night was so spectacular I wanted to give you an idea of what the backdrop will be tonight. If you are unable to join us tonight, I suggest you scroll up to this shot and open a bottle of Riesling, or maybe two or three.

Although the @CityofRiesling is all about celebrate the wines of my favorite grape it has a serious purpose as well and, hard as it may be to believe, the above picture illustrates that. It shows Sam Smith of Smith Madrone winery in Napa Valley, California relaxing in the waters of Grand Traverse Bay last night. He’s one of the many winemakers who travelled large distances to be here, to pour their wines and to exchange ideas. The dry 2014 Riesling from Smith Madrone has as much vitality and elegance as this winery’s better known Cabernet Sauvignon reds (the 2012 is a beautiful example of this), and likewise proves that even that region so associated with massive, opulent and sweetish tasting wines has a completely different side of which Riesling is a part. This proves that it wasn’t the Great God of Wine who ordained that Napa should produce Big Cabs, but men and women, consumers (who I regard as co-producers) no less than producers.

The most important thing about Riesling is that it is a seemingly endless source of surprises. I’ve been studying, tasting and drinking it for 30 years, but I still get a rush of excitement from realizing that I’ve just bumped into another new star in the Riesling firmament. Or would you expect to find that there’s a producer of high-end dry Riesling wines in Pennsylvania? Sarah Troxell of Galen Glen winery in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is another participant of the @CityofRiesling and yesterday was the first time we’d met, so already the event has provided me with one very pleasant surprise.



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 6 – Almost Famous 2013 Dry Rieslings from Tim Fröhlich & Vincent Bründlmayer

Yesterday, at the the Rudi Wiest Selections tasting of German wines here in NYWC (New York Wine City) I bumped into Tim Fröhlich of the Schäfer-Fröhlich winery in Bockenau in the Nahe. Tasting some of his 2013 and 2014 Rieslings reminded me what a great winemaker he is, how that fact still isn’t widely realized in many places around the world, and as a result the reputation of the Nahe is also not always what it should be. One reason for all this is that Tim’s top dry Rieslings (what he’s best known for in Germany) can be pretty funky during their first year in bottle, sometimes even stinking a little. This is what winemakers refer to as reduction, which is the opposite of oxidation. Doing wild yeast ferments and allowing his top dry wines to go into the bottle with a slight reduction results in this youthful awkwardness. However, when I taste a wine like Tim’s 2013 Felsenberg Riesling GG (from a steep south-facing site with very stony volcanic soil), then I have no problems at all. This wine now has intense grapefruit and smoke aromas, is powerful but still quite sleek, and has almost impossibly intense mineral freshness at the finish. During the better part of a year in the bottle the funk this wine initially had has blown off completely. This wine must be tasted to be believed!

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera with my to the Terry Theise Selections tasting in NYWC  just two days before, so there’s no photograph of Vincent Bründlmayer to accompany my description of his sensation dry 2013 Riesling Heiligenstein ‘Alte Reben’. This wine is so concentrated, yet has a supermodel silhouette and an amazingly long aftertaste that literally took my breath away. I haven’t tasted an Austrian Riesling which did quite that to me in quite a few years and it was the high point of this tasting. The other important conclusion I drew here is that in 2014 the dry Grüner Veltliners from Austria are a bit more consistently successful than the dry Rieslings.

What both tastings made clear was, that although there are some pretty poor 2014 vintage German and Austrian white wines out there on the market, the top producers in both countries were able to pull off a minor miracle and their 2014 wines are more charming than their 2013s. Any rumors that 2014 is a poor vintage in Germany and Austria are unfounded and based on ignorance. Cheers!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 14 – The New Hugel

Maison Hugel of Riquewihr long seemed like the bastion of tradition in Alsace/France, but last night at the tasting dinner they and their US importer Frederick Wildman staged at Zuma Restaurant at 261 Madison Avenue that image cracked, dissolved and began to coalesce in an entirely new form. The agent of this metamorphosis from old to new was Jean Frédéric, 27, son of Etienne Hugel, the Hugel brother in charge of marketing. Two points need to be stressed here to prevent the wrong impression being given: 1) this is a genuine metamorphosis in which the same creature changes from one form to another, 2) it is still in progress.

