Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Buena Vista Winery

Posted by EMark, Sep 11, 2012.

As a Californian, I have felt the loss of such old names as Almaden, Christian Brothers and Inglenook.  (OK, I guess Almaden still exists as a mocking shell of its former being.  OK, I know it never was great, but their bottles did have corks.  Maybe I am the only person who feels a sense of loss of Almaden.)  Another of the old abused names is Buena Vista.  There is a case to be made tha Buena Vista was the first winery established in California.  Over the last 40 years Buena Vista has changed hands numerous times.  Most recently it has been taken over by Burgundian Jean-Charles Boisset.  This article is a discussion of plans for the old place.  It looks interesting.  Although I would like to see something that indicates that he would like to upgrade the quality of the wine produced.

So, I will ask N. California Snoothers, is there any buzz about Buena Vista, these days?

Replies

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 12, 2012.

Ah, the other "BV."  Well, Inglenook is being returned to its glory by Coppola--although I am getting a little more dubious about him by the day.  Still, I hear from a semi-knowledgeable source that there's a plan to accelerate full ownership of the Inglenook brand to him.  Many of the other iconic names from the day are owned by big outsiders.  Buena Vista has quite a bit of history, but I think the wines have been pretty spotty for just about forever.  I see it on the supermarket shelves, but I don't think it gets taken very seriously. 

It'll be good to see it restored even if just as an educational attraction.  No doubt "the Count" was one of the most important figures in California winemaking, and singlehandedly brought a huge number of European grapes to the area.  Tschelistcheff is another really important figure, but he seemed to have his hands in things all over the place, much like Michel Rolland today. 

What's interesting to me, in some ways, is how historical vineyards like ToKalon, George III, and Dr. Crane, and a few others, are now owned by specialist growers like Beckstoffer.  Some of those old wineries owned all or part of those vineyards, then sold them when the conglomerates decided that the name Mondavi or Beaulieu was more important than the grapes they had access to.  Mondavi still owns a big chunk of ToKalon, but they now have to share the name with others who buy grapes from Beckstoffer.  That's what makes the re-assembling of the Inglenook name and the Niebaum vineyard so impressive.

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Sep 12, 2012.

Coppola is bringing back Inlenook in place of Rubicon/Cask.  I have had some Buena Vista wines and enjoyed them and thought them a quality wine, but perhaps I don't have any bearing to measure against from themselves and previous wines.  

Interesting though, as Boisset is snapping up a lot!

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Reply by gregt, Sep 12, 2012.

I don't think Buena Vista was ever in the same class as Inglenook or BV, but I could be wrong. They have some old plots, or they had some, and they certainly have the history, but BV is the only one that consistently made good or very good wine. Tschelistcheff was all over, that's true, but I think he was actually very helpful in that he was helping people get started in the first place in many cases, and was serious about quality. Not that Rolland isn't but I think you hire him because you want a "Rolland" wine, whereas I don't know that there was a Tschelistcheff signature. Again, I could be very wrong. Theme for the day.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 12, 2012.

Buena Vista is historically really important, and The Count's role in bringing cuttings to the US/California is tremendously important.  Just this article today about Trousseau (albeit a bit of a man bites dog story) makes you realize that pre-Prohibition, the 300 or so cuttings that Haraszthy brought over contained far more variety than we see in post-Cali wines.

I totally agree with GregT about Rolland v. Tschelistcheff (man, he needs a nickname--oh, the Maestro was common). Rolland is, in large part, a merlot specialist and has a particular style of "90 point" wines that don't really appeal to me that much.  Even his work at Pape Clement made the Gregs think that it was a right bank wine when we tasted last year.  (Thanks again JD.) The Maestro IMO brought out a lot of things in Cal wines that put them on the map. 

I also agree that Buena Vista did not really make wines that stood out, at least none I have had.  But I don't agree that only BV made consistently top notch wines.  Before John Daniels made his ill-fated deal with the big Eastern money, he had a run with wines that were as good as anything ever made.  And when it wasn't up to his standards, he didn't release a wine, period.  Great article here. Ask GDP what he thinks of those classic Inglenooks. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Sep 12, 2012.

Alamaden used to be a staple for my dad. Can picture him sitting in the living room watching Celtics v. Lakers classics (or anything involving the Celtics or Lakers), and with the box of Alamaden, which he'd later mix with diet 7 up and some water, forming his own concoction. Anyway, he always said Alamaden was the top of the top for box wine, Franzia squarely on the bottom.

