by Fred McMillin
for January 17, 1997

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Winery of the Week

The Latour Legacy: From Baking Powder to Beaulieu


"Beaulieu Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the single most sought-after American wine."

—Leon Adams, 1990.

Rest of the Story

What led to the creation of one of America's best wines? Here are the major Beaulieu benchmarks.

    1866—Seneca Ewer startles the Napa Valley by building a 150,000 gallon winery at Rutherford.

    1883—A 26-year-old French chemist from Perigord, France, arrives in San Francisco seeking his fortune. Georges de Latour works for a time in the gold country but then settles down in the Napa Valley. There he develops a profitable business scraping cream of tartar from the bottom of wine casks for use in baking powder. 1900—Georges bought a 4-acre orchard in Rutherford and founded his winery. His wife felt it was a "beautiful place" or in French, "Beaulieu."

    1901—The son of a law professor is born in Moscow. He will someday create the best California Cabernet.

    1923—Seneca Ewer's son Fred sells that large 1866 winery to Beaulieu, making it a Napa Valley leader. Ernest Wente said, "They were THE label. They were in the driver's seat."

    1936—Winemaker Leon Bonnet makes Beaulieu's (and California's) first Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Was it good? The New York Times' Frank Prial tasted it 52 years later and found it "still lively and eminently drinkable."

    1938—Leon Bonnet retired due to ill health, and Georges found his replacement in Paris, a 37-year-old Russian army veteran working as a lab technician. He would become California's greatest winemaker of the 20th century.. Andre Tchelistcheff, son of that Moscow lawyer.

    1939—Georges de Latour (photo) dies, but not before he sees Andre's impact.. .separate storage for the Cabs.. bottle aging after wood aging... scrupulous sanitation... no more copper and iron fittings.. etc. His Private Reserve Cabernets reached the pinnacle long before he retired from the winery in 1973.

    1990—Joel Aiken is now the winemaker and adds new wrinkles to the Reserve production.. some French oak is used instead of 100% American oak... some Merlot is added instead of using 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. Further innovations have followed. One of the most pleasant is their new Signet series, consisting of small lots of premium red wines. My panel just tasted two of the $25 members, a Sangiovese and a Rhone blend called Ensemble. Both received top marks. Joel certainly has some huge shoes to fill, but one sip of those Signets, or of the Reserve Cab, and you'll know the Latour legacy is in very good hands.

Just the Facts

Name Beaulieu, also called "BV"
Founder Georges de Latour
Founding Date 1900
Current Owner Heublein Inc.
Location Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA
Winemaker Joel Aiken
Capacity Over 400,000 cases annually
Vineyards Cameras and Rutherford Districts(over 600 acres)
  Original de Latour vineyard for Private Reserve Cab.
  Also purchases Napa Valley grapes
Important Wines
    Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
    Reserve Pinot Noir
    Reserve Chardonnay
    Signet Series Wines

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. 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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