In my Dec. 15 column, I wrote about my experiences with Beaulieu Vineyard's 1946 and 1947 Pinot Noirs. Those incredible wines were an early inspiration to anyone who tasted them, and they were the best vintages ever made by the late André Tchelistcheff (pronounced Chell-a-cheff).
According to Tchelistcheff, the grapes came from Carneros. But that always struck me as odd, since I had been led to believe that the first vines weren't planted there until much later, perhaps in the late 1960s or '70s.
Then I received an interesting note yesterday that might just solve this mystery.
It was from Tom Selfridge, president of the Hess Collection. He worked at BV for nearly 20 years as both winemaker and president, and he knew Tchelistcheff as well as anyone. He, too, had tasted the 1946 on several occasions and noted in his card that it was one of the greatest wines he'd ever tried.
"The first time I had it was at the Heublein auction," explained Selfridge, during a phone interview today. The 1946 was being auctioned and the auctioneer asked him to talk about the wine. In those days, an actual bottle of the wine was opened at the event, striking fear in Selfridge.
"I thought, ‘Oh my God, I know this wine is going to be over the hill'," he recalled. But of course it wasn't, and he "could tell [bidders in the audience] the truth. [The wine] blew me away."
Still, he was naturally curious about the source of the grapes, since the wine was so sensational. So he looked into BV records since Tchelistcheff's story about Carneros being the grape source didn't make sense to him either.
"The records showed that the grapes for that wine actually came from a small block on the BV No. 1 ranch in Rutherford," he explained, which is where the founders of BV, the Georges de Latour family and subsequent generations, resided. "The Carneros plantings came about 20 years later."
"André was a pretty good story teller," said Selfridge, "and what that tells me was that year was a pretty good one for Rutherford Pinot Noir."
Yet another mystery of sorts is whether Tchelistcheff coined the phrase "Rutherford Dust," an expression many attribute to him, a reference to the powdery soil.
On several occasions, I asked Tchelistcheff about this and every time he said no, he didn't use that phrase.
Not that it matters all that much. André was well into his 80s by then, and if he had used that phrase to describe the soil in Rutherford, it certainly would have been appropriate.
If you walk through a vineyard in Rutherford in mid-summer you need only look at your shoes for proof of its existence.
Selfridge recalls otherwise.
"I would swear he took credit [for the phrase Rutherford Dust]," Selfridge said, but he may well have changed his mind in later years, thinking the expression had been over used.
That's how history sometimes rewrites itself.
Still, I think Selfridge's research about the Pinot is probably accurate, and would explain a lot.
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