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An Inside Look at Beringer Vineyards

An Inside Look at Beringer Vineyards

Those of my ilk tend to perpetuate certain notions. For example, the idea that smaller or newer is better, as if merely being either bestows some magical ability. It's a symptom of our society, with its 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous social declarations. It’s also a symptom of a wider problem, that of the irrelevant critic, remaining relevant through generally unverifiable claims.

It's easier to make a splash by calling attention to the latest high-dollar, low-production wine that few have tried (or will ever try) than to remind people of wines that have been out there for years, grinding away through good and bad times. Take Beringer for example: It's old, corporate, and big, therefore not worthy of attention, according to the geeks. But in fact, its scale allows Beringer to create good wines quite easily, offer them at reasonable prices, and distribute them widely.

The voices that form the accepted opinions on wine tend to live on the coasts, where obscure and rare wines abound. For everyone else, envy seems to be the recommended course of action. Better to long after the unattainable than to just break down and buy something like a wine from Beringer. The truth is, of course, that Beringer has always produced an impressive array of wines that satisfy consumers from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum.

During my recent trip to Napa I visited Beringer not only because they are one of the great historic houses of the valley, with production dating back to 1876, but because they continue to offer great products. Beringer is not, however, only about wine; it also serves as an embassy of sorts, one of the welcoming doorways through which wine lovers of all types stride on their way to a better understanding and appreciation of wine, the Napa Valley, and how the two are entwined.

For me the story is relatively simple. I am familiar with the Napa Valley and with Beringer, though there is always something new to learn. Today, that would be the Modern Heritage Collection, a tasting room and website-only line of wines from Beringer that draws on some of the historic vineyards of Napa. And then there is the move into a burgeoning category of Bordeaux blends with the Quantum red blend, which is mostly made with Bordeaux varietals — grapes they know well here — with a small addition of petite sirah for that little something special.

But new wines were not the only thing I came to taste. I also wanted to revisit the wonderfully consistent Private Reserve Cabernet, which has proven to be a winner all the way back to 1981, my first vintage with the wine — and one that was still drinking well in 2007 when I finished off my last bottle. The wine I tasted during this visit, the 2009, is still available for less than $100 a bottle; it’s a mighty fine wine, and at that price a pretty good deal. So next time you think of Beringer, stop for a moment and remember: a winery this big can afford to make world class wine like this, and can afford to sell it for a fair price.

I’m not demanding you go out and try the wines of Beringer. I’m saying you probably should. Not every wine is great, of course, but at the top there are some mighty attractive wines to be had. It’s easy to dismiss Beringer and other wineries of their ilk, but to do so is to risk missing out, not only on some fun wines, but also on some (literally) valuable perspective: perspective on what a winery can and should be producing, how they can and should be pricing their wines, and last but not least, how they preserve the history of the Napa Valley, something newer wineries often have no interest in doing. If you disagree, please have a glass of perspective. Might I recommend the Private Reserve?

Click here for more Beringer wine recommendations.

— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth


Beringer Enologist Dies at 73 : Myron Nightingale Leaves a Legacy

Myron S. Nightingale, wine maker emeritus at Beringer Vineyards and one of the state’s most respected enologists, died following a lengthy illness on Thanksgiving evening at the age of 73.

Nightingale, known as a lovable curmudgeon by his co-workers, was one of the true pioneers of California wine making, ignoring the early textbooks and creating great wines. In 48 years as a wine maker, he literally rewrote the rules on premium wine making.

Nightingale formally retired from full-time work three years ago after suffering a heart attack. However, he stayed active until his death, continuing to consult with Beringer’s head wine maker, Ed Sbragia.

Over the years, Nightingale, blunt though he was, remained shy about taking any credit for the great number of sophistications in wine making that became standard practice throughout the industry. Recently, a few of those contributions were noted by some his colleagues at a testimonial luncheon for him, yet still Nightingale pooh-poohed taking the credit.

“The whole idea is to make good wine,” he said simply.

Despite growing frail and being in ill health in the last two years, Nightingale remained feisty, wielding a dry wit that showed in twinkling eyes over the top of wire-rimmed glasses.

At a recent wine competition, after two judges on a panel voted gold medals for a particular wine, Nightingale was asked for his vote. He barked, “No award. Ladies and gentlemen, the stuff is awful.” The other two judges blinked at the bluntness.

He didn’t feel Johannisberg Riesling could be made well in the Napa Valley. “It’s just too damn hot,” he often said.

Once Nightingale experimented with Pinot Noir from Napa Valley grapes. This is another variety he felt should be planted in cooler regions. The project turned out great wine, but Myron himself was unsatisfied with the result.

Months later at a wine symposium, he was asked the best way to deal with Napa Valley Pinot Noir.

“First you get a D-10,” he said, referring to a tractor that is used to tear out grapevines.

Nestle S.A. of Switzerland bought Beringer in 1970 and hired Nightingale in 1971. That marked the start of a remarkable run for the 111-year-old winery that in its previous life never achieved what Nightingale brought it.

Indeed, the story of Beringer is more a story of Nightingale than of anyone or anything. Beringer today is a respected winery of top-quality wines because of what Myron and his wife, Alice, brought to the place.

Nightingale always acknowledged that Nestle did commit a great deal of money to bring Beringer into the 20th Century, adding new equipment and planting premium vineyards. And he noted that a major replanting of vines in the 1970s was a big step.

Still, by 1978, Beringer wines had attained a level of acceptance no one would have believed, and the straight-talking man behind it all was the small, testy genius who dove into every project with a zeal rarely seen in this business.

Beringer’s greatest successes were with the top varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but without fanfare the winery also made exceptional Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, and a dozen other varieties. Moreover, from time to time, Nightingale would surprise the industry with a wine that created loads of conversation--and more experimentation by his colleagues.

One year, Nightingale came up with a stunning Gewurztraminer made in a dry Alsatian style. Another time he made a Nouveau Beaujolais from Zinfandel grapes that was marvelous. Yet another time his 1978 Pinot Noir, made in an experimental manner using the wild yeast strains found on the outside of the grape skins for fermentation, was a marvel.

However, many of Nightingale’s projects died because others came up that seemed more intriguing and, in the long run, more meaningful. Indeed, today the most exciting part of the huge Beringer complex north of this central Napa Valley town is a small building to the rear of the winery that houses the experimental winery, a kind of “skunk works” where projects of all sorts are carried on.

One recent experiment that paid handsome dividends was a change in the house style of the Sauvignon Blanc. Nightingale and Sbragia worked with a consultant from Bordeaux to restructure the Sauvignon Blanc. The project turned out brilliantly.

When I ran into Nightingale last August (we both were judging wine at the Mendocino County Fair), I mentioned to him that the new Beringer Sauvignon Blanc was excellent.

“Yeah, it’s damn good wine,” said Myron in his direct, stone-faced manner. And I recalled an interview with him about a year earlier when he told it straight: “Too many people make Sauvignon Blanc with no character. I want the Reserve (Sauvignon Blanc) to taste like Sauvignon Blanc.”

