by Fred McMillin
for January 1, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

A New Label for a New Year


Chalone Wine Estates

Prologue

January 1998—Chalone is going to develop a strong presence in the $8 to $12 range, according to its new president.

...James Laube, Wine Spectator


The Rest of the Story

Who's the new president of the Chalone Wine Group? Well, first, let's look at his very interesting predecessors.

1919—Monsieur Tam searched the hills above the Salinas Valley with his bottle of acid to find limestone soil suitable for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from his native France. He plants Chalone's first vines.

1955—Rodney Strong was the next particularly colorful owner. He had been a professional dancer on Broadway and choreographed in Paris. However, in Germany the Strongs had been winemakers, and before long he leased Chalone. One of his financial backers was Russ Graff. His son, Richard, had studied music at Harvard, spent three years as a Naval Officer, and now was working and getting bored in a bank. Dad asked Rodney if he could give Richard a weekend job at Chalone. BINGO! Soon, the U.C.-Davis Enology Dept. had a new student.

1965—Richard Graff, with a loan from his mother, bought Chalone. The New York Times said his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir "developed a cult following," generating enough interest to set up public funding, attract Baron Rothschild as a major stockholder, add other vineyard/wineries (today there are five), etc.

Jan 9, 1998—Above the Salinas Valley, a Cessna 182 developed mechanical trouble and crashed, killing 60-year-old Richard Graff. In spite of the huge loss, the winery kept its balance, since Richard already had selected a Chalone president to take over day-to-day control. His name was Tom Selfridge, who had guided much of the rise of Kendall-Jackson. It was Tom who in the above Prologue said they were making a big move into the fighting varietal ($10-type) field...and he's starting with what two varieties? Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of course. The new brand? Echelon.


The New Brand for the New Year

Name—Echelon
Owner—Chalone Wine Estates (CWE)
President—Tom Selfridge
Winegrowing Veep—Larry Brooks...10 years' experience at Acacia (a CWE winery) with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
First Releases—Echelon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. My panel just tasted the $13.50 Pinot and gave it a "HIGHLY RECOMMENDED IN ITS PRICE RANGE." medium body...easy drinking...smoked turkey... Veal Marengo...honey ham.


Postscript

VP Brook's Acacia experience constitutes a California landmark of its own. Some 25 years ago from one district he made four Chardonnays and six Pinots, arousing great interest in the region. Its name? Carneros!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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