Fox, It's unclear to me what Rolland actually does at any particular winery. He's named at so many wineries that it's hard to say what he actually does, not sure why they need him other than to list his name. I remember reading a quote of him saying something like "All I do is tell people to wait (with harvesting)." Incidentally, I'd love to taste that Pape Clement again, but you have to admit 11 years after harvest that wine was just starting to show its stuff...and with 50% Merlot that figured to come out first. After some air, the Cabernet character became apparent with those green notes. At least for me I tend to like those Bordeaux comes half-way to California hybrids, though unfortunately a lot of Chateau have taken it too far in recent years.

By the way, I just PM'd you a tasting note by a respected CT'er. A friend of his arranged a taste off between the 2000 Pape Clement and the 2000 Cos. Supposedly Parker had scored the Pape Clement 96 points after release, and WS scored it 92, and the two publications flipped their scores 96 WS, 92 RP for the Cos. He happened to agree with Parker, preferring the Pape Clement.

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Reply by EMark, Sep 12, 2012.

Fox, the article about the Trousseau grape is incredibly interesting.  Again, you Northern California guys are lucky because you can drive over to these makers and buy them.  There is very little chance that these low volume offerings will find their way into the supply chain to reach me for quite a few years.

So, I will eagerly await your reports.

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Reply by Clyde Woode, Sep 13, 2012.

EMARK

 Just tasted through the Buena Vista basic lineup and I believe they will do well both on and off premise. Whoever is running the operation is on the right track. The packaging is very attractive and the winemaking style is spot on for both the masses and for more serious wine imbibers. The style is ripe but balanced (so not Menage a Trois-ish) and the pricing puts them in an attractive price point somewhere between wines perceived as "Cheap everyday" and "Slightly pricey Friday Night Wines" and that is good positioning in today's marketplace. The pricing will also work very well for good to very good restaurants with a wine by the glass program. The wine called "The Count" is a well crafted blend that defines clearly their wine style direction and has been a very good seller for me. I wish I could get my hands on a couple of their reserve wines to see what they were like. I am not sure why the comments on Michel Rolland but I just tried the new 2010 Andeluna Malbec 1300 with his name on the back label and it is quite good for an entry level Malbec. I do not care for all the wines he is associated with but in wines like this you can see his positive influence. I have sold Andeluna since the 2007 vintage. Rolland is a great Oenologist but can only elevate a wine to the heights limited by it's terroir and, frankly, sometimes this is not a very high level at all.

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Reply by EMark, Sep 13, 2012.

Very interesting report Clyde.  Thank you, very much.  I will be happy to try the new Buena Vistas when I see them.

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Reply by RonCrete, Sep 14, 2012.

I agree with you it is really flabbergast post.I wonder about the Buena Vista basic lineup.

Usedcars

 

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Reply by gregt, Sep 14, 2012.

Yeah Fox, like I said, I could be wrong. There was Martin Ray and then of course Inglenook and a few others.  What I meant was BV is the only one, or at least the only one I can think of, that has been consistently making good wine both before and after Prohibition and through today. Even when they were bought by the conglomerate, they still put out decent stuff, whereas the others were completely debased.  Now that Coppola has both much of the Inglenook property and the name, we'll see if it can be restored, but it had about 40 years of substandard production.

The story of Buena Vista is a little more complicated than the others, and hence a far better story, largely because of the Count. It's really hard to distinguish fact from fiction with him because he made up pretty much everything about his life. Really one of the classic con artists of all time, albeit one who actually did have some solid accomplishments, so you never know.  First people who told me about him were Hungarians - they learned about him in school! 

But people I've talked to in CA who've researched him say it's really not clear whether in fact he ever brought those cuttings over from France - some say that they nearly caused his bankruptcy while others say there was never any evidence that he had what he claimed to have and that's why the legislature didn't pay him. As to whether he brought Zinfandel to CA as some claim, or whether he did half the things he claimed to, who knows?  He did write a pamphlet about vines and viticulture and he did start the winery but he's also supposedly the first Hungarian to ever settle in the US. Could be, but how would anyone know? He understood that the forty-niners were mostly not going to make any money, but he figured out how to get it from them.  He operated the mint and somehow a few hundred grand disappeared - he claimed it went up in smoke and was exonerated.  Truly a great character.

Rolland has been pretty clear about the kind of wine he wants to make - something lush and good to drink today. It's smart and may even be a good idea, but you hire him to get his style.  His arrival at BV caused a distinct shift in style and lots of additional points - taste the 2007 or 2008 side by side with some earlier vintages.  Here's something else to read:

http://goodgrape.com/index.php/articles/comments/follow_the_story_beaulieu_vineyard/

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Reply by JonDerry, Sep 14, 2012.