‘Make It Taste Like Chardonnay’

Once we were chatting about Chardonnays with too much oak. Myron cracked, “Any damn fool can put oak in a wine. The trick is to make the thing taste like Chardonnay. You want the wine to have complexity, but I think once the oak becomes noticeable, you’ve lost the battle.”

To make the best wine, Nightingale didn’t stick to formula wine making. His Reserve Sauvignon Blanc a couple of years ago had a Sonoma designation on the label, even though Beringer is based in the Napa Valley. Myron defended himself: “Just because we’re a Napa winery doesn’t mean we have to make our reserve wine from Napa. Sonoma can grow grapes, too.” A few of his neighbors bristled at the remark.

Beringer Reserve wines over the years often took less-traveled paths. Nightingale felt reserve wines should be harmonious huge tastes were unnecessary. “A reserve wine should be better, not just bigger,” he said.

In 1977 and 1978 Beringer produced its first reserve-style Cabernets (then designated Lemmon Ranch, for the vineyard where the grapes grew). But Nightingale was unhappy with the Lemmon Ranch lots in 1979, so he made no Reserve Cabernet. Few other wine makers would have made this decision.

One of Nightingale’s greatest achievements actually came some 30 years earlier when he and his wife, Alice, a wine technologist, developed a method for making a special dessert wine. That wine originally was made while both worked for Cresta Blanca Winery in Livermore.

The wine was made again nearly three decades later at Beringer and was called, simply, Nightingale, homage to the husband-wife team that created it.

It is a dessert wine, similar to the sweet wines of Sauternes in France. There, Semillon grapes naturally gain a bit of a rare mold (Botrytis cinerea) while on the vine, and such rich dessert wines as Chateau d’Yquem are the result.

A pure strain of this mold rarely occurs naturally, so Alice decided to create it.

Alice developed the mold carefully, sitting for hours in a laboratory doing the precise and demanding task of isolating, under microscope, single spores of the mold. This mold was then sprayed on grapes lying on trays and the grapes were encouraged to turn slightly into raisins.

Then at the proper moment, Nightingale crushed the grapes and made the wine.

The Nightingales first began experimenting with this “induced Botrytis” method of making sweet wines in the 1950s while they were at then Schenly-owned Cresta Blanca. The result in 1956 was called Premier Semillon, one of the greatest experiments in the history of California wine making.

So experimental was this wine that it was not viewed as much of a wine by some people. “Nobody had done it before,” said Myron. “Schenly sold it for $3.75, and when it didn’t sell right away, they dropped the price to a buck-eighty-nine. In 1972, a wine maker friend of mine found a bottle marked 92 cents in a discount bin.”

Today, remaining bottles of the famed ’56 Premier Semillon are worth hundreds of dollars.

The resurrection of the concept in 1980 was a success and Beringer continued it thereafter. The wine sold for $30 a bottle.

Sipping it one day with Nightingale and Alice, I commented that it was a rare treat.

Nightingale said, “It’s a hell of a lot better than the Premier Semillon.”

Alice added, “Yeah, we should get it right pretty soon.”

Nightingale and Alice always lived quite simply, and one of his great pleasures was a dry martini before dinner. After his heart attack, he chatted about how his life style would have to change. “The worst part is, no more English Chablis,” he said, shaking his head.


Pioneers of the American wine industry, evolutionists of today’s wine world, Beringer Vineyards with WineGuyMike™

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This week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Topic Beringer Vineyards then and now.

This week on the WineGuyMike™ show I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Chris Louton, winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. This was a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of what goes on at one of the premier wine producers in America through the eyes of one of Beringer’s own winemakers.

Beringer Vineyards is steeped in tradition to say the very least, it is the oldest continuously working winery in the Napa Valley of California. Beringer was founded by the brothers Beringer, Jacob and Frederick. The two brothers came to America from Mainz, Germany. Frederick who hit the shores of America on the east coast would write to his brother Jacob and espoused the amazing opportunities here in America. Jacob who followed his brother five years later had worked in the wine cellars of Germany. Upon arrival to America Jacob who had heard about the sacred grape growing grounds in California hopped on a train and headed west. He made it to San Francisco and then ventured out to the Napa Valley. What he discovered was hilly land made up of volcanic, rocky, and well drained soils akin to the finest vineyard land in the Rhine Valley. The other thing Jacob Beringer discovered was ample sunshine and warmth that provides the perfect terrior for growing grapes in the Napa Valley.

Historic Photo of Jacob and Frederick Beringer

In 1875 Jacob and Frederick bought land in the Napa Valley of California and began growing grapes and producing wine. In 1876 Beringer Vineyards was borne. Jacob took up residence in an existing farmhouse on the property, “the Hudson House” that now serves as the culinary arts center at Beringer Vinyards. Frederick moved from the east permanently and began building his 17 room Victorian house that was a replica of the Beringer family home on the Rhine River in Germany. What is now known as the “Rhine House” at Beringer Vinyards guests can take part in reserve or library tastings at the house. While partaking in these two particular tastings a guest can sit back and look out over the amazing lawns, beautiful gardens and the Napa Valley and ponder what must have crossed the minds of two of the imminent wine entrepreneurs the world has known.

Rhine House - Beringer Book 2009

Moving forward 135 years as I sit here in the radio studio I now call home with Program Director Dave Cowan I have my head phones on and we dial up Chris Louton assistant winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. I had spoken with Chris the day before and I knew he was going to be a great guest as he was very engaging during our initial conversation. A little background on Chris he was born and raised in Sacramento, CA., and he Graduated from UC Davis with B.S. in Viticulture and Enology in 2003. Chris worked as a lab intern at Schramsberg Vineyards for the 2002 harvest, and then returned after graduation in 2003 for another harvest. This worked into a full time position as Enologist and then into Assistant Winemaker in 2004. Beringer offered and Chris accepted a position as Enologist with Beringer in August of 2006, working exclusively with their Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines. In 2007 he became Assistant Winemaker, overseeing the same products he worked with as Enologist. Chris is married, has 2 boys, ages 5 and 1, he resides in Napa and his family shares the house with 3 dogs and a cat!

As I conversed with Chris and he and I recorded this week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I realized that the past at Beringer Vineyards is what has allowed all the great opportunity for those who make up Beringer as an organization and consumers who reap the rewards. With no pun intended we quite literally enjoy the fruits of Jacob and Fredericks labor. In researching everything Beringer what you quickly discern is their dedication and focus on quality and consistency. In the 135 year legacy of Beringer’s head winemakers there have been only seven which is an average of a little over 19 years each. You also quickly understand that there is a true atmosphere of mentorship, new head winemakers are groomed from the inside of this organization. The blood in the veins of the winemakers at Beringer come from the grapes of their diverse terrior, 15 different vineyards in total. Chris was quick to point out the no other wine property in Napa Valley has the luxury of making wine from the diversity of vineyards and grape varietals that Beringer has to offer.

