Bacigalupi family legacy

August 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Family History

Charles and Helen Bacigalupi

In 1956 my grandparents–Charles and Helen Bacigalupi–purchased 121 acres on Westside Road, a few miles south of town. In a simple beginning, Grandpa began to care for the 16 acres of existing vineyards. Envisioning the demand for premium wine grapes, Paul Heck  encouraged Charles to plant chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In 1964, Grandpa began his plantings with six acres of each varietal. Eventually he obtained pinot noir bud wood from Karl Wente, the first well documented plantings of Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. He remembers Wente telling him the stock had come from France via the family’s old vineyard in Livermore.

Our family name (Bacigalupi)  gained recognition during the 1976 Paris tasting when the 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Château Montelena made with 40% of our fruit triumphed over many acclaimed French wines. This event was to be the turning point in America’s global wine image.

Our vineyards now consists of 125 acres of premium grapes, which have been planted and managed for the past 30 years by my father John Bacigalupi and our family. The John Tyler wine label is the realization of a dream for our family who has roots in the wine industry stretching over four generations. Looking towards the future, we hope to continue our legacy of premium grape growing and wine making for many years to come.

The vineyard sites


Chardonnay vine in the Paris tasting block

Goddard Ranch
Purchased by my grandparents; Charles and Helen Bacigalupi in 1956 this ranch is the homestead of our family and the oldest ranch that we farm. With stewardship of this site for over a half a century this vineyard includes the Paris tasting block of Chardonnay. This Chardonnay which is planted to an old Wente clone is the main source for the legendary 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris Tasting and helped to put the California wine industry on the map. Total Acres: 120 

Budbreak at the Bloom Ranch

Bloom Ranch
Originally planted as a walnut orchard in the early 1960’s our family bought the property in 1973 from the Bloom’s.  Now solely planted to Chardonnay this vineyard’s proximity to the Russian River provides an optimum growing environment. Total Acres: 80

Frost Ranch in the morning

 Frost Ranch
Located a stone’s throw away from the Russian River Valley this vineyard site is the source of the John Tyler Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Bought by the Bacigalupi Family in 1990 this area is known for its unique climate; cool mornings and warm afternoons. There are 6 clones of Pinot Noir planted here including Pommard, Wente, Wadonsville and several types of the Dijion clone along with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Total Acres: 60  

Dijion Clone 115

Alexander Valley Ranch Originally purchased in 1983 the Alexander Valley’s variety of micro climates support the growth of many wine grape varieties. Long, warm days create an environment that enables noble red varietals to excel. Currently planted to Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Total Acres: 15

An upset in the world of wine ~ The 1976 Paris Tasting

The 1960s was the first time Charles Bacigalupi had ever heard of Chardonnay. Bob Sisson, the University of California farm adviser for Sonoma County at that time began advising Russian River Valley growers to try planting Chardonnay. Charles obtained the budwood for the Chardonnay from Karl Wente and planted 14 acres of it in 1964.

In 1973 the Bacigalupi’s sold their Chardonnay to Chateau Montelena, a winery in Napa Valley. The winemaker at the time was Miljenko Mike Grgich. He made 1,800 cases of the 1973 chardonnay which amounted to just over 40 tons from local growers — about 20 tons from Henry Dick in Alexander Valley, 14 tons from the Bacigalupi’s in Russian River Valley and the remaining 5 tons from Napa Valley growers John Hanna and Lee Paschich.The wine was fermented extremely slowly and spent six months in French oak barrels before bottling.

Weigh tag from Chateau Montelena

The famed Paris tasting was arranged by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who ran a wine-shop and the Académie du Vin, a school for tourists and Frenchman in Paris. The wines were limited to two types, chardonnay, the grape that made the best whites in California and France, and cabernet sauvignon, the grape that made the best reds in both areas.

The wines tasted were transatlantic cousins – four white Burgundies against six California Pinot Chardonnays and four Grands Crus Chateaux reds from Bordeaux against six California Cabernet Sauvignons. According to it’s organizers the event was not “a competitive tasting, but an opportunity to acknowledge that a young vineyard area can produce top-quality wines, given the same love, interest, skill, and money that has been lavished on European vineyards for centuries.” The American entries were all from California and were hand picked and transported to Paris.

The tasting was blind and included a panel of nine French judges, all experts ranging from esteemed sommeliers to three star restaurant owners and well known wine journalists. Each judge was asked to evaluate the wines as to color, bouquet, palate and balance and to give each a numerical rating on a scale of 20 possible points. The results: Chateau Montelena, 132; Meursault – Charmes, 126.5; Chalone Vineyards, 121; Spring Mountain, 104; Beaune Clos des Mouches, 101; Freemark Abbey, 100; Batard Montrachet 94; Puligny-Montrachet, 89; Veedercrest Vineyards, 88; and David Bruce, 63.

The Paris tasting revolutionized the wine industry and declared that great wines could be grown in California. In his book The Judgment of Paris, George Taber, the only journalist there has documented the actual events of the famed tasting. Without this book and other media coverage the tasting might have been dismissed as a one-time fluke or publicity stunt. Instead, the Paris Tasting unquestionably changed the way the wine world looked at California wine.

The Paris tasting block of

The Paris tasting block still remains and produces fruit

The Paris tasting block of Chardonnay on the Bacigalupi ranch still exists today, untouched. The family vows to keep the vineyard the same until it’s pushed out its last grape. Currently the fruit is sold to Rudd Winery in Oak ville.

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