Jean Frédéric likes saying some radical things like, “the biggest drama of Alsace is that we’re losing our style. 20 years ago people knew they would get a dry Riesling, a dry Pinot Gris an a food friendly Gewürz, but now there are too many easy-drinking sweet wines. This is a terrible mistake.” However, they are all deeply rooted in what it’s fashionable to call the brand DNA. I use this expression, but Jean Frédéric said, “I prefer to say family than brand, because it’s been a family company since 1639.” “You don’t look that old!” somebody heckled. “We’re all getting older!” he quipped back. That’s the sense of humor he displayed all evening, but that joke doesn’t alter the fact that some serious rejuvenation isn’t happening to the Hugel wines and some aspects of the way they are marketed.

One of the biggest changes Hugel are making became apparent when one of the first wines was poured, the 2012 Pinot Gris Classic showed. I could describe the label which features a Ralph Steadman cartoon of an Alsace winegrower in tradition costume (now rarely seen), but it makes way more sense to who it to you, see above. Superficially, the only thing the new Hugel label has in common with the old one is the yellow background color and the company name in that very distinctive red script. However, when the old label was introduced back in 1921 it embodied the very latest thinking in brand marketing, and was based upon the design of the Maggi spicy cooking condiment; a huge brand at the time. Maggi had conducted modern-style consumer testing of alternate designs and found that a red brand name on a yellow background was most easily recognized by them. A member of the Hugel family who worked for Maggi for  a while brought that discovery with him to Riquewihr. Now they are taking a similarly radical step for their Classic range of varietal wines, which will all switch to the label above. By the way, that Pinot Gris is a delicious wine, with the richness and suppleness of the variety when the grapes are picked ripe (and the vines weren’t over-cropped), but properly dry and clean.

It made complete sense staging the tasting at Zuma, because the Asian-fusion cuisine matched the dry Hugel whites beautifully. The excellent sushi and sashimi really lit up the 2013 Riesling Classic, that had seemed a little sullen (too young) when first poured. As you can see from the above image, the affinity of their wines for this kind of food is a card that Hugel is now playing big time and with some panache. No doubt this also aligns with Jean Frédéric’s personal taste, for otherwise he couldn’t have spoken with such enthusiasm about this subject. And this is by no means the end of this story. At the end of the summer Hugel will launch their first wine with a Grand Cru vineyard designation on the label, the 2007 Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg. Watch this space!

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Ontario Riesling Diary: Day 3 – Let me be Franc with You

As regular visitors are aware, this blog is devoted primarily to the wines of the Riesling grape, just like my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH (pub. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014), but I occasionally throw a sidelong glance in another direction completely, (as a journalist I’m interested in journalism and everything relating to it), or, more frequently, to the wines of other grape varieties. This is one of the latter type of blog postings, because good and great Ontario wine is certainly not only made from Riesling.

Yesterday’s tastings proved that Cabernet Franc isn’t just another interesting variety for the Niagara Peninsula, rather a big part of the future for the region’s red wine production. As the photograph above taken in the vineyard at Stratus close to Niagara on the Lake, my favorite producer of Cab-based red wine blends in this region, shows Cabernet Franc comes through the hard winters here remarkably well. Last winter was the coldest ever recorded, and yet this vine still looks good. The thing that you can’t see from this photograph is that the team lead by director J-L Groux will prune each of these vines three times instead of one in order to optimize the crop for the growing season that’s just begun. That is an awful lot of work and it requires skill. I’ve pruned vines a number of times, but never done this kind of patient, step-by-step pruning spread over several weeks watching which buds produce shoots and which of those shoots will actually bear fruit; the whole point of viticulture!