Beringer Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

Chris works with the Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines but Beringer offers the consumer wonderful opportunities to enjoy their wines no matter what price point a consumer desires. Some may call this great marketing, I call it thoughtful winemaking. Beringer recognizes today’s wine consumers needs and desires and they have delivered. The teams of winemakers at Beringer have produced six different labels serving all various consumer niches. These lables vary in price from well under $10.00 in the California Collection, from $9.00 -$12.00 price point for the Founders Estates label for those of us who are the everyday wine drinkers, to $20-$30 range for you weekend wine warriors, and for the stratospheric special occasion prices, well at least for most of us, are the Napa and Private reserve labels.

Here is a list of the Beringer wine labels and the varietals and blends that are represented:

Private Reserve – Best lots aged separately for two years in French Oak then blended

The Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the utmost expression of each vintage and the terroir of the Napa Valley. The collaboration between winemaking and viticulture has been at the core of the Private Reserve program since the first vintage crafted by Ed Sbragia in 1977. Today, Winemaker Laurie Hook draws on her rich experience of working alongside Ed for over two decades as she blends only the best lots from these outstanding vineyards. Each vineyard is aged separately in new French oak for two years before blending, resulting in a wine of great elegance and structure.

Napa Valley – Higher End Cabernet Sauvignon from various Beringer Vineyards

A tier focusing on a luxury drinking experience with Napa Valley character and distinction, our winemakers have produced a range of wines with the same inspiration of the original highly acclaimed Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay – quality and an expression of the Napa Valley.

Leaning Oak – Sold on premise at Beringer only, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Rose´, Sauvignon Blanc

The Leaning Oak wines are only available from the winery, and they fly out of the tasting room door, making them some of our best sellers. The secret to their success is quite simply the quality – these wines offer Reserve level quality at fantastic prices.

Knights Valley – Red Alluvium blend, blended Cabernet(Merlot, Cabernet Franc), White Allivium blend(Sauvignon Blance, Semillon, Small amounts of Chardonnay, Viognier)

Distinctive quality that can only be created from the rustic, unspoiled vineyards and unique alluvial soils that makes up Sonoma’s Knights Valley. Located 17 miles northwest of the winery, the Knights Valley vineyard has volcanic, well-drained soils that are perfectly suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.

Founders Estate – Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Shiraz. This is a terrific flight of varietals that offer the consumer tremendous value. Everyone will love the Founders Estate label.

California Collection – Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Sparkling White Zinfandel, White Merlot, White Zinfandel, and Zinfandel/Chardonnay blend

Beringer’s California Collection wines are carefully handcrafted to deliver the outstanding quality and rich flavors that are hallmarks of the Beringer winemaking team. This collection offers a wonderful array of smooth and refreshing wines, and each wine has a youthful exuberance that appeals to anyone looking for an easy-drinking wine that pairs well with a variety of foods.

I recommend visiting Beringer Vineyards if you visit the Napa Valley. When you conger up a vision of a romantic wine property in your mind, Beringer is that place. Everything about this property is absolutely pristine, and hey did I mention these guys make incredible wine.

There is a tour and a tasting for everyone who visits Beringer Vineyards. You can read all the details about what they offer by visiting the Beringer website at http://www.Beringer.com

From a consumer standpoint I love Beringer Vineyards as they have really delivered tremendous value at every price point of wine consumption. They are not an elitist organization that has ignored any consumer they produce great wines that provide great value for everyone. I for one truly appreciate this approach and that’s why I not only recognize Beringer as having a great marketing plan, I as a consumer wine advocate chooses to call Beringer Vineyards thoughtful.

Beringer Vineyards and all of their wines receive the WineGuyMike Stamp of Approval™. I recommend that all of my audience try Beringer wines. I want to give a shout out to Chris Louton of Beringer Vineyards for making time to share his work and passion with my radio audience, thanks Chris.


8 Stunning St. Helena Wineries To Visit

So, that brings us to my favorite St. Helena Wineries list! I think some of the best wineries in Napa Valley are in the St. Helena area for both aesthetics, friendly staff and top-notch wine. Here’s my favorites. (PS-Most are on that passport!)

Clif Family

Clif is our all-time favorite Napa Valley winery. If you follow on Instagram you know we always have a bottle of Clif on hand and we love their low-key tasting room that’s always filled with friendly staff.

You may recognize the Clif name from Clif Bars — it’s the same family! So, not only do they make amazing wines, they also really shine when it comes to food. That’s why we usually schedule a wine tasting here around lunchtime so we can stop by their food truck outside and pick up a tasty lunch to pair with our wine.

Brasswood Cellars

UG, this winery is so dang pretty!! Brasswood Cellars is tucked on the northern side of St. Helena on a beautiful estate that has a mix of trendy farm vibes with California luxury. Aka: good views of the mountains, cute decor, tons of comfy outdoor seating (because wine just states better outside!!) and lawn games.

We fell in love with our cheese and wine pairing tasting at Brasswood. So much so that we came back the next day to buy some of their handmade olives because I was OBSESSED!

Hall Wins

You can’t miss Hall Wines. I mean, they have a giant silver rabbit in their vineyards, which sort of marks your entrance to town along the St. Helena Hwy / Hwy 29. The bunny’s name is Bunny Foo Foo and yes, you are welcome to use him as the background of the perfect Instagram shot if you want.

You may also recognize Hall from Ari’s Season of the Bachelor (for all my Bachelor Nation members out there!!)

We found that AXR is a winery that a bit under the radar (but is stunning and has amazing wines, so I’d guess they’re going to blow up soon!) It’s easy to drive by this winery as the white house/tasting room is tucked back in the trees on a small plot of vineyards on the edge of town.

But, what you can’t see from the road is the small grove of Redwood Trees out back which yes, is one of the wine tasting stops during a visit. Seriously – sipping white wine on a hot day under the shade of a Redwood tree is MAGIC.

It’s by appointment only, so make sure to call ahead.

Ballentine Vineyards

Guys, this family-owned winery is too cute! We were the only ones there when we visited so we got a private tasting and had such a fun time chatting with our sommelier. Finding a wine tasting experience that feels small town is VERY rare in Napa Valley and we love tastings like these. They have fantastic reds, I especially loved their Petite Syrah!

Ballentine currently doing a lot of renovations and updates. I really hope they’ll paint their tasting room or barn this stunning shade of blue that’s used in their branding, but at the very least, you can usually find this cute AF blue truck parked outside that makes me smile and is the PERFECT backdrop for Instagram photos.

Freemark Abbey

Freemark Abbey was one of the first St. Helena wineries I visited a few summers ago and I still remember how relaxing their back patio is! Think tons of roses, shaded patio tables, etc. It made the perfect afternoon for a girl’s trip.

Freemark Abbey is the first female Napa winery owner on record!

They make some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons here. The winery has exclusive rights to some of the best vineyards in the valley so you know you’ll always get a fantastic wine tasting here!

These last two wineries aren’t technically in St. Helena but are both parts of the wine passport and are AMAZING to stop by!

