The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2016

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Page 34 of 148

34  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2016 T he late André Tchelistcheff—Beaulieu Vineyards' winemaker from 1938 to 1968— was a giant among men. Not physically—he stood only about 5'3"—but his deep, slightly slanted Russian eyes, nestled under thick, elvish brows, commanded military attention in every room he stood in, always ramrod straight. In 2001, I attended a trade event called Sommelier Summit, where we were treated to a symposium of other legends in the California wine industry. The panel consisted of Robert Mondavi, Justin Meyer of Silver Oak, Jamie Davies of Schramsberg, Miljenko Grgich of Grgich Hills and Agustin Huneeus of (at the time) Franciscan and Quintessa. The vintners talked about the "Golden Age" of California wine in the 1960s. But always, their reminiscing came back to their collective mentor, André Tchelistcheff—the man whose rigorous, groundbreaking science and instinctive feel for terroir revolutionized California winemak- ing for all of them. I first formally interviewed Tchelistcheff in 1983 on Maui, where I asked him about Cabernet Sauvignon. At that time, there were about 4,000 acres of the grape planted in Napa Valley (today there is more than 18,000). Said Tchelistcheff: "California's best red wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. Therefore it is planted everywhere. But within the 450 acres that we used to have in Beaulieu Vineyards, I only had 40 acres that were able to produce 'Private Reserve.' After over 43 years in Napa Valley, I could locate just specific sections, with specific physical and chemical constitutions of soil, that could create great Cabernet." Years later, in 1992, I interviewed Tchelistcheff again, and asked him about the latest viticul- tural advances that I had been reading about. Particularly the new technology of trellising and canopy management, resulting in claims that even greater quantities of great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon could be produced, as long as the fruit- to-leaf ratio on vines are kept in proper balance. Suddenly a dark cloud seemed to roll over those thick brows, as he said, "That is rub- bish—you should not believe everything you read! You must not forget that when it comes to the vineyard, Mother Nature is still in charge, and Mother Nature has expressed her wish that great vineyards should grow only so much great wine, in only so many places. There is more Cabernet Sauvignon being grown in Napa Valley than ever, but there will never be more than a few of true 'Private Reserve' quality." You know what? As the years roll by and I repeatedly blind or double-blind taste Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, I am still never surprised when a Beaulieu Private Reserve comes out on top, despite evolving winemaking styles. There are obviously a lot of great, flamboyant Cabernet Sauvignons coming out of Napa Valley today, but few as consistent at hitting that middle mark of intensity, layering and elegance as B.V.s. At least for me, Tchelistcheff has yet to be proven wrong. Hence, my advisory: Don't believe everything you read, or hear. Lately, there has been talk that terroir, for one, is a "myth," a "shibbolith," a "mar- keting" ploy or something cooked up long ago to separate the haves from have-nots. Viticulture and winemaking has improved everywhere, but the concept of "place" remains the same—expressions of our best or most interesting wines. André Tchelistcheff, John Salvi, MW and author Randy Caparoso in July 1983. The Timeless Tutelage of Tchelistcheff by Randy Caparoso

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