The 2010 Cabernet Franc from Stratus is cast-iron proof of this grape’s potential to give world class wines here, because it tastes neither like a red Loire wine from this grape (there is only the merest hint of green, a hint of parsley rather than green bell pepper) nor like a red Bordeaux (the tannins are rich, but silkier than is normal there), much less like a American West Coast interpretation (it has some violet aroma, but not the opulence of California & Co). Instead, it is entirely itself and beautifully balanced. This grape also plays a role, it was 15% in the 2010 vintage, of the Stratus red blend, adding freshness and aroma to help this powerful wine remain light on it’s feet in spite of all it’s tannic power. A grape that manages a great solo performance and can play in a quartet like this (with 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot) clearly makes a lot of sense in this special wine growing location.

However, the great thing about Cabernet Franc is that it you can produce a range of different styles from it. For example, the 2010 Cabernet Franc ‘Whimsy!’ from Southbrook (not far from Stratus) is quite powerful, but already charming and graceful with a hint of bottle age, but plenty of fruit showing. Here, Cab Franc makes up fully 31% of the blended 2010 ‘Poetica’ red that is conceived by owner Bill Redelmeier as the region’s answer to Bordeaux’s Léoville Las Cases, (one of my favorite wines from the Médoc area, as long as it has some bottle age. The ‘Poetica’ also needs some bottle age to mellow its bold dry tannins, but as the 2007 (the first vintage of this wine) showed, it doesn’t take as many years to mellow this wine as it does Léoville Las Cases. At this point in the day I was about as far away from Riesling as you can get!

Cave Spring are most famous for their CSV Riesling, pictured above, and that was the main reason they were my last appointment yesterday evening. However, they also make some excellent Chardonnay (ranging from Blanc to Blanc sparkling to the elegant, discretely oaken ‘Estate’), and some Cabernet Franc that has a perfume, vibrancy and lightness of touch that no other producer in Ontario quite achieves. The 2013 vintage ‘Niagara Escarpment’ bottling will be a great introduction to this style for many people, and the more concentrated ‘Estate’ bottling makes a serious statement that will impress others. These wines are just about to be bottled, so please be patient. Patience will also be needed for the top Cave Spring Rieslings from the 2014 vintage. The 2014 ‘CSV’ Riesling has intense peach and citrus aromas (not just lemon, but mandarin too) and marries terrific concentration with a tingling mineral freshness, the hint of residual sweetness (technically it is medium-dry) perfectly balancing the generous acidity. The 2014 ‘Estate’ is a smaller scale version of this wine, and the 2014 ‘Adam’s Steps’ is a more succulent (a lot of orange, some pineapple and passion fruit) wine with serious mineral saltiness at the finale. Normally, I don’t do tasting notes here, but let me be frank with you, these are some of the best Rieslings cave Spring ever made and deserve this attention. Maybe they’ll age as well as the great 1999 ‘CSV’ I drank here last time.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Where the Next Story is to be Found (Welcome to the Corner of West 16th and 6th Ave)

I often ask myself where the next story is to be found, particularly when I’ve been in one place for a long time and familiarity has made me contemptuous of my surroundings, so that I have ceased to take them in properly. Let’s be frank, that means I’m less alive than I could be and ought to be. Then life gives me a jolt and brings me back to my senses. That happened most recently on Thursday when I flew from Berlin to New York, then I was suddenly confronted again with things like the corner of West 16th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, just a few yards from where I live when I’m in New York Wine City (NYWC). As you can see, even the closest and most familiar street corner can still be full of surprises. However, this time I hardly have the time to take all this in, because tomorrow (Sunday) I’m flying up to Toronto for the 2015 Terroir Symposium on Monday, May 11th. I would be able to write more here if I hadn’t spent much of the day figuring out exactly what I have to say on Monday afternoon, and I’m still not entirely sure…but as you can see from the picture above, my heart is in the right place.

