by Fred McMillin
for October 13, 1998

 

Happy Birthday, Lily


Prologue

Lily Langtry, English actress, was born Oct. 13, 1852.

...Henry Smith, Classical Recipes of The World, Macmillan Co, 1955

Lillie Langtry, famous Victorian actress, settled just north of Napa County in 1888, with the intention of "making the greatest claret in the country." Langtry took her wine seriously, producing wine until 1906.

...James Laube, California Wine, Wine Spectator Press, 1995

Langtry Meritage Red has won an astonishing total of 256 awards in nine years, including many Double Golds, a "Best of U.S.A.," many "Best of Class" and even a World Championship. Today, Lillie's "best-claret" dream is being realized.

...from my S.F. City College (Ft. Mason campus) wine course.


The Rest of the Story

While some spelled it "Lily" and others "Lillie," everyone spelled it "gorgeous." How did the toast of the London stage wind up in the isolated Guenoc Valley 90 miles north of San Francisco? It had to do with a crush, not of grapes, but of the heart. Here's what happened.

Oct. 13,1853—Emilie Charlotte Le Breton is born, the daughter of the Dean of the Isle of Jersey in Great Britian.

1872—The future "Jersey Lillie" is 19. The handsome yachtsman Edward Langtry sails into the harbor, romance blossoms, and they are wed.

1883—Now an established European star who has outgrown her husband, Lillie makes her first USA tour, falls in love with Baltimore playboy Freddie Gebhard (8 years younger), and wants a divorce. This is feasible only in the West.

1887—Mrs. Langtry spends $87,000 for 4,200 acres in the Guenoc Valley (see photo of her home below). But by the time she obtained the divorce, she was more interested in grapes than in Freddie.

1891—Her Bordeaux vintner, Henri Decelles, crushed 50 tons of grapes. Lillie's wines bore her portrait (as the Guenoc Winery label does today), and sold well in San Francisco.


Today's Wine

The Magoon family acquired the Langtry estate in 1963 and in time established the Guenoc Winery. Langtry is the name of their super-premium line. This one makes a great gift, for yourself or others.
1995 Langtry Meritage Red Wine
Guenoc Winery, Lake County, CA.
Varietals—Cab/Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet Franc
Service—Feature with assorted cheeses after the entree.
Price—$50 range


Postscript

Would you believe that another glamorous lady in Guenoc history was a Hawaiian princess. Stay tuned.


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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