Beaulieu Vineyard (pronounced like bowl-you). This historically prominent and iconic winery is located on the corner of Rutherford Cross Road and Highway 29 in the small town of Rutherford. This is several miles south of St. Helena on the “wine strip” where some of Napa’s most visited and venerable wineries are located. This site is home to both Beaulieu Vineyard’s General and Reserve tasting rooms, their impressive and sizable production facility and the seemingly always busy neighboring Rutherford Grill. A large parking lots wraps around the back of the property – either accessed directly from Highway 29 or from Rutherford Cross Road (anchored on the east side by the well-regarded Rancho Caymus Inn).
Georges de Latour was a chemist from France’s Dordogne region who moved to California in 1883, later settling in San Jose in the early 1890s. He ran a cream of tartar business – scraping off potassium tartrate crystals from the inside of wine casks following their use in local wineries – and processed these to be used in baking powder. He moved to Healdsburg (Sonoma County) after neighbors complained of the smell from his factory – and established another similar business for a short while, before he and his wife Fernande moved to the Napa Valley in 1900.
The roots of Beaulieu Vineyard were 4 acres of land that Georges purchased in Rutherford right next to the already established Inglenook Estate and began yet another cream of tartar business. His contact in the Napa Valley was John Wheeler (part of the family that established Wheeler Farms in Rutherford) who he had done business with in the past.
Over the ensuing years the de Latours purchased much larger nearby properties in Rutherford including BV Ranch #1, BV Ranch #2 and immediately following Prohibition, the purchase completion of BV Ranch #3. Incidentally, this practice of naming subsequent vineyard purchases by number has continued through more present day. Prohibition was the last nail to be hammered into the metaphorical coffin for most wineries in the United States. Not so with Beaulieu Vineyard, rather they thrived during this trying time in the wine industry as they had a national contract with the Catholic Church for producing Sacramental wine – with wines made for church use dating back to the 1908 vintage.
Like with numerous wineries/producers in the Napa Valley, published founding dates do not always equate with first vintages. According to wine historian, Charles Sullivan, in his book, Napa Wine, A History, the first wines Beaulieu Vineyard produced were in 1904 but not yet bottled under Beaulieu Vineyard, and were made in Thomann Winery in St. Helena (which two years later would become Sutter Home Winery). The first wines produced were bulk wines purchased from Wente Vineyards in Livermore and resold (a negociant model which still very much exists in the wine world). They were also making wines for distilling and lesser amounts for the Catholic Church. At one point during Prohibition, for legal purposes, Wente Vineyards actually transferred over their winery bond to Beaulieu Vineyard.
For two years starting in 1909, Beaulieu Vineyard leased the old Henry H. Harris Winery for additional cellar storage (built in 1887 and now home to Martin Estate Winery). One of the old time names in the valley since the 1850s, Stice (reference Stice lane) Henry Stice was hired as the winemaker in 1909 – essentially their first ever winemaker. This is where the first wines bottled under the Beaulieu Vineyard were produced and then aged in an old barn on their original 4-acre property across the highway to the west from their present location. In addition to still wines, Beaulieu Vineyard was also producing dessert wines and ‘sparkling’ wines with the bubbles introduced from a carbonation machine.
Phyloxxera had begun destroying vineyards in the Napa Valley beginning in the 1870s and continued attacking non resistant rootstocks for several more decades. By 1909 de Latour established a sizable nursery business supplying various grafted phyloxxera resistant vines to vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma counties. His nursery was a major reason the Napa Valley was able to replant and eventually recover from phylloxera (until the next outbreak hit in the 1980s).
The first vintage of wine made on site at Beaulieu Vineyard was in the old barn in 1911. A new winery was built on property, functional in time for the 1916 vintage. Emboldened from actually making a profit during Prohibition, wanting to expand and perhaps sensing Prohibition might eventually end, the Latour’s purchased the old Seneca Ewer Winery in 1923 (founded by State Senator Seneca Ewer in 1885). This stone winery building was completed in 1885 located across the highway from the original Beaulieu Vineyard location – and is still the current home of the Beaulieu Vineyard physical winery (although many changes and expansions have occurred over the decades).
It is really remarkable that de Latour had the entrepreneurial fortitude, vision and creativity to take full advantage and be financially successful during two extremely challenging times in the wine industry – the advent of phylloxera and Prohibition.
Seneca Ewer Winery was designed by noted winery designer Hamden McIntyre who was in part responsible for the Greystone building (currently occupied by the Culinary Institute of America), Eschol Winery, (now owned by Trefethen Family Vineyards) and the Niebaum Estate. Hamden was the Howard Backen of the times – Howard is a well-respected contemporary architect responsible for some of Napa’s most creative and innovative wineries.
