Wine on Wednesdays – Guenoc Petite Syrah

I love a wine with a back story and this one has a doozy.

Guenoc is a line of wines produced from grapes harvested in the Guenoc Valley, an accredited viticultural area in both Lake and Napa counties, in California. The brand is produced by Langtry Estate and Vineyards. Most AVAs, such as Sonoma or Napa, have hundreds of wineries, but Langtry is one of the only vineyards in the Guenoc AVA, probably because of its size and remoteness.

The 23,000 acre vineyard was once owned by Lillie Langtry, known as “The Jersey Lily”, a famous stage actress in Victorian England who was a celebrated beauty and the former mistress of the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria’s son who later became King Edward VII.

Lillie Langtry

Langtry, who was talked into becoming an actress by her friend Oscar Wilde, was the Farrah Fawcett of her time, with her image reproduced on a variety of postcards that were popular throughout Britain in the late 1800s. Her fame spread into the 20th Century, and The  Who even wrote a hit song about her, “Pictures of Lilly”.

Langtry purchased the property sight unseen in 1888. When she finally arrived at the property for her first visit, she was delivered to St. Helena in her own lavish private railroad car, then embarked with a small fleet of stagecoaches carrying her entourage and paramour at the time, Freddie Gebhard.

Declaring that she could make the “greatest claret in the country,” Langry instructed her winemaker Henri Descelles to crush 51 tons of grapes and bottled her first vintage in unique vessels that had her famous likeness eteched into the glass.

By 1900 Lake County wines were winning awards in international competition, and the region became a critical part of California’s growing global reputation as a producer of high quality wines. After Langtry sold the property in 1906, prohibition caused the vineyard to fall into direpair.

It lay in ruins until 1963, when it was purchased by Malulani Investments. Workers renovating the property discovered syrah, petit verdot and white grape vines of mysterious origin growing wile on the hillside vineyard site even after more than 50 years neglect.

The petite syrah grapes, also known as Durif grapes, for this wine are mostly grown in the Serpentine Meadow Vineyard, which has traces of magnesium in its soils which limit vine vigor and crop levels. That tones down many of the aggressive flavors typically found in petite syrahs, which have a reputation for being overly tannic.

The result is a soft, round and surprisingly light wine that is not overbearing. It has a mild berry flavor, with blueberry being dominant, and a smooth finish. I found it to be deliciously drinkable. Like most petite syrah wines, this one is darker and inkier than syrah.

Despite all this history, the wine is completely affordable. I paid $6.79/bottle for it at my local wineseller, which included a 15% discount for buying more than six mixed bottles.

Because I was so impressed with this petite syrah, I’ve picked up some other Gueroc wines and will be tasting and reviewing them in the coming weeks.

An aside: For those people who are into drinking affordable wines and who use Twitter, check out #wineparty, a fun, wine-based social gathering that “meets” on Twitter on Friday nights, usually starting about 7 pm CST. It was created by my online friend

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