"Markham's Grand Slam

  by Fred McMillin


Gastronomic Developments in 1868:

Tobasco sauce is created on Avery Island off the Louisiana coast. First year sales are 350 bottles at $1 each.

George M. Pullman puts the first railroad dining car into service with menus that rival the best American hotels.

At Chateau de Lagoy in France scientists find an insect eating the roots of grape vines. It is identified as phylloxera vastatrix "the devastator."

Wisely, Frenchman Jean Laurent leaves Bordeaux and starts a winery north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley, where he makes the equivalent of 8,000 cases his first year. Nine years later he will complete a handsome stone winery (see photo).

Markham Milestones

1885—With fine vineyard land, Jean becomes a leading Napa vintner, producing about 20,000 cases a year.

1938—Following Jean's death and Prohibition, a group of 17 Napa growers revive the winery, which becomes known as "The Little Co-op."

1978—Bruce Markham, outdoor advertizing magnate, buys the Little Co-op stone winery, while expanding its Napa vineyard acreage. The very first Cabernet Sauvignon vintage (1978) is a startling success, critic Anthony Dias Blue calling it well balanced and lovely. Soon after he will call the Chardonnay "stunning."

Bruce's startup was helped by veteran Italian Inglenook winemaker Al Del Bondio, who provided not only equipment contacts but also a general manager, his son, U.C.-Davis grad Bryan Del Bondio, age 22!

1988—Markham wines are great but the sales aren't. Critic James Laube says the Cabernet is one of the rare "undiscovered" values in the Napa Valley. That was changed in a hurry. Japan's largest winemaker, Merican, bought Markham for $8 million, and started pumping nearly twice that amount into improvements. Bryan Del Bondio was made president, and sales took off.

1998—Sales have increased 600% in six years. In the U.S.A., sales of nine different wines are up to 125,000 cases per year. In addition to all the accolades for the Cabs, in recent years the Chardonnay, the Merlot and the Sauvignon Blanc have each been awarded Best of the Year for that grape.

Somewhere, Jean Laurent is smiling.


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