Beringer – Exploring a Napa Valley Original’s Private Reserve Label

Beringer holds an important place in Napa Valley and American wine history. They were one of the original pioneers of Napa Valley in the late 1800’s. In fact, they claim to be California’s longest continually operating winery – 145 years – having survived Prohibition producing sacramental wine and grape bricks.

Jacob Beringer arrived in Napa Valley, from Germany in 1869 and began working for Charles Krug. In 1875, he and his brother Frederick purchased 215 acres and got busy creating what is now the Beringer estate. They produced 18,000 cases of wine the first year – wow.

I believe these trees still flank the front of the Beringer property. Photo courtesy of Beringer website.

When you are one of the first wineries to exist in a region, it stands to reason you are credited for many firsts, and Berginer is no exception. They had one of the first gravity fed production facilities, one of the first underground caves, and perhaps most importantly, the they were the first to operate tours to the public. The tours began in 1934, following Prohibition. They actively marketed these tours and many high profile actors and politicians of the time visited. Those Beringer brothers had some foresight and ingenuity didn’t they? This has to be the first act of agrotourism in the United States, and certainly helped shape the Napa Valley of today.

And you thought Napa was crowded today? Photo courtesy of Beringer website.

There is no getting around the fact that today Beringer is a mega producer. In fact, they are owned by Treasury Estates, so they are a mega producer owned by a conglomerate. This kind of production is often criticized by wine enthusiasts. Small, independent producers, the rogue souls who buck the system and forge their own path against all odds are the champions of today. I think all of this might look a little different through the lens of 1875. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Beringer as it was the Beringer Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that was once my favorite wine. It currently retails for $9.99, and I’ll be honest, I haven’t had a bottle in at least decade, but factoring in that rock bottom price, and a little sentimentality, I bet I’d still like it today.

The Founder’s Estate Cab was the wine that hooked me. Fast forward too many years to count, and I have formal wine education, a growing cellar, and a love of wine that will never go away. I feel this is an important argument against dismissing large producers with low price tag options. All wine lovers start somewhere and it is rarely with something that ranks among the great wines of the world.

Perhaps it is a bit ironic that I didn’t discover until recently that Beringer makes higher end wines – the Private Reserve label. So, let’s take a look at this 2019 Private Reserve Chardonnay.

Beringer| 2019 Private Reserve Chardonnay|14.9 % ABV|$48.00

Photo credit Side Hustle Wino

The wine maker for this wine is Mark Beringer, the 8th wine maker in the winery’s history, and the great, great grandson of Jacob Beringer. That’s kind of awesome isn’t it? Mark Beringer handed the reigns off in 2021, but how incredible to is it to be able to continue a family legacy in this way?

The Private Reserve label began in 1977 with the introduction of the use of French oak for fermentation and aging for these wines. The goal was to create the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but Chardonnay was included the following year.

The grapes for this wine are 100% Chardonnay and come from the Gamble Ranch vineyard in the Oakville AVA. This is the northernmost vineyard that Beringer uses for Chardonnay, which is actually very centrally located in the Napa Valley. It benefits from the San Pablo Bay fog giving the area large diurnal shifts that vines love. Each vineyard lot is harvested, fermented and aged separately, with only the best of those chosen for blending into this wine.

Fermentation occurs in 100% French oak (64% new). The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation with weekly batonnage giving the wine its voluptuous mouthfeel. There is noticeable acidity which perfectly balances all that creamy richness. Somehow, that 14.9% ABV is not at all noticeable. It is very expressive with aromas of citrus, honeysuckle, stone fruit, and a whiff of minerality. On the palate is has fresh apple pie – is that even a thing? – stone and tropical fruit.

It’s really a beautiful wine and perfectly priced for a nice splurge that doesn’t break the bank completely. If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know I’m a sucker for the story and the history of any given wine and this one is hard to beat.

In some vague way, I can relate to the Beringer family story, as my great-great grandfather arrived in the United States, from Germany, in 1873, settling in Norwalk, Ohio. He too was a farmer, of land and cattle, owned a butcher shop, grocery store, and two saloons. Unfortunately the legacy ended a long time ago for reasons I will likely never know, but I’m assuming in favor of modern day jobs and careers. Nevertheless, after a glass or two of wine, it’s fun to think about history, life and legacy isn’t it?

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