An Inside Look at Beringer Vineyards

Finding history, quality, and perspective in one of Napa’s oldest — and biggest — wineries

Those of my ilk tend to perpetuate certain notions. For example, the idea that smaller or newer is better, as if merely being either bestows some magical ability. It's a symptom of our society, with its 24-hour news cycle and instantaneous social declarations. It’s also a symptom of a wider problem, that of the irrelevant critic, remaining relevant through generally unverifiable claims.

It's easier to make a splash by calling attention to the latest high-dollar, low-production wine that few have tried (or will ever try) than to remind people of wines that have been out there for years, grinding away through good and bad times. Take Beringer for example: It's old, corporate, and big, therefore not worthy of attention, according to the geeks. But in fact, its scale allows Beringer to create good wines quite easily, offer them at reasonable prices, and distribute them widely.

The voices that form the accepted opinions on wine tend to live on the coasts, where obscure and rare wines abound. For everyone else, envy seems to be the recommended course of action. Better to long after the unattainable than to just break down and buy something like a wine from Beringer. The truth is, of course, that Beringer has always produced an impressive array of wines that satisfy consumers from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum.

During my recent trip to Napa I visited Beringer not only because they are one of the great historic houses of the valley, with production dating back to 1876, but because they continue to offer great products. Beringer is not, however, only about wine; it also serves as an embassy of sorts, one of the welcoming doorways through which wine lovers of all types stride on their way to a better understanding and appreciation of wine, the Napa Valley, and how the two are entwined.

For me the story is relatively simple. I am familiar with the Napa Valley and with Beringer, though there is always something new to learn. Today, that would be the Modern Heritage Collection, a tasting room and website-only line of wines from Beringer that draws on some of the historic vineyards of Napa. And then there is the move into a burgeoning category of Bordeaux blends with the Quantum red blend, which is mostly made with Bordeaux varietals — grapes they know well here — with a small addition of petite sirah for that little something special.

But new wines were not the only thing I came to taste. I also wanted to revisit the wonderfully consistent Private Reserve Cabernet, which has proven to be a winner all the way back to 1981, my first vintage with the wine — and one that was still drinking well in 2007 when I finished off my last bottle. The wine I tasted during this visit, the 2009, is still available for less than $100 a bottle; it’s a mighty fine wine, and at that price a pretty good deal. So next time you think of Beringer, stop for a moment and remember: a winery this big can afford to make world class wine like this, and can afford to sell it for a fair price.

I’m not demanding you go out and try the wines of Beringer. I’m saying you probably should. Not every wine is great, of course, but at the top there are some mighty attractive wines to be had. It’s easy to dismiss Beringer and other wineries of their ilk, but to do so is to risk missing out, not only on some fun wines, but also on some (literally) valuable perspective: perspective on what a winery can and should be producing, how they can and should be pricing their wines, and last but not least, how they preserve the history of the Napa Valley, something newer wineries often have no interest in doing. If you disagree, please have a glass of perspective. Might I recommend the Private Reserve?

Click here for more Beringer wine recommendations.


— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth