Beaulieu Vineyard is one of California’s oldest and most celebrated wineries. It was established by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande in 1900, and is situated in the Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley.
De Latour was born October 20, 1856, in Bordeaux, France. At the age of twenty-six, he immigrated to San Francisco, where he was employed as a chemist from 1884 to 1888, later settling in San Jose in the early 1890s. He ran a cream of tartar business there for use in baking powder. After neighbors complained of the smell from his factory, he and his wife moved to Healdsburg in Sonoma County, before finally settling in Napa, where the De Latours Initially purchased four acres (1.6 ha) of land. Legend has it that when Fernande first saw the property she exclaimed, “Quel beau lieu!” which translates to English as “What a beautiful place!” And so the place was named.
Three decades ago, on my first visit to Napa valley, I stopped by Beringer for a tasting. I didn’t know much about Beringer at the time, mostly that they had a long history and made some well-regarded wines. Back then, tastings were free, but a friend had given me a tip to skip that and head upstairs to the Founders room, where you could sample Beringer’s best wines for $10. As a bonus, there was a crowd downstairs, but I had upstairs nearly to myself. I left that session with a life-long affinity and appreciation of what Cabernets from Napa could be like. (Today, the basic tasting is $45, and the high-end samplings are $125 or $150, depending on which way you go.)
In 1868, Jacob Beringer, enticed by the opportunities of the new world, sailed from his home in Mainz, Germany, to New York. However, after hearing that the rocky hillside soil and fertile valley floor of Napa Valley resembled that of vineyards back home in Germany, Jacob made his way to California in 1869. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. A few years later, in 1875, Jacob and his brother, Frederick, purchased 215 acres next door to Charles Krug in St. Helena for $14,500. This parcel of land, known as Los Hermanos (the brothers), became the heart of the Beringer estate.
Here, the brothers oversaw their first harvest and crush in 1876. With Jacob serving as winemaker and Frederick as financier, they made approximately 40,000 gallons of wine, or 18,000 cases, that first year. In order to house the fermentation tanks, the first two floors of the original winery were built, and Chinese workers began digging a 1,200-foot-long tunnel to store the wine for aging.