Plan and pictures of the caves of Moet et Chandon circa 1896.

October 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Fig 1. Plan des caves basses. [1]

Fig 1. Plan des caves basses. [1]

Historic images related to Moet & Chandon have appeared in this blog before under the subject of the 1899 harvest description.  In this post I simply present a fantastic plan of the centuries old caves of Moet & Chandon.  I have spared description but from the plan I believe you may determine which sections are older and which are newer.  I have also included two images from the same period.  If you look close you may see how they were electrified.  I must admit, I wish the bottles in my basement continued along the wall as far as I could see.

Fig. 2. Vue d'une cave haute. [1]

Fig. 2. Vue d’une cave haute. [1]

Fig 4. Bouteilles entrayees et ouvrier en travail devant un pupitre. [1]

Fig 4. Bouteilles entrayees et ouvrier en travail devant un pupitre. [1]

[1] Ferrouillat and Charvet. Les Celliers Construction et Materiel Vinicole. 1896. Gallica, Bibliotheque Numerique.

A new wine from Nicolas Chemarin

October 23, 2014 Leave a comment

I purchased my first bottle of 2011 Nicolas Chemarin, Les Vignes de Jeannot, Beaujolais-Villages based on the recommendation of Phil.  I have now gone through a few more bottles.  Nicolas Chemarin is a new name for me and one I recommend you look out for.  He is the fourth generation to farm his family’s property.  This land includes five hectares of vineyards spread in Marchampt, Regnie, and Morgon.  This particular wine is made from fruit sourced from the oldest vines that are 60+ years of age on steep slopes of granite over sandy loam.  The fruit is mostly de-stemmed, fermented with indigenous yeasts, then aged on the lees for six months.  Sulphur is only used at bottling.  The wine itself is attractive with dark, calm flavors.  It has good depth of flavor but remained dense, suggesting it should develop over the winter.   At $18 this is a wine whose evolution you should follow.  This wine was purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2011 Nicolas Chemarin, Les Vignes de Jeannot, Beaujolais-Villages – $18
Imported by Wine Traditions.  This wine is a blend of Gamay with Jus Blanc.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The slightly tart black fruit had a round edge with as well as ripeness.  The acidity was noticeable on the sides or the tongue.  There is not much in the way of tannins but the wine does have a wood note.  **(*) 2015-2018.


A label from and two pictures of Fountain Grove Winery, Sonoma County

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

1938 Fountain Grove, Riesling label. Yale University Library. [0]

1938 Fountain Grove, Riesling label. Yale University Library. [0]

Fountain Grove was established in 1875 by Thomas Lake Harris who founded the Brotherhood of the New Life.  He had already established three colonies in New York by 1861.  Fountain Grove was a Theo-Socialist community located on 700 acres just north of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California.   The community initially operated a dairy business but that failed within five years.  After planting vineyards and establishing a winery the community was producing 70,000 gallons of wine a year by 1886.  The community eventually failed in 1920 at which time Kanaye Nogasawa, one of the colonists, because sole owner of the winery.  He maintained the winery until it foundered in the 1930s.

Exterior, General View, Northwest Corner, Fountain Grove Winery. [1]

Exterior, General View, Northwest Corner, Fountain Grove Winery. [1]

Interior of vat, Fountain Grove Winery. [1]

Interior of vat, Fountain Grove Winery. [1]

[0] Fountaingrove. America and the Utopian Dream. Yale University Library. URL:
[1] Fountain Grove Winery, Vat Buildings, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, CA. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. URL:

Excellent wines, both familiar and unfamiliar, from Italy

October 22, 2014 1 comment

I remember the San Felice, Il Grigio, Chianti Classico Riserva from my high school days when we would periodically dine at an Italian restaurant in the Seven Corners.   I remember the wine more than the food , which surely was decant, but I would not be surprised if we went there to drink the wine.  The latest vintage is a good effort that needs further aging then should drink well for some time.  A new wine to me is the 2011 Casa del Bosco, Nebbiolo, Coste della Sesia.  This is a fantastic wine with flavors that match the images on the Louis/Dressner website.  The village of Casa del Bosco was originally built as a hunting resort a long time ago so they obviously needed vineyards to supply wine.  There are only 20 producers of Coste della Sesia so this is a unique opportunity to taste these wines.  This particular wine is made in old cellars dating to the late 1700s and fermented in concrete vats built in 1910.  This old-school wine even has its labels glued on by hand.  While I do not think this is a wine for the long-haul, I would cellar it for half a year so that it may open up further.  For those with less patience and the eternally curious you must try the 2012 Benito Ferrara, Quattro Confini, Aglianico, Irpinia.  This is an expressive version of Aglianico that has grip and tension.  Not all wines have tension but when they do you want to taste more to see how the flavors play out.  These wines were purchased at MacArthur Beverages.


2010 San Felice, Il Grigio, Chianti Classico Riserva – $23
Imported by  San Felice USA.  This wine is 100% Sangiovese which was aged for 24 months in a combination of large Slavonian casks and French barrqiues.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose of herbed potatoes made way to very gentle flavors in the mouth.  There was black fruit in the middle, some ripe texture and gum coating tannins from the structure.  This is good, clean, solid Chianti that will age.  It needs a few hours of air right now but will reveal gently, sweet fruit.  **(*) 2015-2020.


2011 Casa del Bosco, Nebbiolo, Coste della Sesia – $23
Imported by Louis/Dressner.  This wine is a blend of 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Croatina that was fermented in vats built in 1910 then aged for 18 months in used barrels.  Alcohol 14%.  The nose was engaging with slightly stinky, earthy, Nebbiolo aromas.  In the mouth were ripe black and strawberry fruit that showed up front acidity.  This rustic wine had good flavors of black and red fruit along with extract.  **(*) Now-2017.


2012 Benito Ferrara, Quattro Confini, Aglianico, Irpinia – $18
Imported by deGrazia Imports.  This wine is 100% Aglianico sourced from vines at 600 meters.  It was aged in 30% barrqiues and 70% stainless steel.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose revealed cherries and other tart, pungent aromas.  The wine was quite open from the start with pungent, rounded flavors that showed mid palate grip.  The black mineral flavors had tar-like notes, salivating acidity, and long ripe tannins on the gums.  There was lovely tension in this wine making it a grab choice to drink now.  *** Now-2017.

Samples and specimens at Chateau Lafite

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [4]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [4]

It appears that Mabel Hubbard Bell’s descriptions of the three main cellars at Chateau Lafite are more detailed than most, though she does not specifically answer what the “sample bottles” contained.[0]  Unfortunately, descriptions of Baron Rothschild’s private cellars appear to be rare.  Francis Beatty Thurber described the private cellars as containing “collected vintages of every year from 1810 to the present time, nearly all of which were in bottle.”[1]  These bottles included “specimens of the products of the Lafite vineyards” as well “other well known vineyards for comparison”.  These bottles were “systematically arranged, according to the various dates of production.”  Another visitor described the “private cave of the Rothschilds” as containing “80,000 bottles of the finest wines, not only of Medoc, but of Spain, Germany, and Italy.”[2]  A separate observation from the same period of “those wonderful cellars” describes “thousands of dozens of priceless bottle wine” from “every great growth and vintage of the present century.”[3]

We know from other accounts that the bulk of the vintage was sent off of the estate to merchants.  It appears then that “sample” or “specimen” bottles of Chateau Lafite were kept from part of the vintage.  These bottles were stored in the private cellars and represented vintages back to the beginning of the 19th century.  Whether these were bottled at the chateau and the quantity bottled are not yet known.  It would be interesting to determine if chateau-bottling, in part, stemmed from the practice of retaining samples.  If anyone has further descriptions of the private cellars please let me know!