The winery takes its name from what Fernande said when she initially viewed their first property, “quel beau lieu” which in French means “beautiful place” – she continued to refer to the property as ‘beau lieu’. If only she had merely said “bien” meaning “good” in English, then maybe they would have taken a different name and we could pronounce the name easier. However just do like the locals and call it BV for short.
Georges died in 1940 – for 11 more years Fernande oversaw the winery operations. After she died the winery was transferred to her daughter Madame Hélène de Pins and her husband, Marquis. In 1959 the film, The Earth is Mine staring Rock Hudson was in part filmed at Beaulieu Vineyard. By 1969 the Madame sold the winery to Hueblein, Inc., (incidentally the same year that Heublein also purchased their historic neighbor, Inglenook Vineyards).
While the family sold Beaulieu Vineyard they held on to other vineyard property in Rutherford including their original property – what is now called the Beaulieu Garden (still owned by family heirs).
Today Beaulieu Garden is selectively used as a gorgeous wedding site. We have visited the property several times; it feels magical – an escape to another time. The driveway is long and lined with Sycamore trees leading to gardens with a European feel. The surrounding vineyards are highly pedigreed. But perhaps more intriguing is the “Champagne” Cellar built in 1915 and used until 1991 to produce Beaulieu Vineyard bottled Champagne (sparkling wines). This cellar still exists and in 2017 was converted into a private wine storage facility for clients known as the Rutherford Wine Vault (some of whom have very old vintages of Beaulieu Vineyard wines).
Beaulieu Vineyard has seen a number of ownership changes since the de Latours; today it is owned by Treasury Wine Estates. As of 2018 according to Wine Business Magazine, Treasury Wine Estates farms the most vineyard acres of any entity in the entire Napa Valley – some 3400+ acres, the majority of these vines are leased rather then owned.
Georges de Latour Private Reserve
The Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon has been made every year since 1936, the exception being 1937 – a cold wet vintage. The first vintage was made by early winemaker at Bealieu Vineyard, Joseph Ponti (relative of the Tonella family who would much later begin S. R. Tonella Cellars). The wine was even made in 1947 when a fire that year destroyed much of the winery. It is a wine that is often pursued by collectors and has been showcased at number of premier functions over the years, including at the White House and for Hollywood events such as the Emmy awards. And with few exceptions it is always 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.
And it is a wine that has certainly inspired numerous consumers over the years – and in at least one case the inspiration to start a winery. Tom and Sally Jordan who would later begin the iconic Jordan Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley wanted to start a winery with a vineyard – they were looking at Bordeaux in the 1960s because that region was producing the wines they enjoyed drinking. However the barriers to entry at that time were to great for an American couple to own a winery in Bordeaux.
While having dinner in 1971 at Ernie’s in San Francisco they were presented with a bottle of 1966 Georges de Latour Private Reserve. This wine changed their perceptions of California wine – and after this bottle they realized that perhaps they could start looking for property in California rather then France. And André Tchelistcheff made this wine – who incidentally later became the Jordan’s consulting winemaker.
Beaulieu Vineyard is also known for its clonal trials running from the 1970s through the 1990s (with help from Dr. Austin Goheen at UC Davis). Winemaker Anthony Bell (who later co-founded Bell Wine Cellars) started working at Beaulieu Vineyard in 1979 and spent 15 years of his career here – initially as Assistant Winemaker and Viticulturist and then later as Director of Wine Making and General Manager.
While at Beaulieu Vineyard, Anthony oversaw what became instrumental research on clonal variations of Cabernet Sauvignon and is most known for introducing Clone 6 to the Napa Valley; this is also the clone of Cabernet Sauvignon that he started with when founding Bell Wine Cellars. In 1980 he oversaw the planting of 14 unique clonal selections of Cabernet Sauvignon including Clone 6 which had been sourced from – the abandoned since 1903 Foothill Experiment Station near the old mining town of Jackson in Amador County.
After several years grapes from these various clones were harvested, fermented separately and individual wines were produced from each clone. The team at Beaulieu Vineyard would blind taste through every wine from each clone, make notes highlighting their differences and then identify the clones with the most desired characteristics.
Look for the Beaulieu Vineyard wooden sign along Highway 29 just south of the winery announcing their location. This is one of Napa Valley’s iconic signs, one that soon becomes part of the landscape if you live or work in the Napa Valley. But if you stop and look at this sign closely – it is visually intriguing and seems from another era.
Beaulieu Vineyard produces a number of different tiered wines including a wide diversity of wines bottled under the Maestro label (often available in restaurants nationwide), Appellation wines, Dessert Wines (usually a Muscat and a port-styled wine) and the highly sought after Reserve wines. Their lower end offerings are the BV Coastal wines and are not made at the winery in the Napa Valley. Their wines are well distributed in many locations across the country including major supermarkets.
