California’s first premium winery continues excellence
Whether or not you trace back California winemaking to pre Gold Rush days or after Prohibition, grape and wine production in California rivals any region in the world. And as we tasted through three wines from a reborn Buena Vista Winery, our appreciation for this Sonoma winery goes beyond its historic sites.
Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, the self-proclaimed “Count”, Buena Vista Winery is California’s first premium winery.
The Count’s passion for innovation and excellence not only led to California’s first premium winery, but also to the development of the California wine world as we know it today. The Count saw the grand vision for producing fine wine in Sonoma County, and Buena Vista was his vinicultural laboratory.
He created the first gravity flow winery in California and excavated the first wine caves. The Count had been the first to experiment with Redwood barrels for aging and fermenting, and he brought over 300 different varieties from Europe to California.
Now fast forward to last week, Geena and I paired three Buena Vista wines over the course of a week, tasting new releases from the winery known for “purple gold” – the perfect ‘terroir’ and exceptional wines. While the winery’s revival is well documented, we had not sampled Buena Vista wines for years.
The impetus behind this week with Buena Vista was an invitation from the folks at thewininghour.blogspot.com. Owner and leader Lin shared how this historic winery created the first California property to make a true Champagne in Champagne. I was hooked and looked forward to receiving my shipment and began reading its history.
We learned the Buena Vista property already was producing wine on an old, dry-farmed vineyard on the site pre Gold Rush. In 1852, under the direction “The Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa of Hungary, the 800-acre ranch was purchased and developed.
The Count understood that great wine comes not just from great grapes, but also from great terroir—that magical combination of all the attributes of a particular site required to create remarkable wines—from the soil, to the climate, to the site’s exposure to the sun, to the vine itself. Upon first experiencing Sonoma, The Count knew immediately that this was going to be that perfect place for producing superb wines.
Throughout the decades, The Count’s innovation and legacy have been passed down to others over the years; the property’s historic relevance and central role in California’s history kept the winery alive and producing wines during difficult years. And while others owned a produced wine on the property, it wasn’t until after World War II ended that the vineyards began their journey to a premium winery location.
However, after it was reborn, after Prohibition and first vintage in 1949, the winery and its owners began to promote innovation, championing new winemaking techniques to the state—including cold fermentation and the process of aging wine in small French oak barrels—thereby once again contributing to the rebirth of California’s incredible wine industry.
Our first taste of Buena Vista Wine was just after we opened a bottle of 2014 The Count Founder’s Red Wine blend ($20). I popped the cork just after 2 p.m. and decanted it for 30 minutes before sending it back to the bottle. I wanted to open it up a little before sipping while we prepared dinner (a common practice of mine with young wines).
The fact is cooking and tasting both wine and the foods as we create is so important. While we often will look at up dozens of receipes in the planning process of our meals, we test taste, herbs, spices, simmering broths and sauces ALONG with wine to determine which food and wine pairings compliment each other.
Sourced from vineyards across Sonoma County, the 2014 vintage of The Count – Founder’s Red Wine offers aromas of rich, dark chocolate and soft baking spices, blending 8 varietals. Aromas include dark chocolate, dark berry, plum with hints of cinnamon and vanilla (baking spices). Nicely strucured and well-balanced, this wine has a long, dense finish that lingers long after the first sip.This immediately enjoyable wine will continue to evolve in the bottle over the next two to three years.
We paired The Count with pan-fried Mexican flat iron steak that we had covered with an oil, chipotle and cracked pepper run for a couple of hours. While those sat, we prepared roasted red peppers, cooked up a pot of spiced refried beans, sliced avocados and mangos and blood orange wedges.
Our second Buena Vista wine pairing coincided with a stormy, wet, and cold January night. We had planned on a second steak dinner the night before, opening the Cab, hoping to pair it with ribeye. However, the storm changed our minds.
The weather report predicted an epic cold front and storm far beyond “dreary and wet” in the San Joaquin Valley a couple days later. So we were a bit nervous as we had already opened the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) and were eager to try it, not wanting to wait another night.
“Is it versatile and pair with a hearty, Italian soup?” Oh boy, we were thrilled.
The Cab is rich, lush and opulent. Red currant, blackberry, black plum and black, dusty cherry with just a hint of chocolate and even coffee. The dark, subdued dark fruit flavors were delicious with the soup my wife calls, “Mimi’s Soup” after her great aunt who made the family recipe for nearly 90 years.
So Mimi’s Soup takes center stage: Chopped vegetables (whatever is in the kitchen, pantry and fridge at time of creation, including kale, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, stewed and/or fresh tomatoes, bits of potato) spices, white and kidney beans, orzo etc. We cook the Italian sausage separately with spices, onions and garlic (at the end), adding beef stock and top with Parmesan cheese.
This is a showstopper all around. Love how versatile the Cabernet is and I know this would pair well with lighter grilled meats. Wilfred Wong of Wine.com calls the 2013 Chateau Buena Vista Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the “poster child” of the winery. He’s not far from the truth.
Buena Vista Winery joined the Boisset Collection in May 2011. Today, Proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset is returning Buena Vista to its original glory with the complete restoration and re-opening of the champagne cellars, which have been unavailable to the public for over 20 years. Buena Vista wines are being driven to greater heights under winemaker Brian Maloney and winemaking consultant David Ramey, including the reintroduction of Sonoma, in honor of where it all began.
Our final Buena Vista wine actually was created as a Boisset Family Wine and from their collection in Champagne, France. Yes, they have a marvelous sparkling wine from France called Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne ($75!
Later during our Buena Vista week, we had so much fun thinking about and pairing this Champagne with all sorts of foods and came up with three or four that really seemed to capture our attention. The sparkling was elegant and paired so well with an assortment of appetizers.
We set the table with sour cream & onion potato chips, sour cream and caviar, mixed Italian olives, puffed pastry and Brie with sour cherry preserves, and finally smoked salmon, cucumber, shallots over a dollop of Crème Fraîsch with dill, lemon oil and lemon peel on a Spanish Regains “Tapas” Sesame Cracker from Pardners Pantry, Atascadero.On a side note, I must admit, I did save a little Buena Vista Champagne for a late night popcorn and movie time. One of my favorite snacks all around.
Anyway, the sparking is sourced from 70% Pinot Noir Premier Cru vineyards from Montaigne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly.
Love the Champagne’s elegant mouthfeel with grapefruit, honey and brioche aromas. It is so well-balanced with white stone fruit, peach and peach notes. We really enjoyed this sparkling with so many different snacks. And, I know it will go so well with most anything.
The Buena Vista wine cellars have undergone extensive restoration from 2011 to 2015 when the renovation was completed. Once again, Buena Vista is becoming the embodiment of the California wine world.
This is the vision that Count Agoston Haraszthy predicted 150 years ago and continues with Jean-Charles Boisset to today, and like many of his other visions for the Golden State, today it has come true.
Today the hope and vision of The Count has been restored and reinvented again. Jean-Charles Boisset and his family purchased the Buena Vista Winery in 2011, beginning a two-year renovation that has refocused and renewed Buena Vista Winery into a world class site. They join a collection historic wineries as part of Boisset Family Estates. Buena Vista produces over 25 varietals of still wines as well as sparkling wines from both California and France.
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