GIII (G3) sounds like a hot new sports car, or maybe a reference to a summit meeting of finance ministers from the industrialized nations.
But it's actually shorthand wine-speak for one of the most revered vineyards in Napa Valley.
GIII, as it became known, was the third vineyard, which legendary winemaker Georges de Latour bought, in 1928, for his winery, Beaulieu Vineyards.
Latour’s three Beaulieu wine blocks, all in the tiny hamlet of Rutherford, are reputed to produce some of the best Cabernet in America. They certainly produce some of the most historically important, and critically acclaimed, wine in the country.
Georges de Latour, a chemist from Perigord, France, came to Napa Valley in 1883, in search of tartaric acid (cream of tartar), required to make baking powder. (One of the byproducts of winemaking is tartaric acid.)
Like so many of us today, Monsieur de Latour got hooked by the wine bug and began to buy more than just tartaric acid – he started to buy land and bought a winery.
Latour, in many ways the granddaddy of grape growers here, called his winery Beaulieu (“Pretty Site”). By 1913, his Rutherford winery could produce 126,000 cases of wine annually, mostly Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
The original blocks of land, which de Latour bought, are designated:
BV 1 (his first acquisition), on the west side of Highway 29, across from today’s BV winery. The block stretches west to the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains.
Today the 79-acre block is planted with all five classic Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
BV 2, the second purchased property, is adjacent and south of BV 1. These 125 acres are today planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Merlot.
BV3, when sold by Beaulieu became… GIII Aha! We finally get to the hero of today’s story and tasting. This 300-acre parcel, adjacent to what is Caymus Winery today, runs between Conn Creek Road and the Silverado Trail.
(Relax, this history portion of the story is nearly done! And besides it’s not on the final exam.)
Georges de Latour made many innovations in California’s wine industry. Most notably, turning to his French roots, he advocated using small oak barrels to age different varietals. This gave his wines a complexity and depth not seen before in American wines.
The best wine produced at BV has always been the Georges deLatour Private Reserve, first produced in 1936. At one point, running into quality issues, de Latour hired wine wizard Andre Tchelistcheff to modernize production. This was a brilliant move as Tchelistcheff elevated the wines – and the brand – to superstar status.
In 1988, Andy Beckstoffer, Napa Valley’s largest independent grape grower, bought GIII. Recognizing the historical importance of the vineyard, and knowing what great fruit it produces, Andy replanted with five updated Cabernet Sauvignon clones, changed the direction of the rows, imposed tighter vine spacing and opted for advanced trellising to improve quality and tonnage.
How we got to where we are today – the GIII tasting
One day in January, David Stoneberg, who is both editor and wine editor of the St. Helena Star, suggested to Andy Beckstoffer that he bring together a number of the winemakers who purchase his GIII grapes and conduct a blind tasting to celebrate the bounty of this historic vineyard.
Good thinking, David! Good work, Andy!
David and Monica Stevens, owners of 750 Wines, in St. Helena, amenable as ever, agreed to host the tasting. Only the winemakers and several members of the press were invited, napaman included.
Today, the fruit, which Andy Beckstoffer manicures and matures on the 300-acre GIII parcel, is sold to no fewer than 30 different producers who forge their own style of wine. The purpose of today’s tasting was to see if a common elegance, or thread of DNA, might be evident in the resultant wines.
The wines, tasted blind, were split into two flights and scored; 2008 wines, and then 2009 wines (with one 2010 barrel sample included as a ringer).
2008 Myriad, GIII Vineyard
Among the 2008 wines, napaman and the group shared a common opinion. We ranked the Myriad Cabernet as our favorite expression of GIII fruit. I noted that the wine had a lovely balance and elegance, and a syrupy texture bordering on silky.
On the Internet, this wine is $65.
2008 12 C GIII Vineyard
Napaman and the group were also of the same mindset about a wine called 12 C, which we ranked our second favorite of the 2008s. The wine exhibited plum and blackcurrant aromas and flavors and had an aromatic complexity suggesting that it may not be all Cab.
You can find this wine on the Internet for between $60 and $75.
2009 Fairchild Estate, GIII Vineyard
In the 2009 flight, my first choice, tasted blind, was the Fairchild Estate Cabernet. A gorgeous wine. The group, whose scores were added up and divided to get a group average, ranked this wine its second favorite.
I thought the wine had a sensual element, exhibiting soft ripe, as well as dried, fruit flavors.
At the winery, the wine is $145.
2009 Sojourn, GIII Vineyard
I ranked Sojourn Cellars my second favorite of the 2009 wines, while the group ranked it tops. The wine is made in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County.
At the winery, the wine is $95.
At the end of the tasting session, the winemakers were asked if they could detect a common thread in the wines, all made with GIII grapes.
Roy Piper, a Napa Valley winemaker and winewriter, voiced the opinion that there was noticeable acid (a good thing) in the wines and good loamy (soil) characteristics.
“These GIII wines are not uber-big, like the wines from Ta-Kalon vineyard (in Oakville) – they’re more restrained, exhibiting red fruit flavors rather than darker fruit flavors,” Roy noted.
Most of the winemakers agreed with Roy, as did I.
In the end: Could I isolate a GIII wine in a blind tasting of wines from many different Napa Valley vineyards? Absolutely NOT.
But what we learned from the tasting is that GIII grapes, under the tutelage of talented winemakers, can sure make one tasty beverage.