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

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

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

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.

"from my table to yours"

"from my table to yours"

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