Mead On Wine
Last Week98 Indexsubscribearchive

© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Sonoma's historic Buena Vista Winery is nearing its 140th anniversary, a claim that can be made by very few American vintners. It also has one of the most colorful collections of owners.

Many wine histories tell the story of founder "Count" Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian adventurer (some say "brilliant entrepreneur," others say "flim flam man") who is presumed to have died as dinner for Nicaraguan alligators while attempting to establish a rum plantation.

Another colorful owner was Frank Bartholomew, a well known journalist in his day and former head of AP (Associated Press), who purchased 500 acres of Sonoma land a few years after Repeal of Prohibition without knowing an abandoned winery came with the property. Bartholomew asked wine historian Leon Adams if he knew the history of the property. After hearing the colorful story, Bartholomew decided to revitalize the vineyards, caves and winery, and actually made a profit where Haraszthy never had.

Next, a Los Angeles businessman expanded the vineyards, and just 20 years ago it was purchased by the German family, Racke, who are major producers in their homeland. Young Marcus Moller-Racke was, and is, the driving force behind the project, even though he was called home to Germany to take over all the family businesses. He now visits his beloved Buena Vista only a few times a year.

Moller-Racke was also a driving force in seeking and promoting appellation status for the now-famous Carneros growing region, that cool climate growing area just north of San Francisco Bay that runs through both Sonoma and Napa counties. Buena Vista is Carneros' largest vineyard owner, with nearly a thousand producing acres.

The last time I reviewed Buena Vista wines a few years back, new winemaker (formerly with Inglenook Napa Valley and Beaulieu Vineyard) Judy Matulich- Weitz was just releasing her first Buena Vista wines.

Buena Vista 1997 "California" Sauvignon Blanc ($8.75) The only wine in the Buena Vista line without a Carneros appellation. Still made from the Lake County fruit that has won it gold medals for more than a decade, it is a marketing blunder in my view that the Lake County designation has been relegated to the back label to be replaced with the meaningless "California." One could imagine the grapes came from Bakersfield! Still an excellent wine, there is a stylistic change from previous vintages. It is more the classic Sauvignon herbaceousness one would expect from other regions and less the super grapefruit with hints of mint that Lake County usually delivers. Winemaker Weitz swears it's nothing she changed and she believes it strictly a condition of the vintage. It is very good wine, with a dry perception and will be as at home with an oyster on the half shell or a swordfish steak. Rating: 87/87

Buena Vista 1996 "Carneros" Pinot Noir ($16) A good solid effort, with mostly deep cherry flavors. Oak is not the major statement here...fruit is. Rating: 88/84

Buena Vista 1995 "Carneros Reserve" Pinot Noir ($24) Worthy of the term "Reserve." Really intense, deep, deep black cherry flavors, with a little plum, smoke and truffle, for a very complex aftertaste that will only become more so with more time in bottle. Rating: 95/86

Buena Vista 1995 "Estate" Merlot ($19) Pricey, but not ridiculous. Really big as Merlots go, but Carneros seems to do that to the variety. Really concentrated flavors of black fruit including currant and cherry. There's a moderately astringent finish. It's Merlot that will age like a Cabernet. Rating: 87/82

Buena Vista 1994 "Carneros Reserve" Merlot ($26) Very attractive in every way. It's as big as the "Estate" reviewed above, but with elegance and refinement. And while the fruit flavors are much the same, there is very complex, heavy toast barrel flavors in the aftertaste and a much rounder finish. Rating: 94/84

Buena Vista 1995 "Carneros" Cabernet Sauvignon ($16) Lean structure; berry and green olive aromas and flavor. Nicely structured mouthfeel makes it an ideal food companion. Try it with everything from broiled tuna to a rare beefsteak. Rating: 88/84

Buena Vista 1994 "Carneros Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) Big but not aggressive. Lots of fruit, predominantly blackberry and plum. Powerful and lingering after-flavors promise greatness for the future. Rating: 92/84


Buena Vista 1996 "Carneros" Chardonnay ($14) The most dramatically improved wine in the line. Partially barrel-fermented with 14 months aging in mostly French oak "barriques." Very pleasant and appealing oak vanillin on mostly tropical and melon fruit. Great with crab legs, lobster, or a hunk of halibut. Case purchases highly recommended. Rating: 92/90

Buena Vista wines have broad national distribution, with the limited production Reserve wines more difficult to find. For information on local availability, or to arrange winery visits: Buena Vista, P.O. Box 182, Sonoma CA 95476 (707) 252-7117.


We've noted before that we are at a time when many pioneers from the modern wine industry are passing from the scene. Four such individuals have passed in recent days, each deserving a lengthy tribute for which I simply lack the space.

Roy Raymond, Sr. (83), patriarch of Raymond Vineyard & Winery, was the fellow who married the boss's daughter (last name of Beringer) and made wine and managed Beringer Brothers Winery for nearly 40 years until it sold to Nestle Corp. With proceeds from the sale and the help of his two sons, Roy, Jr. and Walt, Raymond Vineyards was founded nearly 30 years ago.

Bruce Galphin (65) started writing about wine in 1970 and was wine columnist for the Atlanta Constitution ever since. Galphin was the author of several books, former editorial associate of the Constitution, managing editor of Atlanta magazine, a civil rights activist before it was fashionable and an international wine judge.

Julius "Jake" Jacobs (84) was a freelance wine writer, former public relations associate of Wine Institute and founder or co-founder of several important wine appreciation organizations, including the Military Order of Wine Tasters.

Alfred Fromm (93), wine industry leader and dedicated philanthropist, has an unbelievable list of credits. A refugee from Nazi Germany, the Bavarian native came from a vintner family for which he had been export manager prior to the war. At one time, his firm Fromm & Sichel marketed the wines of both The Christian Brothers and Paul Masson, major brands in their day. A major supporter of education, Fromm established numerous scholarships.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
The Mead On Wine WebSite is designed, maintained and hosted by Wines on the Internet.