Due to the reach of their wine in numerous markets, a long history of producing wines and a highly visible location along Highway 29 – their tasting rooms can often be crowded especially on busy weekends. Visitors coming to the property from late morning until well into the evening will be tempted by the delicious aromas wafting out from the massively popular Rutherford Grill, located next to the winery (sharing the same parking lot).
The primary tasting room is in a picturesque small round masonry brick and wooden building. A complimentary taste is always given of a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc when visitors walk into the main tasting room – before the regular paid tastings. This tradition dates back to Fernande who believed in always offering their visitors a glass of wine as soon as they walked in the door. The Club Room is located in the same building on the bottom floor and is often used for larger groups who have prior reservations (buses or vans pull right up the entrance).
Reserve wines are tasted in the Reserve Tasting room, located across the parking lot from their main tasting room. However, contrary to what one might think based on the name of this tasting room – several tastings may be offered here, including both a general tasting as well as a higher end tasting of their most coveted red wines. Weather permitting the General tasting is held outdoors in the patio and the Reserve tasting is held indoors at the bar with bar stools surrounding the marble counter-top on all sides. During several visits we have always observed mostly older men working in this particular tasting room. And perhaps this makes sense – during several tastings over the years, we have noticed that in their youth, the wines are stylistically very masculine.
When we walked in the Reserve Room years ago asking to take a few photos of the interior, one of the hosts said “ok, as long as you are not a spy from nearby Robert Mondavi Winery”. Nice!
Unlike other tastings in the Napa Valley, the Reserve tasting highlights clonal differences in wines of the same variety (Cabernet Sauvignon). And in addition, visitors get to try two vintages of each clone – often a vintage that is over 10 years old and a current release of the coveted Georges de Latour Private Reserve is also offered with this respective tasting.
The 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (was blended slightly with Merlot and Petit Verdot). The wine shows initial aromas of dry dirt which as it opens makes way for fruit aromatics including plum and blackberry. A hint of chocolate is more in the background. Dark and aromatically dense, the bouquet foreshadows the richness on the palate. Packed with depth of flavor the wine is anchored by course grippy and chewy tannins that continue to persist for quite some time on the finish. Mouth watering acidity with a cherry nuance and influence from the oak (cedar and caramel) also linger. If you drink this wine young – it is obviously best to decant before serving – it has plenty of age ahead of it.
The 2005 Beaulieu Vineyard Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon shows aromas of plum, sage and aromas of old cedar box – bringing back memories of my grandmothers old red velvet lined cedar box that she kept some of her most valuable jewelry in. Very pretty bouquet. Juicy and mouth watering on the palate shows plenty of life and vibrancy 12 years at the time of our tasting post vintage. Also still delivers plenty of noticeable tannins – dusty, drying but more fine grained rather then coarse in feel. Very long finish.
And a wine first made in 1968, Rarity is only produced during exceptional vintages. The 2013 Rarity was only the 5th ever wine made under this label – and to date has been the only Rarity bottled as a Cabernet Sauvignon (rather then as a field blend). Also of note, this wine was only bottled in magnums with pricing at $1000/bottle upon release ultimately commanding much higher prices in subsequent years.
In the back of the courtyard next to the Reserve Tasting Room stands an imposing statue of André Tchelistcheff. Compose your photos looking up so he towers over you (despite his diminutive size in real life – not even 5 feet tall). Arguably André was one of Napa Valley’s most influential and well-respected winemakers. Born in Moscow he was the son of Russia’s Chief Justice of the Moscow Court of Appeals and the godson of Prince Lev Golitsyn (also a winery owner at one point on the Crimean Peninsula – Ukraine). Andre’s family fled the Russian Revolution of 1917 to Kiev. Later André joined the White Army and fought in the Russian Civil War on the Crimean Peninsula. At one point his unit came under machine gun fire – André was left for dead and his father even held a funeral for him.
Eventually his family moved to France where he met Georges de Latour in Paris – who was in France looking for a new winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyard. After meeting André agreed to come to the Napa Valley and arrived at age 37 in 1938. It was his wine making knowledge and expertise that helped perfect their wines including their Pinot Noir. He stayed with Beaulieu Vineyard for some 35 years before retiring in 1973. His career didn’t end then – he continued to significantly contribute to the local wine industry as a winemaker and soils expert and his advice was followed by numerous Napa winemakers and vineyard owners (often in the form of planting varieties that Andre recommended).
He returned to Beaulieu Vineyard in a limited capacity in the early 1990s working with then winemaker Joel Aiken. Joel told us about the time that Andre visited Beaulieu Vineyard at age 89 in 1990. The winemaking team was proudly showing him the winery and traditional winemaking practices (including older American oak barrels) that in part Andre setup back when he was working at the winery. Andre remarked, something like, “it has been 17 years since I have worked here, I have changed, why haven’t you”.