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Very Long-Term Planning

Most of my work is horribly short-term stuff. I taste a wine/various wines in order to write about it/them here or in my column in the Sunday edition of the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (German language) on the same day, or within a few days at most. Rarely can I chew over these impressions for months, in fact only in books like BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH / PLANET RIESLING or in my quarterly column in FINE magazine (German language) can that happen. Today’s main task was in stark contrast to this very short-term turnover of material and deserves the description “very long-term planning” because it has implications that potentially stretch decades into the future. I just purchased a small, but extremely centrally located apartment in Berlin where this eternal student of Riesling will reside (when in this city) for the foreseeable future. As you can see from the picture above, it is currently under construction, and I won’t be moving in until the end of 2015 or very early 2016. I will, of course, keep you posted and the short-term turnover of wines tasted and things experienced will continue unabated. By the way, I don’t intend to stop doing this until I die, and given that my grandmother lived to be 101 that could mean several decades more!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 6 – $196,000 for a Bottle of Smith-Madrone Riesling from California

Pictured above are Stuart (left) and Charles Smith (right) of the Smith-Madrone winery on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, California. They’ve got good reason to look happy, because a bottle of their dry 1997 Riesling just sold at auction for the staggering sum of $196,000. If you think this is absurd, then I must point out that this is a delicious wine now at the peak of maturity. For the full exciting story click on the link below.

To my mind, this is not a triumph for the Smiths’ dedication to this grape and their dramatic, but challenging vineyard location (pictured below) since the early 1970s, but also a fitting answer to the Riesling bashing that some American journalists and somms have been engaging in recently. Much of this has been driven by envy of the success of Riesling advocates like Paul Grieco of the Terroir wine bars in New York Wine City (NYWC), but some of it has been plain old-fashioned bad blood.

If you can’t afford $196,000 per bottle – I certainly can’t! – then I strongly recommend you the Smith-Madrone 2012 Riesling (a bit closed and worth cellaring for several years before opening) and the youthfully effusive 2013 Riesling. You should be able to find both of them on the shelf for under $30 per bottle. By the way, this was the only American wine included in the hit list of the world’s best dry Rieslings in my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH (pub. Stewart, Tabori & Chang in NYWC)!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Can You See the Real Me?

Can you see the real me? Can you? 

I first heard The Who’s Quadrophenia album in November 1976 just over three years after it was released, and that line from the song The Real Me instantly etched itself into my consciousness. It’s been going through my mind again during the last days, because a new rumor about me has been going around here in Berlin. The fact that I’m about to buy a small apartment in an ultra-downtown location has lead some people to start saying that, “Stuart’s moving back to Berlin!” On one level this is all good clean fun, but it’s factually incorrect and therefore demands an answer. The fact is, that although I spent a lot of time in New York Wine City (NYWC) from the end of November 2012, and since I moved into my present apartment there in September 2013 it has felt like home, I never left Berlin. It has always remained my official place of residence and with good reason. Most of my work is published in German in Germany, Berlin is my base for reporting on the wines of Europe, and this is the country where I have paid the majority of my taxes since 1994. Buying my own place will cement my connection with Berlin as my long-term base in Germany and also give STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL a European HQ. The location close to Alexanderplatz in East Berlin’s Mitte district also means that I’ll be within walking or cycling distance of some of the world’s best wine bars!

So, you see, I feel at home here in Berlin and in NYWC. That situation is what many of the rumor-tellers can’t cope with and that’s the reason this explanation is necessary. Far more than the inhabitants of NYWC, those of Berlin want to put every person into one pigeonhole and get deeply frustrated when this isn’t possible. Ten years ago when I was developing a career as a painter (which sadly failed) alongside my continuing journalistic this double identity caused many of my acquaintances in Berlin a lot of trouble. Now my double allegiance to this city and NYWC is stressing the same people and some others too. Their reaction is that of the child who tries to force the square peg into the round hole come what may, rather than accepting that only a round peg will fit that hole. Like that child they will get over this in time and, reluctantly, accept the reality of the situation. I am what I am. Can you see the real me?