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is technically one of the Rutherford wineries but it’s just 10 minutes down the road from St. Helena and is THE CUTEST lil place to stop by on your drive back to San Francisco! Plus, it’s part of the St. Helena wine passport.

The tasting room is in a historic brick building that dates back to 1878 and used to be the post office (how cool is that?!) Since it’s too small to sit inside, they have tastings outside in a garden. Soaking in the sun and tasting small production wines is what Napa Valley is all about.

Sterling Vineyards

Ok, Sterling is COOL! It’s up in Calistoga on top of a mountain and you have to take a tram to the tasting room. The ride alone is fun, but hot DANG, this winery is stunning once you reach it. We did their silver tasting which was in two parts.

First, a cheese and wine pairing on a patio among the trees. Such a great way to get to know Sterling’s wines and enjoy the weather. Then, a self-guided stroll through their winery which is painted a beautiful white color and looks a bit like something you’d find in Spain.

It all ends on their open-air terrace that simply has the BEST view of all of Napa Valley. You can see for miles. I could easily spend all afternoon sipping Sterling’s sparkling wines up here on a hot day.


Inside Wine: Harvest

Napa vintner Tom Rinaldi is in a hurry. The Provenance Vineyards winemaker has 620 tons of Merlot and Cabernet racing to maturity on a hot, dry day in the second week of September, but his keys are locked in the pickup.

AAA evidently is not an option because he grabs the trailer hitch and pounds the driver's side window, which explodes in a hail of shrapnel-sharp glass fragments.

Some of the fragments slice Rinaldi's thumb, which bleeds profusely. He wraps the digit in a paper towel, but the rapidly spreading red blotch suggests a couple of stitches might be in order. Rinaldi shakes his head and shrugs. "I got grapes to taste," he says, then barrels down the row of Merlot, hardly pausing to pop grapes in his mouth.

Urgency and stress are the rule in wine country on the eve of harvest, and the condition of the grapes often takes precedence even over first aid. The point at which a vintner chooses between picking or waiting is a moment of truth that has a tremendous impact on wine quality. Incompetent estates can ruin good grapes, and production techniques have a dramatic impact on style. But winemaking legerdemain can never transform poor grapes into good wine.

Every decision made in the vineyard affects the end product. But a winegrower's decision to harvest or to wait represents his final opportunity to influence the ultimate character and quality of the grapes. Before picking, estates weigh a number of factors, which vary according to the region, type of grape and vintage conditions.

Some of the considerations are technical, such as the levels of sugar, pH and acid. As grapes ripen, herbal and vegetal flavors diminish and fruit character intensifies. Tannin and acidity soften and potential alcohol increases as vines produce more sugar.

To judge these gradations, estates test juice samples. To obtain a true reading, however, it's essential to get a random assortment of the site's grapes, collected from different parcels and from different exposures of the vineyard. Depending on the orientation of the rows, for example, the bunches more exposed to afternoon sun can ripen faster.

Some varieties typically show pronounced variation even within bunches. Many ripe Zinfandel grapes will be plump and fleshy while their bunchmates shrivel into raisins, which are loaded with sugar. Juice samples must include a representative proportion of raisins, or else vintners will find that the finished wine has much more alcohol than anticipated.

Winemakers also look inside their grapes. As the season advances, seeds progress from green to brown, with a corresponding decrease in astringency. "Seed color is very important," says Lamberto Frescobaldi, who oversees production of about 600,000 cases per year for Marchesi de'Frescobaldi in Tuscany. "If the seeds are green, they'll release harsh tannin [during fermentation and maceration]."

Rinaldi also focuses on seed texture. "As they get close [to ripeness], they'll crunch like Chiclets," he says.

Visual cues from the leaves are also crucial because there's a point in the season at which grapes stop ripening. With the onset of cooler weather in the fall, vines start shutting down, and leaves that were verdant green begin to lose luster and turn yellow. By then, even with less than ideal ripeness, little may be gained by waiting.

"The secret is just knowing your vineyards and knowing how far you can push them while [the grapes are] still hanging on the vine," says Australian vintner Rolf Binder, who is best-known for Shiraz bottlings for labels such as Veritas, Two Hands and Magpie. Binder expects Shiraz grapes to have a bit of shrivel and sag when at peak ripeness, like a balloon that has lost some air.

Every region has distinct challenges during harvest. Jim Clendenen, winemaker at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara, Calif., also makes Pinot Noir from Oregon and Sonoma's Russian River. "The criteria I use to pick don't change, but the reality does," he says, meaning that it's necessary to pick early enough in Russian River to preserve acidity, and late enough in Oregon to diminish it.

Sugar and pH measurements tell producers if they're getting close. But the final decision is based on tasting the grapes, gauging the intensity and character of flavors as well as the ripeness of tannin and acidity. "The only way to do it is walk the vineyard, to get out there and walk and taste," says Ed Sbragia, senior vice president and wine master at Beringer Vineyards. There is no single "right" answer about when to pick. "It's a lot like trying to decide the optimal day and second to open a wine," explains Sbragia.

Notions about ripeness have undergone drastic changes through the years. A strong case can be made that the reason so many winegrowing regions have upped quality is because estates have learned to focus on grapes' flavor, rather than on lab readings. Napa Valley is a prime example. Its relatively recent emergence as a preeminent source of Cabernet is mostly a result of vintners waiting for riper flavors.

Even in a tradition-bound region like Bordeaux, styles change with the times. In the 19th century, producers there often picked grapes for red wines at 9 degrees potential alcohol only within the past 20 years have top estates routinely harvested with at least 13 degrees alcohol potential.

In the past, many winemakers' prevailing sense of appropriate ripeness was partly a result of making a virtue of a necessity. Because growers lacked the viticultural savvy to consistently harvest grapes with optimal physiological maturity, less ripeness was accepted as the norm classic was simply synonymous with typical.

That said, waiting for additional ripeness is not without risk. Producers can lose a sizable portion of their crop in hours to a flock of birds. Other creatures too love to feast on ripe grapes. But harvest storms, such as those that wreaked havoc in some of Europe's finest appellations recently, pose the gravest threat. Not only can rain dilute the wine, it can ruin an entire crop by causing widespread rot.

Some varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, have naturally thick skins that are rot resistant. And modern estates have access to anti-fungal sprays. Still, harvest storms can be a nightmare. Marchesi de'Frescobaldi, for example, makes its top wines from Sangiovese, which after rain can swell, burst and rot. "At harvest, the health of the grapes is always a factor. You have to balance the desire for more alcohol with the risk of rain," Frescobaldi says.

An entire year's income rides on the decision of when to pick. But that decision is a lot like the gun shot at the start of a race -- it's only the beginning of the real work.

Grapes are harvested by hand or by machine. With either method, the key is to be as gentle as possible and protect the integrity of the skins. If the skins crack, or grapes get crushed before they get to the winery, unpleasant flavors may be extracted as juice contacts mold or stems.

Picking crews usually consist of eight to 10 people. Bunches are cut from the vine and dropped into containers, which typically hold about 30 or 35 pounds (if the receptacles are overfilled, grapes can get crushed). To minimize damage to the grapes, some estates transport those small containers directly to the winery.

Other producers dump grapes into larger bins, capable of holding several hundred or thousands of pounds. Higher quality estates make a point of removing underripe or mildewed grapes and MOG (matter other than grapes), either at sorting tables near the crush pad or in the vineyard.

Most top-flight producers presort weeks before they pick by performing what's known as a green harvest (the removal of bunches), typically in July and August in the Northern Hemisphere. Green harvesting maximizes concentration, since smaller crops ripen faster with more intensity of flavor. And it fosters more consistent ripeness levels at harvest, since growers target for elimination those bunches lagging behind in maturity.

Picking by hand is the only option for especially steep hillside vineyards. A good crew can bring in about 2 tons per hour, whereas machines can be three times faster. Mechanical harvesters do best with sturdy, thick-skinned grapes such as Cabernet because they function by essentially shaking berries off the stem. More fragile varieties, like Pinot Noir, get damaged relatively easily. Machines were once vastly inferior to skilled crews, but today's equipment, which ranges in price from about $80,000 to $300,000, has improved dramatically.

"You'd be quite amazed by modern machine harvesters and how gentle they are," says Binder.

Some devices include blowers (that remove leaves) and sorting trays (to separate MOG). But preharvest preparation is a prerequisite for good results -- underripe, damaged and diseased fruit must be dropped and the canopy needs to be properly positioned.

Except in unseasonably cool weather, estates often have machine harvesters in the vineyard hours before first light. Picking crews typically start around sunrise and will stop if the grapes grow too warm (cool grapes are less likely to get damaged in the bins and are much easier to handle during fermentation).

Sometimes, logistics force the hand of the winemaker. Producers with an assortment of sites and varieties expect their harvest to be spread out over weeks or even months. But in some vintages, harvests are unusually condensed, with everything reaching peak ripeness around the same (frantic) period.

In that case, estates might run out of fermentation vats and be forced to leave grapes hanging longer than is ideal, or pick something too soon in order to avoid a logjam. But if everything goes well and nerves stay steady, the winemaker calls the shots, rather than logistics or the weather. In 1997, Frescobaldi picked the grapes for its Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo on Oct. 22, about 15 days later than in "normal" years. The grapes were healthy and the skies looked clear, so they took the risk.

That decision helped them to bring in grapes with ideal ripeness, and subsequently make a great wine. But the waiting is never easy. "In Las Vegas [at last fall's California Wine Experience], many of the winemakers went to the casinos," says Lamberto Frescobaldi. "But I feel that I gamble every year in the vineyard."


Calling All Gourmet Grillers: Beringer's Great Steak Challenge Kicks Off the First Nationwide Search for the Best Steak and Wine Duo

NAPA, Calif. , March 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Wine simply makes a good steak taste better. That's why Beringer Vineyards, the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley , is hosting the "Great Steak Challenge," daring everyone from gourmet chefs to backyard grillers to pair their most creative steak recipe with their favorite Beringer wine for a chance to win a trip to Napa , cash prizes and a lifetime of bragging rights.

As part of the Great Steak Challenge, celebrity cooks Jamie and Bobby Deen , stars of the Food Network and sons of southern cooking queen Paula Deen , are hitting the road this summer to prove two of America's timeless and tastiest obsessions – steak and wine – really are the perfect combination. The brothers will be hosting select regional grill-offs across the U.S. and will be creating a virtual cookbook of their road tested recipes.

"Nothing says summer like tossing a steak on the grill during a backyard BBQ with family and friends. But believe it or not, something so easy also takes a special skill," said Jamie Deen . "Bobby and I are looking for the ultimate gourmet griller who can bring the best out in a steak simply by making use of what they consider to be the tastiest ingredients and the right wine."

The challenge consists of three culinary parts:

Online Recipe Contest: Everyone and anyone can participate, no matter your skill level in the kitchen or behind the grill. Simply submit your most creative steak recipes at www.greatsteakchallenge.com. Your recipe will be judged on three major factors: taste appeal, wine pairing and simplicity. Then, Beringer will select 100 best steak recipes per region to compete in regional grill-offs in ten U.S. cities during the summer of 2010, leading up to the ultimate finale in Napa Valley .

Regional Grill-Offs: The regional grill-offs will be hosted by Beringer, and will be judged by local celebrities from each market.


After hot and dry summer, California grape harvest gets early start

Hard to believe: It’s barely August and the California grape harvest has begun.

Granted, it’s still happening only sporadically at scattered vineyards. And we’re not talking Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, yet. At the moment, it’s mostly white grapes going into the baskets, especially those destined for sparkling wine programs.

But we’re already getting reports via social media from winemakers regarding the early start and the quality of the grapes in this drought year.

Abe Scholium of the Scholium Project reports he’s already got 4 tons of Verdelho from Bokisch Vineyards in the eastern hills of Lodi in the tank. Early bird!

And he’s not the only one. On Monday, several winemakers, including Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz in Malibu, started to pick for their sparkling wine programs. And Matt Dees of Jonata and Goodland Wines started to pick Sauvignon Blanc out in Happy Canyon a few days ago.

Joshua Klapper of La Fenetre Wines in Santa Barbara County tweeted that he expects to start picking Chardonnay in Happy Canyon today. Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars chimed in, “Yep,” they had begun picking, with a beautiful photo of tight-clustered Zinfandel grapes.

Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma tweeted that he’ll be picking grapes for rosé in COCO (“Contra Costa County, Oakley basically”) today and grapes for bubbles on Saturday in Chalone AVA, Brosseau Vineyard.

Jill Bernheimer of the eclectic Hollywood wine shop domaineLA sent along an Instagram from @ownrooted (a.k.a. viticulture student Tegan Passalaqua) showing workers harvesting “Verdelho from Vista Luna Vineyard in the Borden ranch” in Lodi a couple of nights ago.

Not everyone is ready to go, though. Sommelier and wine director for Michael Mina Restaurant Group Rajat Parr of Sandhi Wines responded, “Not for us. We might pick some Chardonnay for sparkling in a week or so. It’s been quite cold in Sta. Rita Hills.”

Folks on Facebook, naturally, have more to say. According to Ken Morris at Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, “We’re two weeks ahead of normal. Ivo Jeramaz, our VP of Vineyards & Production, reports we’ve enjoyed amazing weather for a grape: slightly warmer nights than usual, which boost flavor development, and moderate daytime temperatures that slow sugar accumulation. A bit higher humidity than usual this summer helps ensure the grapes and soil have only a small loss of moisture. The grapes are spotless with no sign of disease.”

V. Sattui Winery’s winemaker, Brooks Painter, comments, “The extremely dry conditions this year are proving a challenge to growers in Napa Valley, but things look good. This year’s harvest is predicted to be about one to two weeks earlier than last year. The quality looks excellent, with a decent crop, but not huge. The vines are in great shape, but some blocks are starting to show some signs of stress. Luckily, with the early harvest we should have ample water in reservoirs and wells to complete the irrigation season.”

