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Guenoc Estate Vineyards and Winery


92-Points, says the Wine Spectator

By far the most difficult aspect in writing about Guenoc and Langtry Estate Vineyards and Winery is simply where to start. Guenoc, as it is known through out the wine industry, is a virtual cornucopia of the choicest ingredients, including romance, history and the arts. It is also in the opinion of many consumers, one of the finest wineries in the entire world.

Guenoc began its existence in the late 19th Century through the efforts of the celebrated Lillie Langtry, a professional beauty who was labeled the Jersey Lily and who was probably the most painted and admired model of her era. She became a great actress and it was also alleged that she was the mistress of King Edward VII. For one reason or another, Lillie Langtry left England and came to California, where in 1888, she acquired the Guenoc Ranch in Lake County. The property was one of the last original Mexican land grants and was originally named after St. Guenoc, a little known Scottish saint. She fell in love with the property and immediately declared her intention to produce the finest claret in the country. She worked actively at that goal for 18 years until she sold the property in 1906 and retired to Monaco.

Skip ahead to 1963 and Orville Magoon, recently arrived from Hawaii, where his family had just exchanged some prime island property slated to expand the University of Hawaii for a 23,000-acre parcel in Northern California. No strangers to intrigue and history, Magoon’s family traces back to Hawaiian royalty and Chinese nobility.

Orville Magoon was by trade a coastal engineer, with a Masters in Civil Engineering from Stanford working with the US Army Corps of Engineers. His family’s newly acquired property was initially used as a cattle ranch. Prompted by his mother Genevieve to get into something more romantic, Magoon researched the property. He soon discovered its wine history including the fact that the first vineyards were planted as early as 1854. As an added treat, Orville Magoon also uncovered the remains of six small wineries on the property. He immediately planted some 300 acres and set out to fulfill Lillie Langtry’s dream.

Magoon became friends with emerging winemakers including Dan Duckhorn, Walt Raymond and John Parducci who steered him in the direction of upscale wines. He traveled to Bordeaux and gleaned the basic ingredients that were to shape his winery’s growth and direction for the next thirty-plus years.

In 1980, the first wines appeared under the Guenoc Winery label. Less than a year later, a 1200-acre section of Guenoc’s property, officially called Guenoc Valley, distinguished the winery by being designated the first officially recognized single-proprietor appellation in the United States. It was also the time that upscale wine shops and restaurants around the country begun to recognize the importance of the Guenoc label to their customers.

Magoon was also heavily involved in the development of the Meritage (rhymes with ‘heritage’ as opposed to the French pronunciation) movement and worked actively to secure its status within the wine industry. His former exposure to the extensive wine blending that already dominated the great Chateaux of Bordeaux and his fervent dedication to Bordeaux varietals made him the perfect inspiration for such actions. He chose to market his Meritage creations under the Langtry label, in homage to his property’s founder and was rewarded with incredible success and public acclaim for the Langtry wines.

Along with his wife Karen Melander-Magoon, a former opera singer turned winemaker, Guenoc today boasts that all eight major red Bordeaux varietals are under plant in their vineyards. Included in that grouping is the extremely rare Carmenere, the mother of all Bordeaux varietals, which are planted on Tephra Ridge, the hillside site of Lillie Langtry’s original vineyards. The feat of bringing the Carmenere consumed nearly ten years of Karen Magoon’s time, but also resulted in her induction into the Women for Wine Service Hall of Fame.

Visitors to the winery literally step back into a time warp, one with decided Victorian fetchings. Lillie Langtry’s beloved mansion has been painstakingly and lovingly restored. Overnight guests enjoy a full gourmet spread and are treated to live music. It is possible to stay in the mansion itself or in other on property accommodations. Weddings and special events are raved about by persons lucky enough to be invited.

Orville Magoon’s place in California’s wine history is already firmly established. His wines are accepted throughout the world and his philosophy is worth repeating. Wine is not a great investment he says, but it’s a lifestyle investment.

It is fitting that everyone can share Orville Magoon’s investment at Guenoc.



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