Tom's blog

BV: revisiting an old friend with a new friend

Thanks to the generosity of new friends (hi, Ben!) I recently had a chance to re-taste the 1982 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour cabernet sauvignon. One sip of the legendary wine brought back a flood of fond memories.

I had started to collect wines in the late 1970s and the BV was simply priced out of my reach. Yet I swallowed hard, kept the receipt from my wife and snagged a couple of bottles. I cellared them for decades and visited the winery several times while I waited. As one of the four pioneering spirits that launched the Napa wine industry, I’ve always been enchanted with the people and place that made BV great.

The 1982 Georges de Latour was only one of BV’s two reserved cabernets made in that decade — BV made the Georges de Latour only in the best vintages. I held onto the wine for a remarkable 15 years and drank it with mutual BV admirers. Little did I know that the wine still had legs on it.

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The reserve wine is named after the founder, Georges de Latour, who with his his wife bought 4 acres in Rutherford in 1900 and for decades struggled to make great wine like his French countrymen. They survived Prohibition by making sacramental wines and then brought in the famous Russian emigre Andre Tchelistcheff to improve the wines. Indeed, he did for several decades. Latour died, Tchelistcheff moved on (he came back to BV twice) and eventually the winery fell into the wrong hands: Heublein. BV, along with Inglenook which also was bought by Heublein, fell into a black abyss. Heublein eventually merged with Diageo, which sold BV to Treasury Estates in 2016.

I chronicle this history because it is common for wine quality to plummet with multiple owners, especially those that are publically owned and obligated to increase profits. What allowed the Georges de Latour private reserve to persevere, however, was the terrific vineyards it used and the winemakers who got the most from them. Joel Aiken, only one of four BV winemakers in its history, made the 1982. He restored BV’s tarnished image by improving quality and introducing new top-flight wines like Tapestry.

I’ve met Aiken a couple of times and there’s no question he put quality first. In fact, at 28 he became the youngest director of winemaking but always yearned to retreat to the hands-on experience of making wine and growing grapes. I always felt the 1982 was a turning point for BV.

How did the recent bottle taste? Wonderful. It may have lost its edge (who hasn’t after 37 years?), but the pedigree of these Napa vineyards and the winemaking team was still obvious in the bottle. Wonderful depth of character, balance and length. It had an old-Napa-world personality — not the bold, alcoholic fruit bombs I often taste today. Classic comes to mind.


Remembering the BV of old

One of my fondest memories from my early years of writing about wine is Beaulieu Vineyards. A friend was then the education director for Heublien, which at the time owned BV. He would often share many of the wines from the vast portfolio and I got a good understanding of this top-drawer Napa Valley producer.

The wine I remember the most was the BV Rutherford, which then cost around $14, if memory serves me correct.  Sourced from BV's prized Rutherford vineyard, it always exceeded its price in quality. I bought it by the case. 

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I was happy to again taste the Rutherford with the 2014 vintage. The price is now $33 a bottle but it continues to surpass its price in quality. I consider it to be a good value for collectors. It still has layers and layers of Napa Valley fruit, ranging from plums to cherries with hints of "Rutherford dust," cedar, and allspice.

I also tasted the 2013 BV Reserve Tapestry ($65), a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc. This wine is huge and in need of aging but loaded with plum, black cherry and blackberry flavors.

Andre Tchelistcheff, the famous Russian emigre first to make reserve wines in Napa Valley, was BV's winemaker from 1938 to the mid-70s. He set the quality tone for these wines, especially the reserve Georges de Latour, and even in death he serves as a mentor. 

BV has undergone a number of ownership changes over the last couple of decades and for awhile it seemed to have lost its focus and its leadership position in the Napa Valley lineup. However, these wines seem to recapture the BV of old.