Pinot St. Georges, 1978. San Benito, Charles Lefranc | Vintage Wine History and Information

by Paul Kalemkiarian Sr | November 1984

Charles LeFranc was a Frenchmen who in the early 1800’s relinquished the security of his native France and plunged into the uncertainty of California. He joined his friend and older countryman, Etienne Thee, on his farm in Santa Clara County. Thee, a farmer from Bordeaux, had planted Spanish Mission grapes on his land along the Guadalupe River.

Energetic, enterprising, and forward looking, Charles LeFranc convinced Thee to send for grape cuttings from their native France, and to replace the Spanish Mission Grapes. The gamble paid off. The grapes were superior. Ironically, the original harvests were not pressed into wine, but sold as table grapes to meet an existing high demand for fruit. A quick­silver mine called “Almaden”, (a Moorish word meaning “the mine”) was near their property, so they called their winery and vineyards New Almaden.

Charles LeFranc married Thee’s daughter Adele, and inherited the 130 acres of vineyards. Growth of the winery was remarkable. By the end of the decade, he was producing 100,000 gallons of wine a year.

Tragedy struck on October 9, 1887. Still in his early sixties, and still active in the daily operations of the winery, he was crushed to death trying to halt a team of stampeding horses.

Almaden today is a California wine giant. It was acquired by National Distillers and Chemical Corp. It has become a household name for jug wines. For their premium wines, they have selected the Charles LeFranc label as their banner. They also have an import division with buyers whose palates seem to guide them well. I do not pass up the Almaden booth at trade tastings. There are some surprises from time to time.

This was the case with our red wine this month. Pinot St. Georges is a rare grape. In fact it might well become extinct soon. It was less than 196 of the California red wine grape crop in 1983. The grape has also been called Red Pinot. It is said that it is not really a member of the Pinot family, but a native California grape. Maybe the Pinot designation is a result of the fact that wine made from it has overtones of a “burgundy” style. Looking at some elder California wine books, little praise exists for this poor grape. It is possible that is has suffered the effects of a poor name and a lackluster track record. I congratulate the winemakers at Almaden in not giving it up. They have a few acres of this grape in two different vineyard regions, and have persevered work­ing with the grape to come up with a significant wine. Notice that my choice is the San Benito County grown grapes. (they also produce a Monterey County wine. I felt it was not as outstanding.)

The wine is deep garnet red. It has a peppery aroma and a fragrant bouquet that shows the beginning of complexities. This very attractive nose is penetrating and lingers. The taste is full of fruit, with a maturing overtone. It has a crispness that follows which complements the fruit. The balance is perfect. It is full bodied. A velvetlike robe exists, but the higher alcohol content prevents it from full recognition. Serve at room temperature with meats and game. Great with Stilton cheese.

Cellaring Notes: Will develop more for 3 to 5 years. Not enough known.

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