Some old time vintners we have spoken to fondly remember André stopping by in his blue Corvette to chat – always with a cigarette in hand. As of our last update to this review, André’s wife Dorothy, in her 90’s is still living in the city of Napa.
While at Beaulieu Vineyard, it is impressive to note that André was able to develop world class wines with limited resources. André oversaw several innovations introduced while working at Beaulieu Vineyard including inoculating wine to begin malolactic fermentation and using micro filtration to remove yeasts and any bacteria prior to bottling.
He is still referred to by some former elderly employees as “the Maestro”. His son Dimitri (died 2017) was also an accomplished winemaker providing his services in Mexico, Hawaii and in the Napa Valley and also consulting for Beauliu Vineyard (especially during the 1980s). And Andre’s nephew Alex Golitzin co-founded one of Washington’s top wineries Quilceda Creek along with his wife Jeannette.
Long time Napa vintner and founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Warren Winiarski had this to say about André (from an interview Warren did for the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley), “He was a unique combination. He provided, in his own soul, this extraordinary combination of science and poetry. That’s what it takes in this kind of thing. He was uniquely and surpassingly, perhaps, gifted with this combination of those two aspects at a very high level.” His influence was an integral part of Beaulieu’s history.
Andre also was fluent in seven different languages including Russian, Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, and English and according to Mike Grgich in his autobiography, A Glass Full Of Miracles, spoke perfect Croatian.
Along with André, Beaulieu Vineyard has only had several primary winemakers throughout its history including Theo Rosenbrand and one of the valley’s legendary but under the radar personalities, Dr. Richard Peterson (who absolutely should be in the vintner’s hall of fame) and later Joel Aiken, Jeffrey Stambor and currently Sonoma County native, Trevor Durling. Mike Grgich spent 9 years of his career helping André craft the wines. For a fascinating look into a specific period of Beaulieu Vineyard’s history in the late 1960s and early 1970s – read the excellent book The Winemaker by Richard Peterson with a section chronicling his time making wine at Beaulieu Vineyard. Or for a more extensive historical look at the winery and the life of the de Latours, Private Reserve, by author Rod Smith (who happened to be married to one of our neighbors while growing up) with contemporary photos by Andy Katz (father of Jesse Katz who owns a winery near Healdsburg in neighboring Sonoma County) is an excellent read.
Beaulieu Vineyard owns a sizable number of Napa vineyards ranging from southerly Carneros to Calistoga in the north. However, their primary vineyards are in Rutherford located behind the winery and still are the heart of their Private Reserve wine. As with several of the older larger Napa wineries their barrel room also contained large redwood tanks (over 100 years old) at one time used for fermenting large lots of wine. Historically these large tanks were used by Napa wineries – today they are rarely seen anymore.
And along with several other Napa wineries, Beaulieu Vineyard made an appearance in the 1959 film This Earth is Mine.
Treasury Wine Estates
Treasury Wine Estates is currently the 4th largest wine company on the planet. Treasury was formerly the wine division of the Australian based Foster’s Group and was founded in 2011 – although its roots can be traced back to the mid 1990s when Foster’s began to build out their wine division. Treasury Wine Estates owns or manages some 22,000+ acres of vineyards in Australia and New Zealand and nearly 10,000 acres of vineyards in the USA (mostly in the Napa Valley, Sonoma County and California’s central coast).
As of our latest update to this review they are the largest controlling entity of vineyards in the Napa Valley through mostly leased land. They own several of the Napa Valley’s most iconic, historical and storied producers including the following six wineries: Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer, Etude, Provenance, Stags’ Leap Winery and Sterling. In addition, they own the Napa Valley brands Acacia and Hewitt. And of the other brands under their ownership, Penfolds in the Barossa Valley, Australia is arguably the most famous.
Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia the company also maintains offices in Napa, Oakland, London, Shanghai and Singapore. In 2019 the company moved its headquarters to one of the uppermost floors in one of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings, the T&G Building located on Collins Street a few minutes walk from the Flinders Street Railway Station.
The T&G building, named after the T&G Mutual Life Assurance Society was built in 1928 and features a gorgeous atrium like setting and high-end retail shops on the ground floor as well as 10 floors of office space. This was one of Melbourne’s first large scale office buildings. Despite being one of Melbourne’s prominent and historical buildings, Treasury Wine Estates keeps a very low profile and has no signage.
For more information about this treasured Napa winery and or to join one of their wine clubs (including a Cabernet Sauvignon only club), visit: www.bvwines.com
Primary Tasting Room