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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for April 5, 2000


Andre Remembered


Andre Tchelistcheff Russian Civil War, 1918-1921
"Andre Tchelistcheff, serving in the anti-Communist White Army, was left for dead on the battlefield after his unit was machine-gunned during a snowstorm. His father held a funeral for him."

...San Francisco Chronicle

Fortunately, California's distinguished enologist did not leave for that great vineyard in the sky for another 55 years, passing away in his beloved Napa Valley six years ago on this exact date.

The Rest of the Story

A San Francisco television station was filming my visit with Robert Mondavi at the winery. Who appeared? Andre Tchelistcheff, (pictured some years ago). (CHEL-a-chev) Impressions...

  • Incredibly short...about four feet eleven inches.
  • Huge, mobile eyebrows.
  • A furrowed face that frequently crinkled into a pixyish smile. (Example: "I let my clients make their own decisions, as long as they agree with me!")

    Here are a few tidbits from the life of...

    The King of Cabernet

    First Champagne—Andre's uncle had thrown a large party on their 4,000-acre estate outside of Moscow. After the guests left the dining room, the 12-year-old future winemaker and a couple of young cohorts tiptoed back into the room to finish off the bubbly beverage their parents seemed to enjoy. It was much fun until uncle discovered them.

    Age 17—The estate is burned to the ground by the anti-Czarist regime. For the rest of his life Andre will recall the transient nature of such possessions. Hence, he never had a large home. In fact, California's greatest winemaker never even had a wine cellar..."just a few bottles under the bed."

    The first California wine he ever tasted? In 1937 at a Paris International Exposition, he sipped a Wente Semillon and an Inglenook Gewürztraminer. They had genuine appeal...they were "extravagant."

    "When I think about wine, I think in French, not English."

    "The best two wines I ever made in over 60 harvests were my 1946 and 1947 Pinot Noir at Beaulieu."

    In Paris at a wine institute in 1938, Andre worked with:

  • The future Secretary of Agriculture of Red China
  • A future enology prof at Santiago, Chile
  • Moet & Chandon enologists

    He had job offers from all, but instead went to work in California for B.V. at $125 a month.

    Wine of the Day

    And a final quote, "I never claimed greatness except with my Cabernet..."

    So, today's wine is 81% Cabernet, produced by his beloved Beaulieu winery. Name—Tapestry Reserve, 1996
    Winery—Beaulieu Vineyard, or BV
    Appellation—Napa Valley
    Other Varieties in the Wine—17% Merlot plus a whiff of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc Oak Aging—Half American, half French. When Andre came to BV, he switched from French to American oak because he "wanted more flavor...a more aggressive wine." Near the end of his life, he favored returning to French. So outstanding BV winemaker Joel Aiken now is using both.
    My Panel—"Tobacco," "Elegant"
    Contact—Master of Wine Joel Butler, (707) 967-5200, FAX (707) 963-5920
    Price—$35 range


    I like S.F. Chronicle writer Sam Whiting's tribute to Tchelistcheff. "His palate was so refined he could tell whether a wine came from Rutherford dust, Oakville dirt, of a furrow in between."

    Credit: Excellent reference ; Robert Benson's Great Winemakers of California

    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.


    This page created April 2000