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The Behind The Scenes Story Of How We Won The 1976 Paris Tasting

By Stephen Eliot

We often talk about just how far Chardonnay has come in California, and, considering that Chardonnay acreage in California has grown from a couple of hundred acres in 1960 to nearly 100,000 today, it is story worth telling. What is often overlooked, however, in today’s debate about styles and what is and is not the “right” way to make it, is the people who made it happen. I was reminded of just that last week on the sunny first day of Summer standing in one of the state’s oldest Chardonnay vineyards with a family that has quietly made an indelible mark on California’s vinous history. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Bacigalupi Vineyards’ first plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Back in the mid-1950s, Charles and Helen Bacigalupi purchased 121 acres on Westside Road in what is now the Russian River Valley appellation. At the urging of family friend, Paul Heck of Korbel, the Bacigalupis planted a half-dozen acres each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1964. While the block of Pinot Noir is notable insofar as it is among the earliest documented plantings of Pinot in what is now viewed by many as one of California’s finest locales for the grape, it is the Chardonnay parcel, in particular, that is regarded with special reverence. It was a source for a significant percentage of the grapes that went in to the legendary Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay that famously won the Paris Tasting of 1976 and announced to the world that California could more than hold its own in the world of fine wine.

Sadly, Charles passed away last year, but three generations of Bacigalupis, with Helen going strong, still farm the vineyard and were on hand to welcome a few friends and fans to a traditional blessing of the vines. We walked through the rows with a celebratory glass of sparkling wine in hand (Korbel, of course) and history became deeply personal. It was not about soil types, aspect and exposure, it was about the people who have made and continue to make fine wine happen.

French vignerons regard the human touch as a fundamental and immutable aspect in the hallowed concept of terroir, and, on Saturday last, that simple notion was as palpable as the afternoon sun and a reminder of the simple fact, that irrespective of winemaking vision and talent, it all starts with quality fruit and the folks who grow it.

Three generations: Pam, John, Katey, Helen and Nicole Bacigalupi


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by Jim
Posted on:6/26/2014 8:20:37 PM

Dear Cousins,

Congrats for 50 years & here's to the next 50. I'm glad somebody in the family has good news.


Jim & Sue

Baacigalupi chard
by Tom Grace
Posted on:6/26/2014 9:06:33 PM

California cousins,

Great article on wine from a great family. 


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