A visit to Beaulieu Vineyards

Tasting room entrance at Beaulieu

Inside the tasting room

You may well recognize Beaulieu Vineyards, or BV.  With a wide distribution, well-known brand name, and prominent position on Napa Valley’s Highway 29, this is a popular stop for many people.

However, be prepared for possibly a chaotic experience.  The tasting room is naturally very busy and not as big as many other tasting rooms you’ll visit.  On this day I had booked the Historic tour.  It was not easy to find anyone in charge of tours so I checked with the cashiers. Sure enough I was in the right place.

On today’s visit I was with a group of young wine students on their first tasting in Napa Valley.  Naturally BV will be included in a first time visit as it is steeped in history.  Unfortunately for this particular tour, the machinery was loud and in a large group setting it was hard to hear what our guide, Brad was saying.  Brad was extremely knowledgeable but I felt like he was reciting the same information for the millionth time.

BV is the oldest continually operating winery in the Napa Valley, which makes it an important one to know, especially for a first time visitor. Owner Georges de Latour grew up near the Bordeaux region in France and settled in the Napa Valley.  The name Beaulieu means beautiful place (“beau lieu”) in French, and was what Madame de Latour said when she arrived in Napa in 1900.

Quite the entrepreneur, de Latour quickly made a name for himself by importing Phylloxera-resistant rootstock from Europe and selling wine to the Catholic Church. Beaulieu was the only Napa Valley winery able to stay open during Prohibition because of its relationship to the church.  It is not surprising that business improved during Prohibition, and, like other wineries of the time, there was probably an under the table business going on.

The other name you’ll hear a lot on this tour is André Tchelistcheff, a viticulturalist and winemaking pioneer who was hired by de Latour as the winemaker. Tchelistcheff is known for making some huge improvements in winemaking, introducing cold fermentation for white wines, malolactic fermentation for reds and aging red wines in small, French oak barrels.

During the historic tour you’ll see the wine production facilities and learn about winemaking.  We saw trucks moving in and out of the loading dock and workers cleaning the vast stainless steel sorting and winemaking equipment.  This is a huge industrial winery producing 500,000 cases per year. BV is owned by wine and spirits giant Diageo (Diageo also owns Sterling, Acacia and Provenance wineries.) The historic side is more interesting.  BV is also one of the few wineries that can show you 100-year old Redwood tanks.

Seeing the Heritage Room was the highlight here. The room contains a collection of old photographs, relics and original winery equipment that really brings history to life.

Our tour finished back at the tasting room with several wines to try.  Again, with our large group it was a struggle to get to the bar and a much less intimate experience than you will get at smaller wineries.

Today, the French are still making wines at BV with the help of consulting “flying winemaker” Michel Rolland.  Rolland is responsible for literally 250 wines and wineries around the world and was brought in in 2008 to resurrect the Private Reserve program.  I discovered this through the videos in the tasting room, not on the tour itself.

I’d still recommend this for newcomers to Napa Valley but only for the history aspect.  Be sure to add other smaller producers to your itinerary to ensure a full wine country experience.

Expert tips:

  • Rutherford Grill is literally in the car park of Beaulieu so it is an ideal place for lunch.
  • You will see many more wines in the tasting room than what is available in stores.
  • The tour is worth doing if you are interesting in seeing large-scale wine production and learning about the beginnings of winemaking in Napa Valley.  Perfect for wine students, for example.

WineryCritic Ratings

6/10 Overall visitor experience

8/10 Knowledge of guide

9/10 Location

7/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

8/10 Other experiences: Various tastings depending on wine interests

8/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

6/10 Friendliness of staff

9/10 Signage & ease of access

7/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: For the tours and private tastings.

Address:  

Beaulieu Vineyard

1960 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford, CA 94573

http://bvwines.com

Tasting fees & experiences:

  • $15 per person – Maestro Tasting
  • $20 per person – Premier Tasting
  • $35 per person – Reserve Tasting
  • $40 per person – Private Reserve Tasting
  • $35 per person – Historic Tour & Barrel Tasting
  • $50 per person – Retrospective Reserve Tasting

Good for:  History buffs, Cabernet fans, Groups, wine students

Wines produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Bordeaux blends, Zinfandel, Port

What’s nearby: Rutherford Grill, Provenance, Grgich Hills, Round Pond

District/Appellation: Rutherford, Napa Valley

Contact for appointments:  Book online http://www.bvwines.com/visit-us/private-tours-tastings

Date of visit: October 18, 2013

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com