The California Wine Revolution started in the early 1960s. It was a time when a generation of men and women came of age and found their own voices. They embraced the arts, social change, civil rights, politics, culinary arts, athletics, the environment, and the freedom to break with the past and create their own choices.
The Duke and “Dukess” of Bourbon
David’s father had established a liquor store, the Duke of Bourbon, in Tarzana, California. David worked for his father when he returned from his tour in the Navy, but David had a new idea. At the time, there were very few wine shops in Southern California, and it was uncertain whether people were interested in drinking high-quality wines. David and Judy were newly married. They founded their wine shop, the Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park, in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Los Angeles.
The Duke of Bourbon-Canoga Park opened on May 1, 1967, at 20908 Roscoe Boulevard; they sold their first case of wine to Chet Koski four days later.
David was passionate about wine. His wife Judy was the perfect partner in this new journey. Each day there was a new discovery to share about the vineyards, wineries, growers, and winemakers leaving their prior careers in search of crafting a new wine and food culture in California.
In August of 1969, David drove to Napa for the first time. He visited the Robert Mondavi Winery, Beaulieu Vineyard, and Heitz Cellar. His travels initiated relationships that would deepen and last a lifetime.
As David and Judy traveled throughout California, they discovered the young winemakers and their wines that soon made Napa and Sonoma famous.
California Wine History 101 in 1971
Most importantly, they shared their knowledge and promoted the new California wines with their friends and customers. What seems so common now was an entirely new concept in 1971. David and Judy provided organized wine education programs in Southern California in the seventies. They established a quarterly newsletter, Vine-Line, reaching out to thousands of wine lovers. They organized wine tasting events featuring the young winemakers of Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Coast.
David was one of the first wine shop owners to establish private label wines with winemakers. The Duke of Bourbon collaborated with the Chalone Vineyard. Judy selected the name of the label, Chaparral, for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chalone Vineyard purchased the grapes from Paragon Vineyard which was owned by the Niven family in the Edna Valley. The relationship between Chalone Vineyard and the Niven family led to the formation of Edna Valley Vineyard.
David and Judy supported the Central Coast Wine Classic for over 30 years bringing large groups to the annual auction, wine dinners, and educational events. David served on the Steering Committee, working with Archie McLaren and Larry Shupnick for three decades.
The Duke of Bourbon organized travel and tasting adventures for groups of customers to wineries abroad, starting in France and extending their educational seminars abroad.
David and Judy have a large collection of wines amassed over decades. This collection tells the history of California wines starting in the nineteenth century. They have donated more than 150 historic wines to The Culinary Institute of America. These are on exhibit for the public to enjoy at Copia in Napa, California and the CIA in St. Helena, California. You can peruse the catalog on our website.
Vine-Line, Volume I February 1971, Number 1 of 3
The first edition of the Vine-Line Newsletter announced its aim to share news about the exciting world of California Wines. “The new vineyards being planted all over California will mean some exciting new wines will be available in the next five years. The old vineyards being revived with newly certified vines will mean that some truly great California wine will be produced in the decade of the ’70s.”
Highlights of the newsletter include the following:
“We are fortunate to be one of the few retail stores in California featuring wines of the Chappellet Winery in Napa. This new winery recently released their beautiful Chenin Blanc (1968) and unique pink Gamay wines (1969), selling at $2.50 per bottle. We were disappointed to learn that Chappellet Winery does not plan to produce this delightful wine again. We are awaiting the release of their Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, White (Johannisberg) Riesling, and 1969 Chenin Blanc. Whatever Don Chappellet will send us, we will make available to you (after stocking our own cellar).”
Jack Davies of Schramsberg writes us about the aging of champagne: “Our experience is confirming what the history of France(sic) champagnes has led us to expect. The heart of the champagne lies with the grape and the wine from which it is produced. Champagne of Thompson seedless grapes laced with French Colombard cannot be expected to develop into anything, and hence the value of aging California champagnes has been downgraded and misrepresented. Champagnes produced of fine wines will improve in the bottle as beautifully as fine still wines of the same quality grape. And “yeast character” means as much to champagne as “oak character” means to a white Burgundy style. We can promise you better champagnes to come.” David explained that the Schramsberg Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($6.40) would not arrive at the store until Spring. The 1967 vintage was in short supply, and David was forced to limit purchases to one bottle per customer.
Freemark Abbey in Napa was releasing a 1968 Chardonnay ($5.00) and a 1968 White (Johannisberg) Riesling ($3.50) which were greatly in demand. David noted that it proves our contention that people want great wines. “We have tasted these wines and found them to be exceptional with a great nose, full body, delivering the character of the grape superbly.” He was looking forward to receiving their reds – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – later in the year.
The Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma was back in full production under Douglas Day. David notes that “California wine freaks” know that Hanzell produces only the wines of Burgundy. Only 500 cases of Pinot Noir and 250 cases of Chardonnay are produced annually from this 16-acre vineyard.
Some of the older established vineyards were doing exciting things, too. David notes that he has received the 1967 Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux-type magnums with punt bottoms from Mayacamas in Napa. Concannon Vineyard in Livermore leased the old Hallcrest Vineyards near Felton, once famous for their Johannisberg Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. This 20-acre vineyard has been replanted by Concannon Vineyard with new certified (virus-free) vines. David predicted that “we would see remarkable wines made from this once-lost source in a few years.” While waiting, David received a “Limited Bottling” of their 1965 Petit Sirah in fifths ($4.00) and magnums ($8.49). “This is a very big wine and will take many years of bottle age. We plan a comparative tasting of California Petit Sirah wines soon. We will report the results in a future Vine-Line edition.
“The swing to magnums by several California wineries is a welcome one, especially for the noble red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir and the long-lasting Petit Sirah,” noted David. The advantage of these wines in magnums is that the bottle aging can be extended over a longer period of time, adding greater complexity and character. The magnums of white wines and other reds are nice for dinner company.
The Robert Mondavi Winery has gone full swing into magnums with Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), Pinot Noir ($7.95), Gamay ($4.95), Chenin Blanc ($4.95), and Fumé Blanc ($5.45). David describes the Mondavi wines as made beautifully and well-balanced. The Fumé Blanc is an unusual dry white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Its light golden hue, rich fruity aroma, and full-bodied roundness are characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. David comments on Robert Mondavi: “Robert has taken a place alongside the great Napa vintners. He makes about 10 or 11 wines, including a rare Zinfandel and only one generic – the Riesling, made with a blend of the German and Alsatian grape varietals.”
Generic Wines- which grapes go into these misnamed wines circa 1971?
David describes the “California Burgundy” produced from the better vineyards during this era as usually a blend of one or more: Petit Sirah, Mondeuse, Merlot, Gamay, Zinfandel, and rarely Pinot Noir.
The “California Chablis” was not related even vaguely to French Chablis, because it had no Chardonnay whatsoever in the blend. It was usually either 100% Semillon or 100% Chenin Blanc. The price is $2.00 or less. David recommended the BV Chablis ($2.00), which was a blend of Chenin Blanc and French Colombard grapes.
Recommended for the Everyday Wine Drinker
Most of us did not have enough money to drink wine every day, but here are some of David’s February 1971 recommendations for a good inexpensive varietal wine and wineries:
Louis M. Martini Zinfandel and Barbera ($1.89 each)
Beaulieu Vineyard Burgundy ($2.25)
Souverain Burgundy ($2.25)
Watch for three more issues of the 1971 Vine-Line Newsletter to be posted in August.