Morgan Clendenen, owner and winemaker at Cold Heaven Cellars in Santa Barbara County, confirms that harvest is beginning. “Au Bon Climat is getting Pinot from Bien Nacido in a few days. Chard from another source next week. Harvest is coming…”

Peter Cargasacchi of Cargasacchi in the Central Coast writes, “We are about 30 days ahead, and the reason is, the prolonged drought. In a nutshell, dry soils have less mass and it takes less heat to change their temperature. Even though December was very cold, (remember the polar vortex?) the weather was dry, the soils stayed dry and as a result did not have much mass. With the dry soils, as we got into January and February, it did not take much heat to shift the soil temperature upward. Temperature drives plant metabolism and a primary signal for grapevine bud break is temperature. So the rapidly warming, dry soils, initiated a very early bud break. We may be harvesting our Cargasacchi sparkling wine in August this year instead of September. We normally pick Pinot Noir for still wine in the middle of October, but it will certainly be picked in September. Batten the hatches.”


Pioneers of the American wine industry, evolutionists of today’s wine world, Beringer Vineyards with WineGuyMike™

Check out the radio show on The Trail 103.3FM and Fresh 104.5. The live stream feed is online at www.trail1033.com where you can click on “Listen Live”. The WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© on both radio stations on Sunday mornings at 10:00AM MST.

Each week WineGuyMike™ will be giving away gift certificates from our sponsors. If your question is selected as WineGuyMike’s™ topic of discussion you will win one of the $20.00 – $25.00 gift certificates. Good luck and send your questions to WineGuyMike™ on his Facebook fan page.

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This week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Topic Beringer Vineyards then and now.

This week on the WineGuyMike™ show I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Chris Louton, winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. This was a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of what goes on at one of the premier wine producers in America through the eyes of one of Beringer’s own winemakers.

Beringer Vineyards is steeped in tradition to say the very least, it is the oldest continuously working winery in the Napa Valley of California. Beringer was founded by the brothers Beringer, Jacob and Frederick. The two brothers came to America from Mainz, Germany. Frederick who hit the shores of America on the east coast would write to his brother Jacob and espoused the amazing opportunities here in America. Jacob who followed his brother five years later had worked in the wine cellars of Germany. Upon arrival to America Jacob who had heard about the sacred grape growing grounds in California hopped on a train and headed west. He made it to San Francisco and then ventured out to the Napa Valley. What he discovered was hilly land made up of volcanic, rocky, and well drained soils akin to the finest vineyard land in the Rhine Valley. The other thing Jacob Beringer discovered was ample sunshine and warmth that provides the perfect terrior for growing grapes in the Napa Valley.

Historic Photo of Jacob and Frederick Beringer

In 1875 Jacob and Frederick bought land in the Napa Valley of California and began growing grapes and producing wine. In 1876 Beringer Vineyards was borne. Jacob took up residence in an existing farmhouse on the property, “the Hudson House” that now serves as the culinary arts center at Beringer Vinyards. Frederick moved from the east permanently and began building his 17 room Victorian house that was a replica of the Beringer family home on the Rhine River in Germany. What is now known as the “Rhine House” at Beringer Vinyards guests can take part in reserve or library tastings at the house. While partaking in these two particular tastings a guest can sit back and look out over the amazing lawns, beautiful gardens and the Napa Valley and ponder what must have crossed the minds of two of the imminent wine entrepreneurs the world has known.

Rhine House - Beringer Book 2009

Moving forward 135 years as I sit here in the radio studio I now call home with Program Director Dave Cowan I have my head phones on and we dial up Chris Louton assistant winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. I had spoken with Chris the day before and I knew he was going to be a great guest as he was very engaging during our initial conversation. A little background on Chris he was born and raised in Sacramento, CA., and he Graduated from UC Davis with B.S. in Viticulture and Enology in 2003. Chris worked as a lab intern at Schramsberg Vineyards for the 2002 harvest, and then returned after graduation in 2003 for another harvest. This worked into a full time position as Enologist and then into Assistant Winemaker in 2004. Beringer offered and Chris accepted a position as Enologist with Beringer in August of 2006, working exclusively with their Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines. In 2007 he became Assistant Winemaker, overseeing the same products he worked with as Enologist. Chris is married, has 2 boys, ages 5 and 1, he resides in Napa and his family shares the house with 3 dogs and a cat!

As I conversed with Chris and he and I recorded this week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I realized that the past at Beringer Vineyards is what has allowed all the great opportunity for those who make up Beringer as an organization and consumers who reap the rewards. With no pun intended we quite literally enjoy the fruits of Jacob and Fredericks labor. In researching everything Beringer what you quickly discern is their dedication and focus on quality and consistency. In the 135 year legacy of Beringer’s head winemakers there have been only seven which is an average of a little over 19 years each. You also quickly understand that there is a true atmosphere of mentorship, new head winemakers are groomed from the inside of this organization. The blood in the veins of the winemakers at Beringer come from the grapes of their diverse terrior, 15 different vineyards in total. Chris was quick to point out the no other wine property in Napa Valley has the luxury of making wine from the diversity of vineyards and grape varietals that Beringer has to offer.

Beringer Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

Chris works with the Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines but Beringer offers the consumer wonderful opportunities to enjoy their wines no matter what price point a consumer desires. Some may call this great marketing, I call it thoughtful winemaking. Beringer recognizes today’s wine consumers needs and desires and they have delivered. The teams of winemakers at Beringer have produced six different labels serving all various consumer niches. These lables vary in price from well under $10.00 in the California Collection, from $9.00 -$12.00 price point for the Founders Estates label for those of us who are the everyday wine drinkers, to $20-$30 range for you weekend wine warriors, and for the stratospheric special occasion prices, well at least for most of us, are the Napa and Private reserve labels.

Here is a list of the Beringer wine labels and the varietals and blends that are represented:

Private Reserve – Best lots aged separately for two years in French Oak then blended

The Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the utmost expression of each vintage and the terroir of the Napa Valley. The collaboration between winemaking and viticulture has been at the core of the Private Reserve program since the first vintage crafted by Ed Sbragia in 1977. Today, Winemaker Laurie Hook draws on her rich experience of working alongside Ed for over two decades as she blends only the best lots from these outstanding vineyards. Each vineyard is aged separately in new French oak for two years before blending, resulting in a wine of great elegance and structure.

Napa Valley – Higher End Cabernet Sauvignon from various Beringer Vineyards

A tier focusing on a luxury drinking experience with Napa Valley character and distinction, our winemakers have produced a range of wines with the same inspiration of the original highly acclaimed Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay – quality and an expression of the Napa Valley.

Leaning Oak – Sold on premise at Beringer only, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Rose´, Sauvignon Blanc

The Leaning Oak wines are only available from the winery, and they fly out of the tasting room door, making them some of our best sellers. The secret to their success is quite simply the quality – these wines offer Reserve level quality at fantastic prices.

