Wondering What Makes A “Cult Classic” Wine? Wonder No More.
Ever wondered what makes a wine a “cult classic”? If the answer is yes, keep on reading because few wines have reached the same iconic status as Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve. During the Depression, BV’s newly appointed winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff chose to create this Napa Valley red wine which would ultimately become the de Latour family’s “private reserve” wine and winery flagship offering. Fast forward to today, and it’s the gold standard from Napa Valley Cabernets. The very first vintage was in 1936 and this year marks the celebration of its 80th vintage.
Here are a few fast stats on the 2016 vintage. It’s a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent Petit Verdot that has been aged for 22 months in 90% new French oak barrels with an alcohol level of 14.9%. Production was 8,400 cases and it currently sells for $145.
Trevor Durling, the General Manager and Chief Winemaker at BV is only the fifth winemaker of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve wine, following the previous winemaker Jeffery Stambor.
“With the 2016 vintage, you can definitely taste the cassis and berry flavors – blueberry, blackberry, violet and sage. You’ll notice the concentration and depth of the flavors, and lingering tastes of root spice, chocolate and molasses,” explains Durling.
“Our plush “Rutherford Dust” tannins support the expansive palate and integrate into the full-bodied texture. You get a warm feeling from the notes of vanilla and toasted oak spices from time aging in our new French oak barrels, which heighten the aromas for a lengthy finish. Overall, the vintage is super approachable, but with a power behind it that shows it’s full potential after bottle aging.”
It was the Beaulieu Vineyard 1968 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that Durling says left a lasting impression and shaped his career path and wines he wanted to make. “I’ve always had immense respect for Beaulieu Vineyard so it was exciting to step back in time to such an extraordinary vintage. It was one of the best wine experiences I’ve ever had, and still is to this day.”
As the current winemaker, Durling is doing a lot to not only preserve the wine’s storied legacy, but also to further it.
Beaulieu is making a significant effort to honor and highlight the past while also thinking about what is yet to come, he says. In terms of sustainable practices, BV is making strides toward a goal of zero waste to landfill and conserving water, along with holding themselves to a standard of improving these things each year.
“I joined the team at an exciting and pivotal time. My biggest responsibility is to maintain the integrity of what Georges de Latour represents while making sure to always keep the wine relevant and appropriate for modern times and into the future.”
We sat down (with a glass of wine of course!) with Durling to talk about cult wines, preserving the Georges de Latour legacy, the integration of technology into the wine making process and more. Find out what he had to say below.
What makes a wine a “cult wine” and in particular, why did the Georges de Latour wine evolve into one?
I believe André Tchelistcheff was quoted many decades ago as saying, “In order to make a truly iconic Napa Valley Cabernet, it takes a lot of Rutherford dust.” And what he was talking about was the very distinct terroir, soil profile, and microclimate that this growing region has. Very quickly after this it became used as a sort of sensory term. And so what it means to me…it’s more of a textural thing which I describe as a cocoa powder texture (and associated flavor profile) that you get on the mid-palate and a finish that’s very distinct in Cabernet grown in the Rutherford district.
Georges de Latour Private Reserve as well as some of the other Cabernets that we make from the Rutherford district, really highlight and showcase that sensory attribute. It’s something that we like to have at the core of the beautiful wines that we make here, from those original vineyards that were purchased by our founder Georges de Latour himself in the early 1900s.
Georges de Latour is celebrating its 80th anniversary, having had only five winemakers in total (you included). How has it changed over the years in terms of flavor and body?
Although the wine has been made for decades, it continues to adapt and change with the times, so it’s not a carbon copy of the first 1936 vintage. For example, we introduced barrel fermentation on skins around the 2007 vintage which helped increase the quality and complexity of the wine. We also now use exclusively French Oak (versus the American Oak used beforehand). We still work across the same vineyards and carry the same winemaking philosophy that was instilled from the very beginning, but are constantly introducing new technology into the mix to stay ahead of the curve and maximize the quality of our wines.
Technology plays a major role in the production of BV wines. How important is it to your vision of your wines that you fully embrace all the latest in wine innovations? What are some of the things your most excited about in terms of wine tech?
We have invested significantly to improve the quality of our winery and the reserve cellar over the past few years. We’ve brought in state-of-the-art winemaking technology, innovations, fermentation tanks, and tools to help us to continue crafting wines of the highest caliber. This also includes significant investment in our vineyards (re-planting as needed, updating irrigation systems, installing sap-flow sensors/ technology, etc.).
Although we are making improvements and adding new innovations each year, there is a core of consistency driven by our terroir and vineyards that we have been farming for so many years. At the end of the day, technology will change, people will change their stylistic preferences in terms of wines that they like to drink, but the anchor point of what we do remains in our iconic vineyards – and particularly those here in Rutherford, which is the core of Georges de Latour Private Reserve.
What’s your personal winemaking philosophy and do you feel pressure having your name on one of Napa’s most beloved wines?
Building upon the past, challenging the right things, prioritizing, and focusing on the subjects that really matter is my guiding mantra. I also put a lot of value on the importance of spending time in the vineyards and working closely with my vineyard managers, ensuring the fruit is of the highest quality.
Everything we’ve learned over time has allowed us to capture the glorious spirit of this wine, while refining and investing in the vineyards and winemaking technology that contribute so much to its quality. It is an honor to be writing the next chapter for such an important wine, and an incredible responsibility that I don’t take lightly.