by Fred McMillin
for December 4, 1998
Winery of the Week
December 5, 1933
Prohibition's Setting Sun
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,
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.
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.
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.
Charles Sullivan's Napa Wine &
||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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