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On the Riesling Road: Day 3 – 2014 in Germany is Up in the Heavens & Down to Zero

The Mainzer Weinbörse, the annual major presentation of the new vintage by the German VDP producers association is just about to end after two grueling days. They weren’t grueling only because of the sheer number of wines on show (more than a thousand, I think, but I didn’t try to taste them all), but also because 2014 is a vintage that spans the entire range from Up in the Heavens all the way to Down to Zero. Even a few of the VDPs almost 200 members, theoretically the elite of Germany’s wine producers, managed to present wines that I considered so bad that they were incompatible with the designation Qualitätswein, or quality wine. They now need to do some serious soul searching and figure out if they really want to put world-famous vineyard names on bottles of Riesling that smell of wishy-washy rotten grapes and taste drab and bitter. There is also more general problem with bitterness in many of the Riesling wines from the Saar sub-region of the Mosel. Exactly why that is I can’t figure out, but it was a clear pattern.

At the other end of the scale are those winemakers, like Martin Franzen of Müller-Catoir in Neustadt-Haardt in the Pfalz (pictured above), who managed their vineyards so well and were so on top of the harvest that they had no problems at all. His dry Rieslings were probably the most exciting wines I tasted during the last two days, and the other varieties (Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Weißburgunder) were also striking. Other serious highlights were Diel, Dönnhoff, Emrich-Schönleber and Gut Hermannsberg on the Nahe, Flick, Franz Künstler, Prinz and Spreitzer in the Rheingau, Groebe, Wagner-Stempel and Wittmann in Rheinhessen. The Mosel was confusingly heterogenous, although the wines from von Othegraven (who only showed sweet Rieslings) Dr. Wagner on the Saar stood out. Franken is an even more mixed and confusing picture, but with many exciting wines, and I will return to this subject at a later date after more tasting.

Of course, even these days were not totally dominated by wine tasting and the highlight of yesterday evening was meeting the young chap pictured above, Gustav, a tame baby wild boar. I was having a relaxed and delicious dinner at retired top chef Franz Keller’s Falkenhof farm high in the taunts Mountains to the north of the Rheingau’s vineyards and suddenly there was Gustav playing games and generally being the life and soul of the party. The highlight of dinner was thankfully not wild boar, rather the filet of a recently slaughtered Charolais from the fields of the Falkenhof. I’m not a big fan of beef filet, but this one had an up in the heavens flavor!



Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 20 – Billy Wagner’s Restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig is Some-thing/where Else (Part 2)

The photograph above is a Portrait of the Gastronomic Artist as a Young Man, which is to say the previous incarnation of Billy Wagner just before he started seriously planing what became his new restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig (N&S) on the wrong part of the famous Friedrichstrasse in Berlin (the section in the Kreuzberg district, rather than the much cooler one in Mitte). I was not in good shape health-wise the evening I visited N&S for the first time on Friday evening, which had the advantage that I didn’t take a very active a part in conversation and therefore had plenty of time to think. Watching Billy Wagner zipping around the restaurant, opening bottles, pouring wines and changing the vinyl on the record player it struck me that N&S is not only the stage on which the new Billy Wagner performs with the grace of a gazelle in its natural habitat, it is the stage which gave birth to the new Billy Wagner! If you doubt this, then I suggest you compare the above picture with the one in Part 1 below and see if you really find no difference.

