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ON WINE

Ruby Souvenir : Buena Vista's L'Annee Commemorates the Winery's 130th Birthday

October 04, 1987|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

FIVE SKY DIVERS in gray tuxedos dropped out of the sky above the Buena Vista Carneros vineyard where 80 guests were assembled for "the introduction of a commemorative bottling celebrating the winery's 130th anniversary." Looking up in amazement, the guests watched in awed silence as the aerialists made pinpoint landings only yards away, detached themselves from their parachutes and, walking forward, removed magnums of L'Annee from chest pouches and poured forth the celebration wine. There was wild applause, ceasing only as glasses were handed to each guest to sample the ruby souvenir poured by the tuxedo'd parachutists.

Applause is also due to young (31) Marcus Moller-Racke, under whose leadership for the last six years Buena Vista has re-established itself as one of California's premium wineries, with 1,700 acres of land in the Napa and Sonoma valleys and production of 95,000 cases annually. In 1985, two years after Moller-Racke's takeover as president of the winery and the appointment of Jill Davis as wine maker, Buena Vista set an all-time record at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair by winning five gold medals, walking away with a total of 18 awards. By year's end, in other competitions, the number of medals reached 99. In 1986, 31 Buena Vista wines won more than 100 medals.

To celebrate the winery's birthday--it was established in 1857 by the celebrated "father of the modern California wine industry," Count Agosto Haraszthy of Hungary--Moller-Racke conducted an industrywide seminar to explore "Vintage 2000--A Challenge to Meet the Future." The morning saw the sky divers' thrilling performance, and the afternoon brought eight significant mentors of the wine industry to a discussion of the "Vintage 2000 problems, hopes and prophecies."

The late-afternoon seminar, chaired by Gerald Asher, was a mixture of optimism and pessimism, punctuated with occasional laughter but more often frowns as the menace of neo-Prohibitionists and their legislative moves was articulated. Richard Maher, president of Christian Brothers, forcefully declared that "the 21st Century will bring a golden age of wine as never seen before, with an even bigger and better boom, and better wine," but that we would have "some painful bumps in the process."

Later, at table, each of us had taken turns examining L'Annee's label, a bold, stylistic change from the sedate, traditional Buena Vista label. It was in shades of gray, gold and white accented with splashes of lavender, the title name in bold calligraphy, making this 1984 Carneros Red Table Wine one of the most impressive proprietary bottlings ever produced in the state.

L'Annee has been bottled in wooden cases, three magnums each; 8,000 bottles were produced, with a suggested retail price of $30 per magnum. It will be sold only at the winery and at selected retail outlets. It is destined to become a valuable collectors' item. Made of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is delicious to drink even now or to cellar for years, with strong traces of cherry and berries and suggestions of subtle fruit and spice in the aroma. Aged in small French oak barrels for 14 months, L'Annee echoes the toasty incense from the wood, though it does not overpower the fruit.

It is an exceptional wine commemorating an exceptional anniversary; it is worth a special journey, in Michelin verbiage, to bring this wine to your cellar and table.

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