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by Fred McMillin
for February 04, 2000


Winery of the Week

Our Winery of the Century


Prologue

One of the super palates on my panel, American history Prof. Dr. Henry Cohen, asked my nomination for the best California winery of the 20th century. Piece of cake. Here it is.


The Rest of the Story

It was founded in 1900, when a chemistry-trained Frenchman bought four acres and a home near Rutherford in the Napa Valley.

By 1915 he owned 240 acres of vines, and was the largest grower of premium varietals in the Napa Valley, including Cabernet Sauvignon.

While Prohibition wiped out most of the commercial wine business, Georges de Latour became a major supplier of alter wine. Although Cab vines were expiring elsewhere, Beaulieu was including their fruit in its wine for the church.

Consequently, when Repeal arrived in 1933, BV had a million gallons of aged, premium wine ready for the market. From 1934 through 1940 the winery won more awards than any California competitor.

Symbolic was the 1939 competition at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. With 402 entries, Beaulieu won Best Red. Of course, it didn't hurt that Georges had hired a Russian-born Paris lab technician who merely became California1s greatest winemaker for 50 years, Andre Tchelistcheff. Andre convinced the boss to segregate the best barrels of Cabernet and treat it with special care. De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was born.

Carneros Vineyard

The legendary Andre Tchelistcheff (right) in a Carneros vineyard of our Winery of the Century.

The word spread. In World War II I was a Navy officer teaching technical radar in the S.F. Bay area and it was THE red wine...the price was $1.50! Others a little higher on the military pay scale drank it to celebrate the end of the war...General Dwight Eisenhower, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, and General Charles de Gaulle. Winery visitors included Winston Churchill & Herbert Hoover.

Dean of American wine writers, the late Leon Adams summed it up this way in 1990: "BV Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the single most sought-after American wine."


The Best News of All

1999—Critic James Laube in the 2nd Edition of his California Wine writes: "Beaulieu currently is making the greatest wines of its fabled history...Not only is the Private Reserve Cab firmly among the finest in the Napa Valley, but the entire lineup is better and more diverse than ever." My panel just gave a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to the new Sangiovese, and an EXCELLENT to the Reserve Cab (in large, blind tastings).

Conclusion - Let me know if you think there is another California winery with a superior 100-year record.


Postscript

Regarding BV's diversity, twenty years ago they produced a sparkling wine of considerable stature. It did well in my tastings, but more important, it was served at a dinner on July 11, 1976 honoring none other than..."Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Eng1and."

 
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.

 
 


This page created February 2000

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