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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett (reporting from America)

Among the landmark casualties of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center was one of the most prestigious restaurants in the US - Windows on the World. All 76 employees in the 107th-floor restaurant are believed to be still missing. Chef Michael Lomonaco stopped in the lobby to pick up a pair of glasses instead of taking the lift to his office, a few minutes that saved his life. Windows of the World and its smaller offshoot, Cellar in the Sky, were not only havens for Wall Street moguls and tourists, they sold more wine than any other restaurant in America, with 1,500 bins and 50,000 bottles. “It was just a great restaurant with wonderful wines,” Wall Street Journal wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter said last week. The atrocity has had a deep effect on both the US national psyche and the economy. Among the sectors most profoundly affected is New York’s booming entertainment, service and tourist industry, which involves thousands of restaurants and vintners. One night shortly after the attacks, at Lespinasse, a fashionable French restaurant near Central Park, where tables normally have to be booked at least a month in advance, only three tables were occupied. Waiters have been put on three- and four-day weeks. On the other side of the country, 3,000 miles away in California - on the day of the attacks - the Robert Mondavi winery had intended to have its annual blessing of the grapes. It was cancelled, and instead Mondavi and family held a private prayer meeting in a nearby monastery. At the annual Staglin Family Music Festival, in a change to the planned programme, the audience sang the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as on the last night of the Proms. “The World’s Largest Wine Auction,” scheduled for 15 and 16 September, with more than $10million worth of wine for sale, was postponed. A two-day bonanza to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Beringer Vineyards was cancelled. It will now take place in London in November. On 20 September, at Far Niente winery, the Napa Valley Vintners’ Association (NVVA) held its annual press conference to talk about the vintage. NVVA communications director Kimberly Getto said: “In the wake of last week’s events, any talk about wine seems mundane.” NVVA officials say that the tragedy will inevitably take its toll on the American wine industry. But they hope that the off-trade will hold up, even as the US economy heads into recession. Since US stocks resumed trading a week ago, shares in many wine companies have shown signs of resilience, while the broader market plummeted. Shares in Constellation Brands closed Friday at $36.85, down $1.63, but still closer to its 52-week high of $46.50 than its low of $22.94. Shares in Mondavi Corp. fell only 90 cents on Friday, to $37.95. “Even in times of recession or tragedy, people still like to have a bottle of wine on the table at home,” said Margaret Duckhorn, NVVA president. At least in the on-trade, though, the future in the US looks bleak. A full week after the attacks, Mike and Mary Colhoun, owners of Landmark Winery in Sonoma Valley, visitedone of their favourite restaurants in San Francisco. The venue is normally hopping, but that night they were the only ones there.