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ACES Wine: A Poker Story

Wine and poker: the two passions that set ACES' Holger Clausen's heart ablaze. If you live for sipping liquid bliss or raking in a fat pot, you'll understand the man. Holger's wine infatuation first blossoms 25 years ago. As a teen living in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada - juicy centre of the fruit-filled Okanagan Valley - he meets vineyard owners and winemakers at his folks' dinner parties. One evening, a guest brings an '82 Sumac Ridge Gewürztraminer and describes its origins. Holger, 14, is enthralled.


After the guests leave, Holger challenges his dad to a chess game, proposing the bottle be the prize. He wins it. Today, Holger's massive wine collection reflects his full-blown devotion to the grape, and the unopened Gewürz - now undrinkable - sits front and centre.


In university, Texas Hold'em gets a hold of him, and he spends three years (and most of his student loans) establishing his name in high limit poker rooms from Vancouver to Vegas and Macau to Melborne. His wine infatuation ripens as his poker career blossoms. The moment he turns 21, he tours Napa Valley. There, in the blush of perfect, sun-kissed grapes, he envisions his own premium label.


Holger accrues a decade of expertise co-owning and operating Level One, the Okanagan's premier grape harvesting company. In the off-season he's down under, harvesting a huge range of varieties in a multitude of regions. Whenever he can, he boards the 5:45 a.m. train from Swan Hill to Melbourne -  by noon he's in the Crown Casino playing Hold'em. The redeye gets him home in time to supervise the next round of harvesting.


Toiling in vineyards earns Holger the respect of leading growers and vineyard managers - innumerable cash poker games earn him his grubstake. (If a variety is less than superb, Holger folds on that wine that year. To whit, no Pocket ACES Syrah in '08.)


To handcraft this matchless fruit into something extraordinary, Holger invites rising star Jason Parkes, whose mastery of laborious Old World techniques attest to his killer work ethic and handmade approach to varietal expression.


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Holger is delighted to share his enthusiasm, knowing that savvy players - whether in the wine or poker worlds - recognize a sure bet when they see one.


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