A life-size statue of André Tchelistcheff may be on the market. If I had $1 million, I'd bid on it. Seriously.
It could be auctioned as part of the liquidation of the bankrupt Copia, which begins with sales at the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts' gift shop this weekend and culminates in two days of auctions April 20 and 21.
It will be an estate sale of unparalleled scope and value, at least here in Napa.
I consider Mr. T perhaps the most influential man in Napa Valley history, right up there alongside Robert Mondavi. Though André the Great has been dead for two decades, winemakers still speak of him in reverential terms.
One could write a book about his contributions to wine. But today I'll just mention a few of the ways Tchelistcheff stood out.
When he came to California in 1938 to work for Beaulieu Vineyard, the wine industry was in a state of disarray. (Tchelistcheff was born in Russia and studied winemaking in France; Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour hired him after the two were introduced in Paris.)
Wineries had been closed for a decade during Prohibition, and cellars and wines were still terribly flawed. Vintners were essentially bankrupt, as were many during the Great Depression. Tchelistcheff immediately indentified areas of improvement for the California wine industry, and his insistence that winemakers had to clean up their cellars became a crusade. For that, they called him the Doctor.
He was a farmer first, however, and got his greatest satisfaction from walking the vineyards. He taught an entire generation about the importance of viticulture. He mentored dozens of young winemakers, including Robert Mondavi.
The wines he made at BV have become legendary, from the 1946 and 1947 Pinots to the long parade of great BV Private Reserves from 1936 into the 1970s. He talked about making Cabernets that had the texture of Pinot Noir, supple and fleshy. For that, they called him the Maestro.
There's no telling what the bronze likeness of Tchelistcheff, which greeted each visitor to Copia, is worth in terms of auction value, but as a one-of-a-kind tribute to a one-of-a-kind winemaker—perhaps the most important in American history—the Tchelischeff statue is priceless in the eyes of this Napa wine lover.