Knights Valley – Red Alluvium blend, blended Cabernet(Merlot, Cabernet Franc), White Allivium blend(Sauvignon Blance, Semillon, Small amounts of Chardonnay, Viognier)

Distinctive quality that can only be created from the rustic, unspoiled vineyards and unique alluvial soils that makes up Sonoma’s Knights Valley. Located 17 miles northwest of the winery, the Knights Valley vineyard has volcanic, well-drained soils that are perfectly suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.

Founders Estate – Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Shiraz. This is a terrific flight of varietals that offer the consumer tremendous value. Everyone will love the Founders Estate label.

California Collection – Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Sparkling White Zinfandel, White Merlot, White Zinfandel, and Zinfandel/Chardonnay blend

Beringer’s California Collection wines are carefully handcrafted to deliver the outstanding quality and rich flavors that are hallmarks of the Beringer winemaking team. This collection offers a wonderful array of smooth and refreshing wines, and each wine has a youthful exuberance that appeals to anyone looking for an easy-drinking wine that pairs well with a variety of foods.

I recommend visiting Beringer Vineyards if you visit the Napa Valley. When you conger up a vision of a romantic wine property in your mind, Beringer is that place. Everything about this property is absolutely pristine, and hey did I mention these guys make incredible wine.

There is a tour and a tasting for everyone who visits Beringer Vineyards. You can read all the details about what they offer by visiting the Beringer website at www.Beringer.com

From a consumer standpoint I love Beringer Vineyards as they have really delivered tremendous value at every price point of wine consumption. They are not an elitist organization that has ignored any consumer they produce great wines that provide great value for everyone. I for one truly appreciate this approach and that’s why I not only recognize Beringer as having a great marketing plan, I as a consumer wine advocate chooses to call Beringer Vineyards thoughtful.

Beringer Vineyards and all of their wines receive the WineGuyMike Stamp of Approval™. I recommend that all of my audience try Beringer wines. I want to give a shout out to Chris Louton of Beringer Vineyards for making time to share his work and passion with my radio audience, thanks Chris.


Pioneers of the American wine industry, evolutionists of today’s wine world, Beringer Vineyards with WineGuyMike™

Check out the radio show on The Trail 103.3FM and Fresh 104.5. The live stream feed is online at www.trail1033.com where you can click on “Listen Live”. The WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© on both radio stations on Sunday mornings at 10:00AM MST.

Each week WineGuyMike™ will be giving away gift certificates from our sponsors. If your question is selected as WineGuyMike’s™ topic of discussion you will win one of the $20.00 – $25.00 gift certificates. Good luck and send your questions to WineGuyMike™ on his Facebook fan page.

Social Media links see this week’s show on YouTube each week on Sunday morning. My YouTube channel of course is WineGuyMike or the actual URL link: http://www.youtube.com/user/WineGuyMike?feature=mhum

Facebook WineGuyMike please “like”

Twitter @WineGuyMike please follow me

Ciao Mambo, “Eat Like You Mean It”, located in Missoula on The Hip Strip. Find them online at www.CiaoMambo.com

This week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© Topic Beringer Vineyards then and now.

This week on the WineGuyMike™ show I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Chris Louton, winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. This was a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of what goes on at one of the premier wine producers in America through the eyes of one of Beringer’s own winemakers.

Beringer Vineyards is steeped in tradition to say the very least, it is the oldest continuously working winery in the Napa Valley of California. Beringer was founded by the brothers Beringer, Jacob and Frederick. The two brothers came to America from Mainz, Germany. Frederick who hit the shores of America on the east coast would write to his brother Jacob and espoused the amazing opportunities here in America. Jacob who followed his brother five years later had worked in the wine cellars of Germany. Upon arrival to America Jacob who had heard about the sacred grape growing grounds in California hopped on a train and headed west. He made it to San Francisco and then ventured out to the Napa Valley. What he discovered was hilly land made up of volcanic, rocky, and well drained soils akin to the finest vineyard land in the Rhine Valley. The other thing Jacob Beringer discovered was ample sunshine and warmth that provides the perfect terrior for growing grapes in the Napa Valley.

Historic Photo of Jacob and Frederick Beringer

In 1875 Jacob and Frederick bought land in the Napa Valley of California and began growing grapes and producing wine. In 1876 Beringer Vineyards was borne. Jacob took up residence in an existing farmhouse on the property, “the Hudson House” that now serves as the culinary arts center at Beringer Vinyards. Frederick moved from the east permanently and began building his 17 room Victorian house that was a replica of the Beringer family home on the Rhine River in Germany. What is now known as the “Rhine House” at Beringer Vinyards guests can take part in reserve or library tastings at the house. While partaking in these two particular tastings a guest can sit back and look out over the amazing lawns, beautiful gardens and the Napa Valley and ponder what must have crossed the minds of two of the imminent wine entrepreneurs the world has known.

Rhine House - Beringer Book 2009

Moving forward 135 years as I sit here in the radio studio I now call home with Program Director Dave Cowan I have my head phones on and we dial up Chris Louton assistant winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. I had spoken with Chris the day before and I knew he was going to be a great guest as he was very engaging during our initial conversation. A little background on Chris he was born and raised in Sacramento, CA., and he Graduated from UC Davis with B.S. in Viticulture and Enology in 2003. Chris worked as a lab intern at Schramsberg Vineyards for the 2002 harvest, and then returned after graduation in 2003 for another harvest. This worked into a full time position as Enologist and then into Assistant Winemaker in 2004. Beringer offered and Chris accepted a position as Enologist with Beringer in August of 2006, working exclusively with their Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines. In 2007 he became Assistant Winemaker, overseeing the same products he worked with as Enologist. Chris is married, has 2 boys, ages 5 and 1, he resides in Napa and his family shares the house with 3 dogs and a cat!

As I conversed with Chris and he and I recorded this week’s WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I realized that the past at Beringer Vineyards is what has allowed all the great opportunity for those who make up Beringer as an organization and consumers who reap the rewards. With no pun intended we quite literally enjoy the fruits of Jacob and Fredericks labor. In researching everything Beringer what you quickly discern is their dedication and focus on quality and consistency. In the 135 year legacy of Beringer’s head winemakers there have been only seven which is an average of a little over 19 years each. You also quickly understand that there is a true atmosphere of mentorship, new head winemakers are groomed from the inside of this organization. The blood in the veins of the winemakers at Beringer come from the grapes of their diverse terrior, 15 different vineyards in total. Chris was quick to point out the no other wine property in Napa Valley has the luxury of making wine from the diversity of vineyards and grape varietals that Beringer has to offer.

Beringer Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

Chris works with the Napa Valley and Knights Valley luxury wines but Beringer offers the consumer wonderful opportunities to enjoy their wines no matter what price point a consumer desires. Some may call this great marketing, I call it thoughtful winemaking. Beringer recognizes today’s wine consumers needs and desires and they have delivered. The teams of winemakers at Beringer have produced six different labels serving all various consumer niches. These lables vary in price from well under $10.00 in the California Collection, from $9.00 -$12.00 price point for the Founders Estates label for those of us who are the everyday wine drinkers, to $20-$30 range for you weekend wine warriors, and for the stratospheric special occasion prices, well at least for most of us, are the Napa and Private reserve labels.

Here is a list of the Beringer wine labels and the varietals and blends that are represented:

Private Reserve – Best lots aged separately for two years in French Oak then blended

The Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is the utmost expression of each vintage and the terroir of the Napa Valley. The collaboration between winemaking and viticulture has been at the core of the Private Reserve program since the first vintage crafted by Ed Sbragia in 1977. Today, Winemaker Laurie Hook draws on her rich experience of working alongside Ed for over two decades as she blends only the best lots from these outstanding vineyards. Each vineyard is aged separately in new French oak for two years before blending, resulting in a wine of great elegance and structure.

Napa Valley – Higher End Cabernet Sauvignon from various Beringer Vineyards

A tier focusing on a luxury drinking experience with Napa Valley character and distinction, our winemakers have produced a range of wines with the same inspiration of the original highly acclaimed Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay – quality and an expression of the Napa Valley.

Leaning Oak – Sold on premise at Beringer only, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Rose´, Sauvignon Blanc

The Leaning Oak wines are only available from the winery, and they fly out of the tasting room door, making them some of our best sellers. The secret to their success is quite simply the quality – these wines offer Reserve level quality at fantastic prices.

Knights Valley – Red Alluvium blend, blended Cabernet(Merlot, Cabernet Franc), White Allivium blend(Sauvignon Blance, Semillon, Small amounts of Chardonnay, Viognier)

Distinctive quality that can only be created from the rustic, unspoiled vineyards and unique alluvial soils that makes up Sonoma’s Knights Valley. Located 17 miles northwest of the winery, the Knights Valley vineyard has volcanic, well-drained soils that are perfectly suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.

Founders Estate – Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Shiraz. This is a terrific flight of varietals that offer the consumer tremendous value. Everyone will love the Founders Estate label.

California Collection – Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Sparkling White Zinfandel, White Merlot, White Zinfandel, and Zinfandel/Chardonnay blend

Beringer’s California Collection wines are carefully handcrafted to deliver the outstanding quality and rich flavors that are hallmarks of the Beringer winemaking team. This collection offers a wonderful array of smooth and refreshing wines, and each wine has a youthful exuberance that appeals to anyone looking for an easy-drinking wine that pairs well with a variety of foods.

I recommend visiting Beringer Vineyards if you visit the Napa Valley. When you conger up a vision of a romantic wine property in your mind, Beringer is that place. Everything about this property is absolutely pristine, and hey did I mention these guys make incredible wine.

There is a tour and a tasting for everyone who visits Beringer Vineyards. You can read all the details about what they offer by visiting the Beringer website at http://www.Beringer.com

From a consumer standpoint I love Beringer Vineyards as they have really delivered tremendous value at every price point of wine consumption. They are not an elitist organization that has ignored any consumer they produce great wines that provide great value for everyone. I for one truly appreciate this approach and that’s why I not only recognize Beringer as having a great marketing plan, I as a consumer wine advocate chooses to call Beringer Vineyards thoughtful.

Beringer Vineyards and all of their wines receive the WineGuyMike Stamp of Approval™. I recommend that all of my audience try Beringer wines. I want to give a shout out to Chris Louton of Beringer Vineyards for making time to share his work and passion with my radio audience, thanks Chris.


Uncorked: Winemaker Ed Sbragia has deep roots in Dry Creek

Ed Sbragia created some commotion earlier this year when he announced he was leaving his job as head winemaker at Beringer, a position he had held since 1984. But Sbragia, 60, says it hasn't been that dramatic of a change.

Though he now puts the majority of his focus on his own label, Sbragia Family Vineyards, he still has an office at Beringer, where he goes a couple times a week as a consultant, or "winemaker emeritus." Also, his successor at Beringer, Laurie Hook, worked with him there for more than 20 years before taking over the reins.

Sbragia is a third-generation Dry Creek Valley vintner who grew up surrounded by his father's prune fields and Zinfandel barrels. His grandfather came from Tuscany as a young man to work at the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti (Sonoma County), and later started a winery that didn't survive Prohibition. Gino, Sbragia's father, planted Zinfandel grapes on their land near Healdsburg, converting more acreage from prunes to grapes in the 1960s.

Sbragia intended to leave the family farm and got a degree in chemistry at UC Davis. But his first job ended up being in the labs at Gallo. Soon he was hooked on winemaking and headed to California State University Fresno to study it. After a few other winery jobs, he got his start at Beringer in 1976 working under legendary winemaker Myron Nightingale.

Sbragia's oldest son Adam, 28, is also a winemaker and director of operations at the family winery, and both their wives also work at the winery. They use some grapes grown on land that has been with the family since the 1930s, as well as from other Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards.

Q:While at Beringer you always talked about having one foot in Sonoma and one foot in Napa. Is that different now?

A: Having grown up in Dry Creek Valley and basically working here until I entered business life, and drinking wine from one of the vineyards I use now, Gino's Vineyard, I kind of had my family life here. I also raised my kids here.

Yet I also started working in Beringer in 1976. I fell in love with different types of Napa and Sonoma grapes. I go where the grapes are.

Q:How is winemaking different at your own winery?

A: I didn't really change how I make wine, but all the wines at Sbragia are single vineyard. I'm trying to show the individuality of each vineyard. At Beringer it was more about blending. It was a little easier. For the private reserve I was able to take grapes from the various vineyards that I thought made the best possible blend.

Here, when I get 4 or 5 tons of Zinfandel out of Rockpile (an AVA in Dry Creek Valley), if I screw up, that's it. There is no Rockpile this year.

When you're doing single vineyard you're looking at the one little vineyard and how to optimize the grapes. When you all of a sudden spotlight that vineyard you have to work harder to make sure those grapes are perfect.

Q:Do you prefer fruit from Sonoma or Napa?

A: They're different. The Dry Creek Valley is only 20 miles from the ocean. In Napa - depending on where you are - you're 30 miles from the ocean or even more, though the San Francisco Bay is quite close. There are similarities. If you look at the terroir, each area has its high points. Sonoma County in general and Dry Creek in specific are a little more elegant. Maybe that's why the Italians settled here. The wines were much more food friendly.

Q:How is winemaking different when you work with your family rather than a large company?

A: It's different, though when you work with people for 30 years (like at Beringer) they become like family. Then again, working with your own family - we're all Italians, and once in a while tempers flare. You tend to be a little more forthright with members of your own family. Family companies are notorious for having drama, especially Italian families. There's the pressure of everything that has to get done. But I really enjoy my family. They're really great people.

Q:What did you learn from Myron Nightingale, Beringer winemaker from 1971-1984?


Watch the video: Beringer Montage, Beringer Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA (January 2022).