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by Fred McMillin
for December 4, 1998

 

Winery of the Week

December 5, 1933
Prohibition's Setting Sun


Prologue

1919—The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, forbidding all trade in alcoholic beverages, was intended to kill Demon Rum. While such spirits received nothing more than a flesh wound, the destructive effects on the wine industry were enormous. Table grapes replaced wine grapes. Even thirty years after Repeal, there were but 300 acres of Chardonnay and 800 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon to supply the entire American wine industry.

In addition to the loss of wine grapes, the wineries had decayed during 14 years of idleness. More serious was the absence of experienced personnel; continuity had been broken.

...A History of Wine in America,
to Prohibition
by Prof. Thomas Pinney


The Rest of the Story

However, there was a winemaker with the smarts to avoid disaster. Georges de Latour, founder of Beaulieu at the turn of the century, made sacramental wines during the 1920s. Sensing the approach of Repeal, by 1933 he had a million gallons of table wine in inventory, and produced another 200,000 gallons that year.

Not only did he maintain his vineyards and equipment, Georges took care of the personnel problem. He went to Paris and hired a Russian army veteran who merely became the greatest California winemaker of the 20th century, Andre Tchelistcheff.

Beaulieu Vineyard Little wonder that the 1934 Beaulieu was called a "great wine" by experts. As competitions resumed, BV won with its Chablis at the 1935 California State Fair; at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition BV's "Burgundy" won the red wine Grand Prize. 1940 marked the release of the first landmark De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. And under Andre's guidance, the success continued. As recently as 1995, critic James Laube wrote, "For most of this century, Beaulieu's Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been the most famous and prestigious wine produced in California."

So, on this weekend anniversary of the end of the 14-year viticultural debacle, my toast will be made with a BV red to Georges Latour, the vintner who beat Prohibition.


Postscript

For much more about BV and it's wines, call Director of Trade Relations, Jeff Prather at (707) 967-5252. He's taught me lots about BV. Also, he's the co-author of Northwest Wines, Second Edition.

References:
Charles Sullivan's Napa Wine & 10/17/97 WineDay.

 

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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