I had the opportunity to attend a momentous event in Healdsburg, Sonoma County recently. The Bacigalupi family celebrated the 1964 planting of chardonnay on their Goddard Ranch vineyard, now known as the Paris Tasting Block.
In the early 1960s, prunes took precedence over wine grapes in the Russian River Valley, and the plantings of white wine varieties were confined to French colombard, golden chaslis, and mission—varieties that are nearly extinct in the region today. Locals had little interest or knowledge of chardonnay.
When Charles, a local dentist, and Helen, a pharmacist, decided to plant chardonnay on their ranch on Westside Road in Healdsburg, it was considered folly. The Bacigalupis had no farming experience, but their scientific backgrounds served them well. They planted six acres of Wente selection chardonnay obtained from legendary wine grower, Karl Wente, in Livermore.
In 1973, Mike Grgich of Chateau Montelena in Napa asked the Bacigalupis if he could buy some chardonnay. Along with chardonnay grapes from Alexander Valley and Napa Valley, Grgich crafted the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the 1976 Judgment of Paris—the famous tasting that squared off top French wines against California wines.
The victory by two California wines (1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay among the white wines, and 1973 Stag’s Leap Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon among the red wines), was shocking, and put California on the world’s wine map. A popular book, “Judgment of Paris,” and a movie about the seminal event, Bottle Shock, followed.
The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is now included in a current Smithsonian exhibition, “101 Objects that Made America,” alongside Abraham Lincoln’s hat, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and Neil Armstrong’s space suit.
The Paris Tasting Block on the Bacigalupi ranch is still thriving and the grapes are sold exclusively to Rudd Winery in Oakville, bottled under the Edge Hill label.