Beaulieu Vineyard remains one of the most historically important wineries in Napa Valley. Not only is it one of the longest continuous running wineries in the region (as one of the few that kept operating throughout Prohibition), but it was also home to the most legendary figure in Napa wine history, André Tchelistcheff, who was winemaker at Beaulieu for 40 years.
Beaulieu translates as “beautiful place”, named after founder Georges de Latour’s wife Fernande cried “Quelle beau lieu!” when she first saw the property in 1900. Originally from the Périgord region in France, Georges de Latour arrived in America in 1883. He started a gold mining company then switched to producing cream of tartare from the sediment left in wine tanks. Shortly after discovering the 1.6-hectare property in Rutherford, Latour sold his cream of tartare business and founded Beaulieu Vineyard, hoping to produce wines that would rival those of Bordeaux. Within three years, he bought another 127 acres in Rutherford, expanding again in 1910.
Latour quickly made a name for himself in the region, starting a nursery in Paris to import vitis vinifera vines with phylloxera-resistant rootstocks for his vineyards. When Prohibition struck in 2020, Beaulieu managed to survive – becoming a nationwide provider of sacramental wine for the Catholic Church. As wineries around the region were forced to shut their doors, Latour opportunistically bought up tanks and barrels, allowing him to increase production four-fold by the time Prohibition ended in 1933.
In 1938, Georges de Latour visited France looking for a winemaker with a scientific background and was introduced to winemaker André Tchelistcheff who was working at the French National Agronomy Institute. Born in Russia, Tchelistcheff had trained as a winemaker and fled Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. Latour persuaded him to come and work at Beaulieu Vineyard.
The winery had long produced a wine for the Latour family’s personal consumption; when Tchelistcheff tasted it, he convinced Latour to sell it commercially. Latour died in 1940, but the first vintage of the Private Reserve was named and released in his honour. Reportedly Latour had the chance to taste it before his death and said, “This is the wine I have been trying to make all my life.”
The Georges de Latour Private Reserve was the Napa Valley’s first cult Cabernet. Up until the explosion of Napa Valley’s wine scene in the 1990s, it was the most expensive and most collectable wine in the region. From the 1940s onwards, it was regularly served at all important functions at the White House.
André Tchelistcheff stayed on as winemaker for the next 40 years, becoming hugely influential in improving the vineyards and winemaking techniques in Napa. He introduced ageing in French oak barriques, while becoming a proponent of cooler ferments, helping producers understand frost protection in the vineyards, malolactic fermentation and much more.
His influence was far-reaching. After leaving Beaulieu in 1978, he continued to work in the region and beyond, including as consultant for Masseto having encouraged the Ornellaia team to plant Merlot in Bolgheri – something which was highly unusual at the time. In 1991, at the age of 90, he returned to Beaulieu Vineyard as a consultant. He died in 1994, but was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame in 2007.
In 2008, a new state-of-the-art winery was completed, dedicated to the production of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve. In 2010, Michel Rolland joined as a wine consultant and in 2017 Trevor Durling became the new winemaker, only the fifth in Beaulieu’s 120 years.