Beringer

Karen Frazier
Napa Valley vineyard

The oldest continually operating winery in the Napa Valley, Beringer Vineyards produces well-respected premium wines. The Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay and Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon wines receive consistent high ratings from experts, and the winery's distinctive collections are favorites among consumers. Beringer is a popular brand found in fine wine stores and mass merchandise stores alike. There's something for everyone among the vineyard's offerings.

Beringer Vineyards' Rich Heritage

The sense of Beringer's presence in California's wine industry is easily observed on a visit to the winery's historic Rhine House in Napa Valley's St. Helena. The parking lot is jammed with cars and buses, the grounds are crawling with visitors, and the tasting rooms are full of wine drinkers in for a sample of Beringer's craft. The winery encompasses the best and broadest range of California wines from its upper-tier Cabernet Sauvignon to its Merlot, its Alluvium blends, its Chardonnays, and even down to its White Zinfandels. Beringer may, in fact, represent California's best all-around winery. Since its inception in 1876 by the brothers Frederick and Jacob Beringer, the winery has endured history, Prohibition, phylloxera, modernization, numerous mergers and acquisitions, and wine critics. Throughout, Beringer has strived to achieve and maintain quality, character, class, and excellence.

The Brothers Beringer and Rhine House

Frederick and Jacob bought the original property in 1875 and built the winery in 1876, chiseling out the hillside tunnels to store the wines they were to make. Even today, the storage cellars hover at 58˚, the perfect temperature for aging wine. In 1883, the Rhine House was built as Frederick's house. This is a 17-room ornate Victorian with impressive exterior stonework, stained glass, gables, turrets, and lustrous woodwork inside that was built to emulate the Beringers' family home on the Rhine back in Mainz, Germany. Today, guests at Beringer can sip wine in the library, view the Napa Valley, the estate's lawns, and gardens from the veranda.

The estate, along with the Rhine House, is registered by the National Registry of Historic Places. Naturally, the wine is the true measure of the Beringer heritage. In 1934, Beringer was the first winery in Napa Valley to open its doors to the public for touring.

The Vineyards

Beringer holds approximately 2,800 acres of vineyards in and around the Napa Valley and Knights Valley, which is a small AVA region northwest from St. Helena that serves as buffer zone between Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Unfortunately for some its competitors, it has some of the largest holdings and also some of the best.

The following are some of the significant and noteworthy vineyards to look for on Beringer labels:

  • Bancroft Ranch-Howell Mountain - Merlot
  • Chabot Vineyard-St. Helena - Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dos Rio Vineyard-Yountville Private Reserve Chardonnay
  • St. Helena Home Vineyard-St. Helena - Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Knights Valley Vineyard-Knights Valley- Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley Alluvium, and Alluvium Blanc

Ed Sbragia-Winemaster

There have been a long line of winemakers at Beringer since Jacob. Ed started under the wing of Myron Nightingale in the mid-1970s and took the helm as chief winemaker in 1984 upon his mentor's retirement. Ed has been the inspiration and backbone of Beringer's wine program since then, including its Private Reserve releases. He's been behind many of Beringer's award-winning wines. Currently he oversees the wine program but is also involved with his own Sbragia Family Wines. He also consults to others in the industry. Ed's assistant winemaker for many years, Laurie Hook, has taken on more responsibility as winemaker,

Corporate Shuffle

In 1971, the giant Swiss food conglomerate, Nestlé, bought Beringer. The new owners infused capital and business expertise into a faltering Beringer. The winery turned around, hiring Myron Nightingale as winemaker and other top wine industry staff, streamlining product lines, and modernizing capital equipment. Over the next decades, Beringer began acquiring wineries: St. Clement, Chateau St. Jean, and Meridian. Then a private group of investment bankers bought Beringer from Nestlé in 1996 and then turned around and took the company public. The exuberance for public ownership was short-lived, in 2000, Foster's Brewing Company Ltd. of Australia bought Beringer. In 2001, Foster's decided to combine its other wine company, Mildara Blass (Wolf Blass) into one global wine dynamo, Beringer Blass Estates. Currently, Treasury Wine Estates owns Beringer, along with a host of other well-known brands such as Greg Norman Estates, Stags' Leap Winery, and Pepperjack among many others.

Wine Rundown

Beringer offers red, white, blush, and dessert wines. The wines that Beringer excels at are primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and their inspired proprietary Alluvium Red and White blends. Prices run from $100 in the upper tier to everyday value wines in the sub-$15 and sub-$10 range. The following is a brief sketch of some of Beringer's offerings based upon brand.

  • III Century - Premium Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from selected lots on Howell Mountain.
  • Private Reserve - Special handcrafted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay from the Winemaster, Ed Sbragia. The Cabs and Chardonnay are blended from their best Napa Valley vineyards. The Cabs are full-bodied, elegant, concentrated, and exemplifies the best in Beringer. The Merlot is outstanding and from Bancroft Vineyard on Howell Mountain.
  • Napa Valley - This is an array of reds and whites produced from Napa Valley. Mid-range prices from around $15-$35.
  • Beringer Founder's Estates - High quality and value priced reds and whites from California varietals.
  • Stone Cellars by Beringer -Low-end reds and whites in the sub-$10 range.
  • California Collection - White Zinfandels and other blushing things.

Into the Future

Regardless of your budget or your taste in wine, there's sure to be a bottle from the Beringer Vineyards that will suit your requirements. With a top-notch winemaker, a vast background in California wines, and a full complement of wine types and styles, Beringer Vineyards remains positioned to move forward as a giant in the California winemaking industry.

Beringer