© 1998 JDM Enterprises
BELVEDERE UPDATEby Jerry D. Mead
My first introduction to Belvedere came through one of the founding partners back in the early 1980s. He was Peter Friedman, a roly- poly bundle of ideas and enthusiasm who already had a reputation as a marketing genius. He had created the concept of marketing the Sonoma Vineyards (later Rodney Strong) brand through traditional retail stores, while selling more wine direct to consumers than anyone via the Windsor label.
If the late Friedman could ever be accused of a failure, it was his original idea for Belvedere. His financial backer was a very successful investment banker (very big in Silicon Valley) named Bill Hambrecht (founder of Hambrecht & Quist), who went onto become involved in Chalone, Saintsbury, Ridge and was a backer of Doug Nalle and his now famous Zinfandel.
Friedman's idea sounded great on paper, and even translated to the bottle. Since the new enterprise owned no vineyards, it would contract with some of the most famous North Coast growers to make certain wines exclusively from their vineyards, and use the vineyard name as the brand name. Belvedere was only in small print.
So there was Winery Lake Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. Robert Young and Sangiacomo were already famous for supplying Chardonnay to other producers, so Belvedere would make different varieties from those famous growers, using the vineyard as the brand name.
The wines were good (some even exceptional), but the lack of a single cohesive brand was confusing to consumers, and then the vineyard brand with the most volume, Winery Lake, sold out to Seagram, leaving Friedman with no source of supply for his biggest seller.
None of this happened overnight, and all this time partner Hambrecht had been investing in other wineries and buying vineyards, his newest passion.
Friedman began the switch to the Belvedere brand, using some of the grape contracts already in hand and some of the vineyards recently acquired by Bill Hambrecht.
A few years later Hambrecht bought Friedman out, which brings us to the latest vision of Belvedere. It is now a vineyard driven brand, with the grapes sourced exclusively from Hambrecht estate owned vineyards in Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley.
Then there's the Grove Street brand which emphasizes value while employing some Hambrecht fruit, but also purchases fruit from as far afield as Argentina.
In the end, Bill Hambrecht turned out to be his very own wine genius. Kevin Warren is winemaker for both brands.
Belvedere 1996 "Sonoma" Chardonnay ($11) Two-thirds from Alexander Valley fruit and one-third from cool climate Russian River fruit, there's a lean, clean base of melon and citrus, complemented by nutmeg spice and oak vanillin. Very tasty; very good value. Rating: 86/88
Belvedere 1996 "Alexander Valley" Chardonnay ($13) Describing this wine gives me a chance to say 100 percent a bunch of times. It's 100 percent Chardonnay, 100 percent from Jimtown Ranch Vineyard and 100 percent barrel- fermented. Very ripe and tropical with an unusual note of tangerine citrus. Aggressive oak aromas and flavors. Most of the barrels are French-coopered American oak. Rating: 88/86
Belvedere 1996 "Russian River" Chardonnay ($18) is also 100 percent barrel-fermented, but in 100 percent French oak, 35 percent of which is brand new barrels for maximum extract. The cooler climate Russian River growing region evidences itself in lean citrus flavors. The French barrels show their medium to heavy char characteristics in very attractive, smoky, earthy bouquet and flavor complexities. A wonderful food companion. Rating: 92/87
Belvedere 1995 "Dry Creek" Merlot ($18) Big, bright, Boysenberry flavors. Bolder and more intensely flavored than many Merlots, but for all that extraction there is no harshness or astringency. Blended to 6 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 percent Cabernet Franc. Rating: 90/85
Belvedere 1994 "Dry Creek" Cabernet Sauvignon ($16) Wonderful wine and a quite good value. Blended to 5 percent of Cabernet Franc and a smidgen of other Bordeaux varieties, it has very deep, intense black cherry and cassis flavors with the slightest touch of eucalyptus, plus some smoky wood nuance. Delicious and powerful without being overpowering. Rating: 94/88
Belvedere 1995 "Dry Creek" Zinfandel ($18) From 50-60 year old vines in the best place on the planet to grow Zinfandel, this is a wine to buy by the case, worthy of keeping for 5-10 years. There's 15 percent Petite Sirah in the blend and another 5 percent of old vine mixed reds. Very ripe berry and plum with earthy, spicy flavors. Smoky oak notes; chewy mouthfeel and some pretty bold tannins, though not harsh and with sufficient fruit to see them resolved. Very long flavors. Rating: 95/88
Belvedere and Grove Street wines have reasonably good national availability and you can inquire about retail outlets in your area through: Hambrecht Wine Group, 4035 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448 (707) 433-8236.
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