by Fred McMillin
for October 17, 1997

Winery of the Week

Wine and the United Nations

Prologue: Anticipating the end of World War II, 1400 delegates from 46 countries convened on April 25, 1945 in San Francisco, and drew up the charter for the United Nations. At the time, I was a U.S. Navy officer teaching theoretical radar in the S.F. Bay Area. One winery seemed to dominate the California wine scene. Which one was it?

The Rest of the Story:
Beaulieu was the leader, and here's how it got there.

  • Prohibition went into effect Jan. 16, 1920, devastating California wineries. However, Beaulieu expanded its alter wine business, INCREASED profits, added facilities and had a million-gallon winery ready when Prohibition ended in 1933.

  • Furthermore, the winery incorporated some dry red in their alter wines, so they could use, rather than tear out, their Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

  • On Sept. 15, 1938, their new winemaker arrived from Europe. He was a former Russian Army officer who fought in the Crimea. He would become the most important California winemaker of the 20th century. His name was Andre Tchelistcheff.

  • Andre convinced founder Georges de Latour to segregate and treat specially his best barrels of Cabernet. Beaulieu's winning Best Red at the landmark 1939 Golden Gate Exposition shot Andre into prominence. His 1940 release of Beaulieu's first De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon cemented his leadership... And the price was right, $1.50!

Just The Facts

Name Beaulieu Vineyard
Location Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA
Founder Georges de Latour
Founding Date 1900
Capacity Over 400,000 cases annually
Winemaker Joel Aiken
Origin of Name   When Georges bought a four-acre orchard in Rutherford, his wife felt is was a "beautiful place," or in French, "beaulieu." Nearly a century later, it still is.

Postscript: How long did that Beaulieu leadership of the 1940's last? Author James Laube gives the answer: "For most of this century, Beaulieu's Private Reserve has been the most famous and prestigious wine produced in California." To learn about the more recent years, see the Jan. 17, 1997 WineDay titled "The Latour Legacy."...or phone the very knowledgeable Director of Trade Relations, Jeff Prather at (707) 967-5252.

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.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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