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by Fred McMillin
for August 4, 2000

 

Winery of the Week

High Noon At Continental Air


Prologue

There is a festive air at wine tastings. But not at this one. The white and red wines that won would be flying on Continental Airlines all around the U.S.A. And overseas.


We Have A Winner!

The winning pair was a California Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir by...GLEN ELLEN. It was hardly a surprise, when you consider the winery's track record. Let's see how it all started.

1849—Pennsylanian Charles Stuart settles in the upper end of the Sonoma Valley. There he has a vineyard, and a wife, ELLEN Mary.

About the word "glen." It's a Celtic term meaning "narrow valley" and became the first part of over a dozen California place names, such as Glendale.

Charlie Tsegeletos and Glenn Proctor.

Senior Director of Winemaking Charlie Tsegeletos and Senior Director of Vineyards Glenn Proctor.

1869—Charles Stuart names the settlement in honor of his wife, calling it Glen Ellen.

1889—San Francisco Examiner reporter Frona Wait praises the Glen Ellen area, saying it "is capable of producing anything that has roots." There must have been plenty of grapevine roots, since she also wrote that "the Glen Ellen district exports over half a million gallons of wine yearly."

Let's jump forward exactly 100 years.

1989—The Glen Ellen Winery has recognized and filled a vast void, the production of inexpensive wines bearing the name of the dominate grape. Three wines lead the $5-a-bottle charge, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and soon, White Zinfandel. Annual sales skyrocket to three MILLION cases a year. The winery has created the "fighting varietal" (1ow-cost varietals) phenomenon.

1994—The 1994 $5 Proprietor's Reserve Glen Ellen Chardonnay is selected the following year by my panel as the Best Buy of 1995. (See the June 29, 1998 WineDay for more.) Let's meet the men who made it, (see photo).

The Grape Grower - Another Glen...Glenn Proctor showed some potential for viticulture in school... magna cum laude at Cal State-Fresno for the B.S. AND cum laude at U.C.-Davis for his M.S. In coordinating the large number of vineyards supplying grapes for the three million cases, he noticed that about four out of every five of his growers never tasted the wine made from their grapes. So he initiated a grower feedback program, which is producing better and better grapes. He had been with Glen Ellen for seven years when that 1994 Chardonnay was produced.

The Winemaker - In l994, native-Californian Charles Tsegeletos was promoted to Senior Director of Winemaking. with that '94 Chardonnay for openers, he's never looked back. In addition to life in the cellar, he has another passion. He's a good man to reduce maintenance costs. Master of Wine Joel Butler tells me "Charlie is the first guy you want to call when you need a tractor—or a motorcycle repaired." Looks like he learned more than enology during his time at U.C.-Davis.

And now we know why Glen Ellen won the High Noon shootout at Continental Air. These guys are good!

Credits

  • Prof. E.G. Gudde, California Place Names
  • Research Assistance—Diane Bulzomi

     
    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

     
     


    This page created August 2000

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