We return to the Mahlzeit, or meal, just as the oh so very noble, hard and dirty soup course was served. Like many other dishes, you can’t tell what is actually from the “menu”, because it only tells what the main ingredients are and where they came from. In this case it said celery, leak and lamb fat from Bauer Zielke (farmer Zielke). Exceptionally, I think my photo conveys very well what this dish looked like. Either you’ll love this soup’s very low key, delicately rooty and mellow flavor, or you’d find it way too bland and ask for Tabasco or some other form of chili to pep it up, as someone in my group did! (Billy Wagner just laughed at that comment). Every dish at N&S has this potential for controversy to a greater or lesser degree, and if that idea doesn’t excite you I suggest that you don’t go there. Maybe this was a shock for some of the “young and beautiful people” who made up the majority of the guests last Friday, but if so they weren’t showing it. Maybe the pervasive aura of coolness surrounding N&S at this early stage in it’s life distracts some guests from this situation, but that’s an effect that will wane in a short time. Then we’ll see how they take these gastronomic slaps in the face. Not everyone can say, “hit me”, and very few can say it and mean it.

Meat was a single course and – if you really wanted to see things this way – was just about recognizable as a “main course”. I forgot to take a picture of my plate when it arrived and when I was able to take a picture of another plate of this dish later in the evening (the photo above) the piece of meat was much larger than the one I got. I guess that I got about 75 grams / <3 ounces, but feel I should point out that this is all any of us need per day to obtain the protein our bodies need. I’m actively in favor of this portion size, also if it’s goal is to make this dish less of a conventional “main course”. Democracy for dishes and wines is something I strongly believe, but am sometimes not thorough enough about.

This piece of Mangalitza pork neck from the Landwerthof farm was delicious thanks to the exact preparation and the intense flavor of the fat. The caramelized onion with it made it even more schweinisch, or piggy, as Billy Wagner called, and the hint of camomile added a light touch to this fat bomb of a dish. The 1975 Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Spätlese – a 30 year old sweet Riesling from the now defunct Rheingau estate of Schloss Groenesteyn – was also the most daring and exciting wine pairing of the evening. The combination of fat and delicate sweetness landed spot on the pleasure center of my brain and I could have wallowed in this dish like a Mangalitza pig in mud. By the way, there is a pig in my name, Stuart deriving from styward, or warden of the pigsty.

Also only slightly sweet was this combination of flower pollen sorbet with elderberries and yoghurt and for my palate this would have been the perfect happy ending to the meal, because the sweet dishes I like are anti-desserts like this. That’s a personal preference though, and not to be taken too seriously if this is a serious review who’s purpose is to assess how good N&S really is according to the motto, “two stars or three?” Before I go any further I have to take that purpose and heave it into the dustbin of history though, because what this story is actually about is figuring out what N&S stands for and what the food, drinks and everything else about it says to us. “I’m not a critic, I’m a free thinker!” Let’s leave this subject right now though, so that the dustbin doesn’t get too full of what seem to me rubbishy ideas before this posting ends.

The other end of the scale to personal preferences are those things that once we taste them immediately make us want to retch. I started eating this dish with the Elstar apple ice and liked the “odd” – an ugly little 3 letter word – contrast with the grains. Then I tried the oat mass and, although I eat quite a lot of oats, the flavor was just too intense for me and I wanted to retch. I consider that quite an achievement by chef Micha Schäfer, because most chefs are so dependent upon being praised, admired, talked about and generally loved to death that they only put stuff they know almost everyone will like on the plate. That narrows down the range of gastronomic possibilities before even ingredients are bought never mind prep begins. Don’t get me wrong, other people in my group loved this stuff. It’s me that was the problem, and the good thing is that Micha Schäfer doesn’t shy away from this kind of collision. As I wrote yesterday, N&S is a gastronomic collision chamber!

With the considerable help of his friends the team, the new Billy Wagner has made N&S this. Everything from the David-Lynch-dim lighting to his own wine selections fits into this dangerous, rag-bag whole without anything ever drifting off in the direction of familiar well-rounded harmonies. I dislike them as much as I like well-rounded answers to difficult questions. That makes this is the Berlin restaurant for me.

For more details go to:


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