Napa Valley AVA
What do you do when your family has been making outstanding French wine for over two centuries yet you’re still unknown in America? If you’re the de Coninck family of Bordeaux, you remedy that by purchasing a bit of prime Napa Valley real estate and building a premier winery. That winery, Beaucanon, was founded in 1986 and has since been turning out Napa Valley medal-winning wines with a distinctively French touch.
While the winery opened in 1987, the dream of creating a Napa Valley winery began in the early 1970s. It was then that patriarch Jacques de Coninck started his search for the perfect location. His goal was to find a site large enough for a vineyard and winery and close enough to Napa Valley’s main thoroughfare (Highway 29) to attract the attention of the Valley’s many visitors. After years of searching and negotiation, Jacques finally purchased a 65-acre property just south of St. Helena.
Once the land was secured, the next order of business was building the winery and planting the vineyards. To manage the project and run the operation Jacques persuaded his son Louis and daughter Chantal to take on the challenge. The winery took just six months to complete yet after testing the soils Louis found that the right rootstock for the conditions were not yet available in the U.S. Instead of settling for second best, they waited three years to plant the property surrounding the winery. In the meantime the de Coninck’s purchased grapes from other growers and set about acquiring additional land and existing vineyards. Their first wines were from the 1986 harvest from which they produced approximately 11,000 cases of Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot).
In 1989 they secured a 78 acre property called, Longwood Ranch, the 117 acre Hewitt Ranch and 22 additional acres near the town of Yountville. By 1990 the family had 240 acres of vineyards planted with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
By 1991 the vineyards were producing enough fruit to begin a second label (La Crosse). The two brands each featured their own unique style- the Beaucanon line known for bigger more complex flavors ideal for special occasions, and the La Crosse wines recognized for their easy, everyday drinkability and value price. Recently, Beaucanon Winery unveiled a top-of-the-line Chardonnay under the Jacques de Coninck label. In a few years they will add an ultra-premium red Meritage wine as well. All three brands are made from grapes grown on their own estate and made under the direction of winemaker Louis de Coninck.
Visitors who come to the winery to sample Beaucanon wines approach across a lush green lawn, ringed by trees and flowers. The winery itself was designed with a classic French look by noted Napa Valley architect Thomas Faherty. The tasting room is large, with a wide-open uncluttered look highlighted by a large window at the back which faces the barrel storage area. Louis de Coninck recognizes the importance of the cooperage program and uses a mix of French and American oak barrels for most of his wines. “In the past few years, American oak barrels have been much improved through the use of French cooperage techniques.” he says.
Today, between the three labels (Beaucanon, La Crosse & Jacques de Coninck) the winery produces nearly 20,000 cases a year with plans in the works to increase the yield within the next five years to as much as 80,000 cases. Of course the focus will always remain on quality. It is this tradition of quality that our Gold Medal Wine Club members will get to enjoy first hand with this month’s offering - the 1993 Beaucanon Cabernet Sauvignon. This rich, smooth Cabernet is loaded with cassis, cherries and has a long, velvety finish, rounded off by a hint of toasty oak. Excellent with lamb and other hearty dishes, we are quite certain you will find it most enjoyable. A delight for the palette and a rare opportunity to taste the flavor of France, California style.
The de Coninck winemaking dynasty
The story of Beaucanon Winery is really a story about the de Coninck winemaking dynasty. For over 250 years the de Coninck’s have been synonymous with fine winemaking in the Bordeaux region of France. Over the years the family has built or bought 15 chateaus each producing its own label. Yet despite their tremendous success in Europe the family did not pursue the American market until 1986. It was then that Jacques de Coninck fulfilled a dream of owning a winery in the Napa Valley. Purchasing 65 acres along the Valley’s busiest and most notable highway, Jacques was ready to introduce Americans to European style winemaking at its best. For that job he recruited two people he could trust the most, his son Louis and daughter Chantal.
Louis de Coninck literally grew up in the winemaking business. He spent summers in the family vineyards, and many a day learning from the winemasters in the cellars. Along with his hands-on training, he also received a degree in enology from the University of Bordeaux. While he wasn’t always sure he wanted to stay in the wine business when the opportunity arose to come to California, Louis jumped at the chance.
Accompanying Louis to the ‘Golden State”, was his sister Chantal. She, like Louis, also grew up surrounded by grapes and winemakers, but when it came time for her formal schooling her interests tended towards math, and physics. It was only fitting then that she would be asked to oversee the business and accounting end of the new American winery.
Today Louis continues to be the winemaker, vineyard manager and international ambassador for the Beaucanon labels. Chantal remains the General Manager, overseeing the winery and vineyard’s business affairs. And wine-industry veteran, Gary Woo, directs the sales and marketing efforts.
Working together as a team and backed by the ongoing support and guidance of father Jacques, the Beaucanon wines continue to earn rave reviews from the critics and wine enthusiasts alike.
‘ I truly enjoy the Napa Valley and I am proud of the wines we are making,” says Louis. It’s easy to see why he might feel that way.