Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Beringer Winery Revisited

For first time visitors to Napa Valley, I would place Beringer Winery at the top of the list of wineries that you simply must visit. I have been to Beringer Winery many times over the past forty years, more frequently than to any other winery.  Of the over 200 wineries I have visited, Beringer Winery is the one winery to which I always take friends and family when they first come to visit us.  Not only is it one of the most historical and famous Napa Valley wineries, but it is one of the most beautiful, with charming Victorian architecture and lovely gardens. Their wines are also excellent and range from easy to drink, affordable wines that should appeal to those who are new to wine, to some of the finest reserve and single vineyard wines in the world.  Their gift shops are extensive, and we have always found their friendly, well organized service to be among the finest.  Beringer is a winery that seems to have something for everybody, and all of those we have taken there have enjoyed their visit regardless of their level of interest in wines. In fact, it is one of the few wineries I take friends and relatives to visit even if they have no interest in wine.

Beringer Rhine House

The history of Beringer Winery is quite interesting. Jacob Beringer arrived in California in 1869 and worked as Cellar Foreman at Charles Krug Winery.  In 1875 he and his brother, Frederick, purchased 215 acres in St. Helena that were known as Los Hermanos.  It became the heart of the Beringer estate.  In 1885 the brothers planted the elm trees that still line the highway in front of the winery.  Beringer was one of the few Napa Valley wineries to continue to operate during the Prohibition Era.  From 1920 to 1933 it operated under a special federal license that allowed it to make wines for religious purposes.  When Prohibition was repealed in 1934, Beringer become the first Napa Valley winery to offer public tours.  In 1967 the 91 year old winery was registered as a State Historical Landmark.  In 1972 the Rhine House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2001 Beringer celebrated its 125th anniversary, making it the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley.

Beringer grounds

The beautiful Rhine House was designed by the architect Albert Schroepfer and was completed in 1884.  It has lovely stonework on the outside, with beautiful stained glass windows and extensive wood paneling on the inside.  The 17 room mansion was modeled after the Beringer family's German home on the Rhine.  It is described on the Beringer web page as "a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture with its many gables, turrets and ornaments."  Reserve tastings and another gift shop are offered inside the Rhine House.

Beringer Rhine House 

The Hudson House was built in 1850 and sat where the Rhine House is today.  After the Beringer Brothers bought the estate in 1875 they had the Hudson House lifted on to logs and moved by horses 200 feet north to where it sits now.

Beringer Hudson House

Regular tastings and the main gift shop are up in the Old Winery set against the hillside.  The Old Winery was built from 1876 to 1877.  Beringer also has 1,200 linear feet of wine caves in the hillside, hand dug during the 1870s and 1880s by Chinese immigrant workers.  Part of these wine caves may be seen during their tour.

Beringer Old Winery

If you are serious about wine, you must taste at the Rhine House where they offer reserve and low production wines of the highest quality.  If you are fortunate, you might have Eddie as your host.  Of the many hundreds of winery hosts we have had over the past forty years, Eddie has been one of our very favorites.  Courteous, informative, knowledgeable, and friendly, he is the epitome of the ideal wine host and has been at Beringer for about twenty years. We tip our hat and offer our special thanks to Eddie. We were fortunate enough to have him again as our host this time.

Beringer fountain

Our tasting began with the Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Chardonnay at $44.  This Chardonnay from Napa Valley grapes underwent 100% malolactic conversion and was aged in French oak with 80% of it being new French oak.  24,000 cases were produced.  It began with a very good nose of citrus with toasted vanilla and hints of honeysuckle and some mineral notes.  On the palate it was very ripe and lush with a round, rich sumptuous presentation of citrus, buttered toast and vanilla.  I often do not like a buttery Chardonnay that has this much malolactic conversion and oak on it, but this one has intense enough fruit and great acid along with minerality to perfectly balance the creamy richness.  A very nice Chard.  It was rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast.

Beringer stained glass door in Rhine House

Our second pour was the Beringer 2007 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon at $100.  This is a single vineyard Cab from up on Howell Mountain near Angwin where the elevation is about 1800 feet.  This was a classic year for Napa Valley Cabs, and this 2007 Steinhauer Ranch does not disappoint.  After a very good nose of black cherry and black currant, I got an extremely smooth entry of black currant, black cherry, and very good, well integrated tannins followed by a very nice medium plus length finish.  It was beautifully balanced and very drinkable now but should continue to age well.  Both of us really liked it and had to purchase some.

Beringer tasting bar in Rhine House

The third pour was the Beringer 2009 Chabot Cabernet Sauvignon also at $100.  This had a good blackberry nose with cherry and black currant on the palate.  It was full bodied, well structured with herbal, chocolate, spice and oak notes followed by a medium length finish.  Although quite drinkable now, it should continue to improve with age.  I thought it would be a great Cab to cellar for a few years.  An excellent Cab.

Beringer stained glass window in Rhine House

Our final pour was the Beringer 2009 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at $160. Their private reserve is Beringer's finest Cabernet and is a blend of their  best Cab grapes. I got ripe black cherry and blackberry on the nose along with some oak, vanilla, cedar and cigarbox.  On the palate I got mostly dark, ripe black cherry with mocha, oak, and tobacco in a well structured, full bodied presentation.  Finish was medium plus length and very pleasant.  As much as we both liked this 2009 Reserve, we thought the 2007 Steinhauer was also outstanding and perhaps represented a better value at $60 less.  The 2009 Private Reserve is an excellent Cab, however, as is every release of Beringer's Private Reserve Cab.  During our last review, we tasted the Beringer 2007 Private Reserve Cab in a flight tasting of their reserves, and it was simply awesome!  But then I usually love 2005 and 2007 Napa Valley Cabs, two outstanding years.

Beringer inside Rhine House

In addition to a very nice Chard and world class Cabs, Beringer produces many varietals well worth trying.  On previous visits I have been pleased with their Sauvignon Blancs, Cabernet Francs and Merlots.  Their port style Cabs in the past have been wonderful, but I did not see any available this time.  They continue to offer a very good Sauterne style sweet white wine called Nightingale. Many other varietals are available at a wide range of prices starting at only $15 a bottle. Beringer also has an incredible wine library of old and rare releases, possibly the most extensive in all of Napa Valley.  It all adds up to a Napa Valley winery you simply must visit!

Beringer patio outside Rhine House

2000 Main St
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 967-4412
Date of current visit and review: May 14, 2014
Date of previous review: May 7, 2011 Beringer Winery Previous Review

Beringer is open to the public without an appointment, although tours and special tastings need to be scheduled.  They receive many visitors on weekends and during summer months, especially in the afternoon. We usually visit weekdays or mornings. When you do visit, be sure to go to their "Welcome Center" when you first arrive; they will help you to determine which tasting option(s) meets your interests. At the time of our visit, tastings at the Old Winery were $20 and tastings at the Rhine House were $25. Food pairings are also available, and Beringer is in the Napa Neighbor Program. For current information regarding tastings and tours please see: Tasting and tours

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