When I first visited Beaulieu Vineyard back in 1979, the Napa Valley was a much less expensive place to enjoy great wine than it is today.
There were a lot fewer wineries back then and the region’s top wines hadn’t come close to the triple-digit price tags that now adorn bottles from tiny cult producers up and down the valley.
Beaulieu, or BV as it is known, produced the first Georges de Latour Private Reserve wine in 1936 and it’s been a relative bargain ever since. The all-cabernet wine, made from grapes grown in and around Rutherford, has been a Napa landmark ever since. The 70th vintage, the 2006, will make its debut in October.
On my first visit to the winery, I purchased a bottle for less than $30, a big sum at a time when a hamburger cost 38 cents at McDonalds, gas went for 80 cents a gallon at the pump, and dinner for two at the four-star French Laundry in nearby Yountville could be enjoyed for less than $100, including wine!
Some folks say you can never go home again, but I disagree, especially when it comes to Beaulieu, which is French for beautiful place. I stopped by the historic BV winery recently, returning again after an impromptu stop on my honeymoon 30 years ago during my first visit to California.
The winery has changed, of course, but the feel remains the same. There have been upgrades to modernized equipment and improved winemaking techniques. They’ve even added misters to some of the vineyards to cool the vines during the summertime when temperatures push past 100 degreees.
The original vine-covered winery building, erected in 1900, is still there and Georges de Latour continues to be the star of the BV lineup, which includes a wide range of both whites and reds.
A separate $7 million winemaking facility for Georges de LaTour production was added in 2007. Along the way a special reserve tasting room was built to show off the reserve wines.
The original tasting room has been spiffed up and flat screen televisions with flashy graphics and colorful videos have replaced the old-fashion slideshow that visitors were shown three decades ago.
The great hospitality remains, but it now costs a minimum of $10 for a tasting of white wines, $15 for reds and $30 to taste a selection of reserve and specialty wines. Click here to print a special 2-for-1 tasting coupon.
Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor has been involved in production for the last 20 years and he’s excited about continuing the tradition of excellence and responsibility that Georges de LaTour commands.
“I like to think of this as old-style winemaking with all the advantages of new technology,” Stambor said, as he showed me around the new winery-within-a-winery where Georges de Latour comes to life.
Later, in the tasting room, he poured a glass of the 2005 vintage ($115) and described what he tasted as he sipped the nearly opaque red.
“It’s like a blackberry bramble, like you’d taste at the end of a hot summer,” Stambor said. “There’s an earthy taste, too, and then an intense explosion of ripe blackberry.”
There’s a hint of cedar and vanilla (from the mostly French oak barrels the wine is aged in) plus a hint of spiciness and a touch of the famed “Rutherford Dust” characteristic that’s unique to wines from this area. Stambor says it’s made to be drunk upon release, but I think the 2005 will be even better after a few years of additional aging.
I speak from experience on that last point. My bottle of 1974 Georges de Latour remained in the cellar for 20 years. When I finally pulled the cork, I enjoyed some of the same tastes that Stambor described plus another level of complexity (mocha flavors and meaty texture with fine, integrated tannins) acquired during all those years in my cellar.
Come back in 20 years, and we’ll see how the 2006 vintage fares.