Beaulieu Vineyard Winemaker Trevor Durling in Manhattan
California’s Mondavi and Gallo wineries might have gotten their early inspiration from Italian roots, but they are, by far, not the only heritage wineries to lay a European claim. A cornerstone of America’s and California’s wine development, Beaulieu Vineyard gets its inspriration from the Bordelaise couple who founded it in the late 19th century.
Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande immigrated to California from Bordeaux in 1883. Seven years later, they traveled to Napa Valley and upon seeing Rutherford, Fernande said it was beau lieu–“beautiful place”—and they bought four acres.
Latour sold his cream of tartar business and dedicated himself to winemaking. A few later, he added 127 acres, planted vines and called it BV Ranch #1. In 1910, he added more acreage and named the new vineyard, Ranch #2.
His entrepreneurial character kept Beaulieu thriving in its early years: Latour also imported and sold European Phylloxera-resistant root stock when California vineyards were ravaged by the louse. And when Prohibition began in 1920, Latour used a loophole in the law, selling his juice as “sacramental wine,” increasing his business four fold, when other wineries was folding.
In 1938, Latour returned to Bordeaux looking for a winemaker. He convinced Russian-born Andre Tchelistcheff (CHOL-a-cheff), who was working at the French Agronomy Institute, and doing research at the Pasteur Institute, to come to Beaulieu Vineyard. Tchelistcheff, who was 37 years old, and educated in oenology, fermentation and microbiology, would change BV and California wines.
After the death of Latour in 1940, the first Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve wine was created in his honor, using wine from the 1936 vintage. Over the ensuing decades, Tchelistcheff’s skilled winemaking made the BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve the equivalent of Bordeaux’s First-Growth wines.
Fast forward to last month when Trevor Durling, BV’s new winemaker (and only its fifth in 117 years) was in New York presenting the most recent Private Reserve and other BV wines. We met at Da Claudio restaurant in lower Manhattan.
Durling said he enrolled in the University of California’s ROTC program at Davis with the goal of becoming an officer in the Air Force. But along the way, he took a winemaking course and changed his major.
After graduation from university’s Viticulture and Enology program, a succession of winemaking positions at Moon Mountain, Provenance and Hewitt led to his appointment as head winemaker at Hewitt in 2015. Two years later, the 35-year-old Durling was appointed chief winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard.
Durling brought a bottle of the 1975 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve, which we tasted before the current vintages. I approached it with great interest as I started collecting the Private Reserve in the late 1970s; I had cases of the 1966, 1967, 1968 (an extraordinary wine), 1970, 1974 and 1978, along with bottles of 1969, 1971 and 1975. I’ve held my last two bottles of the great 1974 out of the memory of having tasted some of these vintages with Tchelistcheff.
Durling’s bottle of the 1975 Private Reserve had reached the stage where older red wines often take on the caramel-like aroma and taste character of a 20- or 30-year-old tawny port. I was delighted he brought the 1975, as today’s viticulture, winemaking methods and clonal selection produce completely different Napa wines.
Every season has its story and 2014 will be remembered as the earthquake vintage (it struck at the onset of the August harvest), and the third consecutive year of near perfect growing conditions.
2014 Georges de Latour Private Reserve with mushroom risotto
Plentiful winter rains invigorated the vines for a spring and summer of ideal warm, sun-filled days. California’s drought continued, but the vines flourished and flavorful, healthy grapes were harvested at BV, producing an elegant 2014 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Black cherry in color, pungent black-olive and vanilla aromas dominate this young wine. The rich, black-fruit flavors with firm, round tannins gives this 2014 Private Reserve a full mouthfeel and luxurious length. As the 1975 displayed, BV Private Reserve ages extraordinary well. The 2014 should rest in your cellar until 2022, and deliver happiness for another three or four decades. 92 points. Retail price range $115 to $140.
Tapestry was created in 1990, a blend of Bordeaux’s five red wine grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc). The grapes are grown in BV’s vineyards across Napa Valley and the 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve Napa Valley reflects the diversity: It has more dark fruit and raisin-y character than the Private Reserve, and underneath is a stony and herbal taste with a current of acidity. 89 points. Retail price $40 to $60.
The 2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity Napa Valley is light years from the 1975 winemaking era. Made from a selection of what was deemed to be the eight best barrels of Georges de Latour Private Reserve wine, it was aged for 22 months in 100% new French and Russian oak barrels.
The 2013 vintage produced wines expressing both aromas and flavors of intensely dark-colored, black fruit. Along with noticeable alcohol, the extensive and intensive oak barrel aging regiment adds layers of vanilla, black raisin, dark chocolate and black-olive accents, resulting in a 2013 Rarity that Robert Parker palate-followers will love. For me, I’ll take a glass of the authentic 2014 Georges de Latour Private Reserve.
Durling with a magnum of the 2013 Rarity
The 2013 BV Rarity was bottled only in magnums, 1,494 of them. If you like the style, the price is about $1,600. A rating is superfluous.
BV is California’s heritage winery and its Georges de Latour America’s pedigree wine. For some wine consumers and wine writers, it has been pushed into the shadow of current cult wines such as Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Colgin and a handful of others. But as with all fashion, their day shall pass.
Durling and Tchelistcheff were handed the winemaker’s position at nearly the same age: Now it’s time for Durling to create his legacy by adding to BV’s heritage.
Photos by John Foy