- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


Recently, I published an article entitled “A Grand Event: Featuring Old California Wines From Pioneer Producers.” It related to a tasting of old California wines hosted by K&L Wines. Darrell Corti and I were invited guests (Click here [1] to read the article). After the article was published Darrell sent this note. It adds color and more in-depth facts to the article. Darrell has been involved with all things wine and food for longer than I can remember and has a fabulous store – Corti Brothers in Sacramento. Also, online at www.cortibros.biz [2]. If you are not on the email list, I encourage you to sign up for Darrell’s newsletter. It is one of the most interesting ones out there on food and wine and always has many new products to offer. Here is his note:

Dear John,

As usual, a lovely write up. Thank you for the plug.

To elaborate a bit on your notes:

The Hallcrest label is one of the few California labels created by a noted printer, in this case, the Grabhorn Brothers of the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco. The typeface is characteristic of one they used quite a bit. And yes, the 1964 Cabernet was the last vintage made. There was a subsequent vintage made into a rosé that was not so hot. I remember this clearly since we sold the wines in the period 1964-1967. In fact I took a bottle of the 1964 Riesling to Germany in the spring of 1967 and we tasted it at Fraulein Thanisch’s home in Berncastel. It was ok, just, compared to the 1966 vintage I was buying.

The story of Mount Eden is almost exasperating in its complexity. But yes, Dick did make the first wines because of Robert Nikkel, of Sacramento, who at that time was the majority shareholder. I had introduced them.

I do not remember any great sale off of Martin Ray wines, if there had been 1,500 cases of them. Courtney had reached some sort of modus vivendi/operandi with Eleanor and Peter Martin Ray.

(One of the most odd wines I ever experienced was a Winery Lake Riesling made by Peter Martin Ray at the Mt. Eden cellar, not Martin Ray’s cellar which was used for the Mt. Eden wines. He bought the grapes from Rene De Rosa and fermented them in new limousin wood. Just disgusting.)

Re: Beaulieu: I do not think it is the oldest continually operating winery in America. It was only founded in 1900 or 1908, take your pick. De Latour had gone broke twice after 1900 and only established the winery where it is now in 1908. This is why there was the bottling of Pinot champagne of 1958 sold as a commemorative vintage. Concannon is older than Beaulieu, and BV bought altar wine from them in order to stay in business during Prohibition. Wente is also older than BV and operated throughout Prohibition also. Mirassou says they are the oldest family owned/operated winery until purchase by Gallo.

Hanzell: in the period just before the ambassador’s death, they could not have made 700 cases of wine. They could never have sold them. The pioneering effect of Zellerbach was the use of small, square lined steel fermenters much like those used by La Mission Haut Brion. The use of new Sirugue casks was the telling effect. This is why we, at Chalone, began using them in 1966. As did Beaulieu with their first Carneros Chardonnay. The first wines were always in the care of Brad Webb and at that time, most of the grapes came from the Napa Valley. The simple label was used only after the Ambassador died since the wines were sold through Heitz, who, you will remember, bought, with the financial backing of Schoch, Holmes and Rhodes, all the wine in bulk. The 1962 Heitz Pinot Chardonnay was the Hanzell 1962. There were very few bottles with the Hanzell label sold. In So. Cal., a lot was sold by Jurgensen’s.

Martin Ray: He was a crook! Occasionally made very good wine. Most often just odd wine.

The champagne cork finish was ended by the BATF who accused him of trying to sell champagne which was flat. His idea was to use a unique closure which it was. This closure is called an “egraffe clamp” since it was used only in Champagne for the re-fermentation in bottle.

Originally, the cork was one piece or two pieces split vertically with two mirror finishes. The wire cage is used after disgorging and the “bidule” is used to collect the spent yeast. It is held in place with a crown cap. I think Bollinger still uses the egraffe cork for vintage wines. This you can tell if the top of the bottle has a “bague carre” or straight sided lip rather than a beer bottle one.

The La Montana label is a direct copy of the Rixford label. But then Martin was no stickler for honesty when it came to labels. His first Paul Masson labels were the imitation of the Schloss labels from Schloss Johannisberg, complete with the river scene. That there is no river in Saratoga meant very little. His signature also figured where the Herr Labonte signature was on the Schloss J. labels. A crook, I tell you; a crook.

Good job.