Very interesting stuff, Greg. I was having dinner with a hungarian connected guy recently and he knew about the count, claiming he was the first to settle and make wine around Napa & Sonoma. I hadn't heard anything about it, so this helps firm it up a little for me, but was Buena Vista really the first winery up there?

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2012.

Great article, GregT.  Maybe we should talk about the "Rollandizing" of wine, not  Parkerization.  Certainly, they seem to be of one mind.  I disagree with the earlier poster that Rolland does what he can with the terroir--he is on the record as having a style that he prefers, and it involves picking merlot as late as possible.  He makes very easy to understand wines if you like the style.  But the wines are aimed at the same profile regardless of price.  If you like that, great.  It's not really my style.

I agree that, for the most part, BV stayed upright, whether Parker thought much of them or not.  If you like those classic BV wines, by all means check out Bell Winery's cabs and blends--Anthony Bell was the GM of BV during a number of their good-but-corporate years, and makes terrific wines that he doesn't send to Parker because he doesn't want to be hemmed in by that style.  He gets great Decanter reviews and a number of people on this site have lauded his product.  Of course, Mondavi was only sold to a conglomerate somewhat more recently and there have been grumbles, but the brand over-extension started under Robert.  Still, the wines at the top end are still worthy of admiration, purchasing and cellaring.

The Bay Area and wine country do create some major fabulists, like the Count and Emperor Norton.  Who knows how much is true?  But Buena Vista probably was the first commercial winery in the Napa/Sonoma area.  I wouldn't give the Count credit for Zin, because it's much more likely that it came with someone who wasn't at all careful about getting credit for the vines and was unsure what he got.  I have heard that it was brought at the request of an Italian of unknown name who asked a countryman to bring vines because there were no good wine grapes.  The paisan brought something back, but was told it was one thing and it turned out, luckily, to be a vine that did incredibly well here.  Zin vines were found wherever Italians were, including areas that the Count wouldn't have been interested in.  I can source all this later if anyone wants to read about it.

In any case, the big fortunes made in the Gold Rush weren't with the solitary miners, but with merchants like Sam Brannan (who lost his), Levi Strauss, and others like them.  The Count had a lot of things going on, but without a doubt one verified fact is that he hired Charles Krug to make wine, and that launched more wines, wineries, and winemakers than any single act in Cal wine history.  The Count was obviously serious about wine--he tried to make it in SF, the Santa Cruz mountains by Crystal Springs, and San Diego before establishing Buena Vista. 

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Reply by gregt, Sep 14, 2012.

Yeah, the Count was a special guy.  Those were the days when guys like him and Wyatt Earp and others were possible - people weren't checking facts all that carefully and seems like it would have been a blast in some respects.

But then no refrigeration or AC and that's pretty tough!

In the end I'm not sure if it really matters whether he was the "first" to establish a winery or not, much like it's not more than academic interest to note that there may have been other Europeans to reach the Americas before Columbus.  There may have been.  But which visit is the one that mattered?

Besides, the Count fits in with the whole Wild West thing better than some nameless peasant who carried some grapes overland. Supposedly Zinfandel was first planted in New York, and may even have been a corruption of the Austrian Zierfandler, a grape that I never heard of until I visited Austria. In an odd way, that may even lend credence to the Count, except that they were selling Zin in the 1820s, so who knows? Remind me to tell you about the modern-day version of the Count when you're in NYC later this fall.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2012.

Oh, man, GregT, that's something to look forward to.  Of course we still have our fabulists, like Rudi K and Hardy R., and fact checking is still incredibly spotty--see James Frey for one.  But grandiosity ain't what it used to be.

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Reply by EMark, Sep 19, 2012.

I stumbled some more information about Jean-Charles Boisset, today.  Besides Buena Vista, he has also purchased Deloach and Raymond (all news to me).  In addition he is married to Gina Gallo, who, I recall, was interviewed by GDP a few months ago.

I learned this at a blog by Dave McIntyre.  You may know of him.  I'd never heard of him.  On his blog there is a pretty funny video of M. Boisset doing a word for word recitation of a Wine Spectator restaurant review.

M. Boisset has a lot of personality.  Maybe he is the reincarnated Count.

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Reply by JonDerry, Sep 19, 2012.

You mean, the count lives?

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Reply by EMark, Oct 11, 2012.

I was in Costco the other day and bought, among other things, a bottle of Buena Vista 2009 Carneros Chardonnay.  I just opened it and am pleased to report that it is a pretty darned good wine.  (Maybe not as good as the Heitz that Jon D. recommended at the same price point, but still very good.)  Tropical fruit and oak are a tad frightening at first, but acid balance makes this a very refreshing wine.

So, that I my first report on the new Buena Vista.


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