by Fred McMillin
for September 11, 1997

The Langtry Pedigree

Prologue: "The Guenoc Winery property used to be owned by Lillie Langtry, the famous entertainer and sex symbol of the 19th century. I always thought the brand name should have been Langtry. Estatate"

...by writer-publisher-critic Jerry Mead

The Rest of the Story: What has the name "Langtry" got to do with the prestigious Lake County Guenoc Winery? Well, it all started in 1872 when the yacht of handsome, wealthy Edward Langtry arrived at the Isle of Jersey, 100 miles south of England. There he met and married the 19-year-old daughter of the Dean of the Jersey Isle, Emilie Charlotte LeBreton. A stunning beauty, as Lillie Langtry she triumphed on the stage. Recently an 1880 photograph has been found of Lillie, dagger in hand, portraying Cleopatra in the Shakespeare classic. Catapulted into the fast lane, she was painted by Whistler, pursued by the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), and even marketed a line of Lillie products (beauty cream, bustles, etc.).

Edward Langtry faded into the background. In New York, Oscar Wilde introduced Mrs. Langtry to a prominent bachelor, Freddie Gebhardt. Since divorce was possible only in the West, they went to Lake County where she established a 4,200-acre Langtry estate. The romance did not survive but the estate did. In fact, Lillie brought a Bordeaux winegrower, vines and all, to the valley. By 1889 the vines were ready. The 51-ton crush produced quality wine that soon appeared in San Francisco restaurants.

The Langtry name disappeared from California winemaking when Lillie moved on to Monaco. Happily, it has been revived by the Magoon family, who acquired the estate in the 1960's. They produce two Langtry wines, a red and a white Meritage, both winning enthusiastic critical acclaim. My panel just tasted the '95 white...bursting with those highly-regarded Lake County flavors of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc...Highly Recommended.

1995 Langtry Meritage White, Guenoc Valley
Product of the Guenoc Winery, Lake County
Food Affinities—Well-herbed pasta, fowl, and fish dishes
Contact—Karen Melander-Magoon, (707)987-2385

Postscript: Not only did the estate survive, but so did Lillie's words when she first saw it: "The way was rough and narrow, and, as the only springs of the two coaches were leather thongs, we felt every stone...every thump and bump. Then as we descended, I caught a bird's-eye view of my property for the first time...it was a dream of loveliness, vast masses of ripe corn waved golden in the breeze, dotted here and there by enormous oaks. It was entrancing."

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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