by Fred McMillin
for March 9, 1998
Born March 9,1824—Leland
Governor, Senator and Vintner
Written in 1889: The largest vineyard in the
world is in California--that of Senator Leland
Stanford, in Tehama county--3,825 acres, or
about 3,060,000 vines.
...by Eunice Wait, "Wines and Vines of California"
The Rest of the Story
In 1880 Leland Stanford, with his family, visited
some of the great chateaux of Bordeaux. He
returned and announced that he was going to plant
vines and make wine that would rival the best of
France. with his track record, which included
a major role in establishing the first transcontinental
railroad (1869), establishing Stanford University
(1885), etc., success seemed assured. He hired
one of the state's best winemakers, Inglenook's
Captain H. W. McIntyre, and built storage for
two million gallons of wine. Imagine the excitement
when the first vintage of several thousand tons
was harvested in 1887. How did it turn out?
It bombed! In fact, the wines were so poor
that the entire fourth vintage was distilled
to make brandy. The world's largest winery had
become the world's largest brandy producer.
Here's the reason it failed.
Danish pioneer Peter Lassen (for whom Mt. Lassen
is named) planted vines near the town of Vina,
20 miles north of Chico in the scorching northern
Central Valley. This is where Stanford located
his huge Vina Vineyard in Tehama County. As
author James Halliday puts it, "The wine was
appalling...today nothing remains; Tehama has a
token 140 acres of grapes." The area is simply
too warm to produce good table wines.
There is a brighter side. The brandy went down
the Sacramento River in barrels, that then went
on to the New York market. Some felt it was
America's best and not too far below Cognac.
So, my birthday toast to California Governor-Senator
Leland Stanford will be made with a northern
California brandy that IS NOT below Cognac
according to a number of critics. The brilliant
brandies are made by Germain-Robin in Ukiah.
Two years ago my panel selected as the best
thing they tasted all year was not a wine, but
Germain-Robin Select Barrel XO. For more information
phone co-founder and former U. Of Cal. classics
professor Dr. Ansley Coale at (707) 462-0314.
We mentioned Leland Stanford going to Bordeaux
with his family, wife Jane and their only son,
Leland Junior, both of whom had shocking fates.
At age 16, Leland Jr. died in Italy. Later,
his mother, by then a widow, was mysteriously
murdered by poisoning.
Note—for more about Germain-Robin, see the March 28, 1997
WineDay article titled "The Hitchiker."
||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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