[0] “[E]ach grape was [c]ut off with scissors!” The early bottled vintages of Chateau Lafite. Hogshead wine. URL:
[1] Thurber, Francis Beatty. Coffee, from Plantation to Cup. 1881. URL:
[2] Wheeler, Jewit Edward. Current Opinion, Volume 3. 1889. URL:
[3] Chapman and Hall. The Fortnightly Review, Volume 53. 1890. URL:
[4] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais. Premiere Part. 1867. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL:

Categories: History of Wine

A vineyard by Vincent van Gogh

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment
Alter Weinberg mit Bäuerin.  Vincent van Gogh. 1890. [1]

Alter Weinberg mit Bäuerin. Vincent van Gogh. 1890. [1]

[1] Gogh, Vincent van. Alter Weinberg mit Bäuerin. 1890. Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte – Bildarchiv Foto Marburg. URL:

“[E]ach grape was [c]ut off with scissors!” The early bottled vintages of Chateau Lafite

October 20, 2014 1 comment

Mabel Hubbard Bell, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell, visited Bordeaux during the summer of 1888.[1]  She wrote how “We have been buying a lot of wine here…some of it is really delicious.”  She was not just buying wine, she was visiting estates.  Her father’s wine merchant was also the agent of Baron Rothschild.  As a result her tour of Bordeaux included the Rothschild properties.  She wrote down rather specific details such that each vine bore 25 to 30 bunches of grapes and that the leaves are treated four or five times against mildew with sulphate of copper.  She was impressed how the horses and oxen never tread on the grapes “and none ever make a mistake even in the difficult operation of turning out of one row into another”.  From the Rothschild’s stock she even “bought some wine of such a fine quality that each grape was [c]ut off with scissors!”

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 5. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

At “Chateau Lafitte” the “Baron’s private cellars” were divided into four longer corridors with “bottled wine of different brands” that were valued at $200,000.  These bottles were given away by family to friends.  Another cellar contained three corridors with 162 casks per corridor or 486 casks of wine.  However, the most interesting description falls to the “sample cellar”.  This contained “sample bottles” from every vintage beginning with 1798.  Sample cellar seems to imply samples of Chateau Lafite wine.  Whether this means chateau-bottle wine instead of merchant bottle wine is not clear.  Unfortunately, the number of bottles of each vintage is not stated.

In Cyril Ray’s Lafite (1985) appears the section “The Earliest chateau-bottled Lafite?” where the vintages of 1846 and 1797 were variously stated as the first chateau-bottled Lafite according to the unsubstantiated accounts of Warner Allen and Andre Simon.  The vintage of 1846 had been stated as the first Chateau-bottle Lafite as early as 1920 and I wonder if Clarets and Sauternes was Andre Simon’s authority.[2]  Warner Allen moved from 1846 back to 1797 as the first bottled vintage for unstated reasons in A History of Wine (1961).  At the Heublein auction of 1971 it was stated 1846 was the first bottled vintage.[3]  The use of the later vintage could be simply due to the two bottles of 1846 Lafite that were included in the auction!  It is perhaps due to unearthed documentation that the vintage was shifted back to 1797.  This vintage also survived in bottle for Clive Coates MW writes in Grand Vin (1995) that 1797 “is the earliest vintage remaining in the Lafite vinotheque.”

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Page 6. Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23, 1888. [1]

Cyril Ray writes that according to records there were no chateau-bottlings between 1885-1906 and that 1876-1885 were the phylloxera years.  That the 1797 bottling may have been “an isolated experiment, and that for the next half-century bottling was by Bordeaux and by English merchants.”  Mabel Hubbard Bell wrote that there were sample bottles “from each years vintage beginning with the year 1798.”  Could Mabel Hubbard Bell’s samples represent chateau-bottled Lafite albeit in small amounts?  Could the 1797 vintage lying in the vinotheque be the same at Mabel Hubbard Bell’s sample bottle of 1798?  What happened to all of the other sample bottled vintages?

[1] Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Eliza Symonds Bell, June 23. MSS51268: Folder: Eliza Symonds Bell, Family Correspondence, Mabel Hubbard Bell, 1888-1890. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. URL:
[2] The Wine and Spirit Trade Record. Clarets and Sauternes. 1920. URL:
[3] “1846 Lafite to captivate bidders.” Press release of Heublein, Inc. ca. 1971. URL:

Categories: History of Wine

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