Taking over for a legendary winemaker at a legendary winery is a tall order. In March of 2017 Trevor Durling was named General Manager and Chief Winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyard, only the fifth winemaker for the famed Napa Valley winery founded in 1900. Durling has previously served at some famed houses and was previously winemaker at Provenance and Hewitt prior to coming to BV. He is also a graduate of the famed UC Davis viticulture and enology program. Serving under Tom Rinaldi at Hewitt, he has learned from some of the famed names in wine. I think you will enjoy learning more about Trevor Durling, the talented winemaker at BV Vineyards.
WWB: How did you decide to attend the famed viticulture and enology program at UC Davis? What were some of your greatest inspirations from internships and faculty while you were attending school there?
TD: When I enrolled in UC Davis, my intention was to join the ROTC program and eventually become an officer in the US Air Force, following in my grandfather’s footsteps. He was a 37-year veteran, and I idolized him. However, I also knew that UC Davis was renowned for its exceptional winemaking program and I was interested in exploring this opportunity as a student at the university. When I intentionally enrolled in an introductory class to winemaking, this awakened my love of agriculture and science so not long after, I transferred to the university’s Viticulture and Enology program and this cemented my career in winemaking.
One of the most influential experiences I had while I was a student was working at Sonoma Cutrer as an intern. I was fortunate to work under Terry Adams, who took me under his wing and showed me how amazing winemaking truly was. During my internship, I had the chance to wear many different hats so-to- speak so I learned a lot about what goes into making great wines. My typical day-to day job was helping with grape sampling, being out in the vineyards, and then returning to the lab later to run the chemistry on the samples I’d collected. Then, I stuck around later into the end of the day and into the evenings to help in the cellar and get my hands dirty by inoculating tanks and even participating in tasting trials with Terry and his team. This hands-on experience was a tremendous opportunity for me to learn a lot about all aspects of winemaking and I remember the immense pride that everybody on the team had for the wines we were crafting. This resonated strongly with me and solidified my career choice of wanting to become a winemaker. While at Davis, I was very inspired and influenced by the tremendous faculty that taught us about winemaking. This group of teachers were some of the most passionate and brilliant people I’ve encountered – they truly lived and breathed wine. Studying under Dr. Roger Boulton, Linda Bisson, and Andy Walker, among others was incredibly inspiring to me as a young, enthusiastic winemaker.
WWB: Talk about your experience crafting red wines at Provenance and Hewitt - How were you able to help build their programs?
TD: I joined Provenance Vineyards and Hewitt Vineyard in March 2010 as assistant winemaker. Working under Tom Rinaldi, I helped craft wines from the Napa Valley and some of the best vineyards in Rutherford. That first year was a crazy time: some of my first work at Hewitt contributed to the fantastic 2010 vintage of Hewitt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which earned the title of Wine Spectator’s #1 Cabernet Sauvignon in 2013, and the #4 spot on Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year list. It was an exhilarating and humbling experience, and Tom helped me put everything into perspective. Influenced by his example, I found a way to express myself more and to share with others why I really love what I get to do. When Tom retired in 2015, I was appointed Chief Winemaker at Provenance and Hewitt. But even working with Jeffrey Stambor and Joel Aiken as colleagues at Beaulieu while I was the Provenance Vineyards winemaker working across the highway has influenced me over the years. I think the more you spend time doing something, you learn to focus on what really matters, and I now recognize what’s going to move the needle and make a big impact. Asking questions, prioritizing and focusing on the right things is my new guiding mantra. I also put a lot more value now on the importance of spending time in the vineyards and working closely with my vineyard managers, ensuring the fruit is of the highest quality. I believe it shows in the glass during my tenure at Provenance and continues to guide me on the Hewitt and Beaulieu Vineyard wines.
WWB: What are some of the challenges of taking over the BV wine program after Jeffrey Stambor?
TD: First and foremost, the legacy of Beaulieu Vineyard, established in 1900, and the longevity of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve (which can easily be considered Napa Valley’s first cult cabernet) is unparalleled within Napa Valley. The wine has been made consistently since 1936, so this year we’ll be celebrating the 79th vintage with the release of the 2015 vintage. It’s one of the longest standing wines still made today with incredible heritage and I’m only the fifth winemaker in the history of Beaulieu to craft this wine. It is an amazing representation of an iconic Cabernet grown in the Napa Valley, based in Rutherford, and has been the standard of quality for decades and decades, so it’s my job not to mess that up. It’s certainly a cherished legacy to live up to and I’m making a significant effort to honor and highlight the past, while innovating for the future. I love to create and build things, but the older I get, the more I realize that nothing of quality is made by one person alone. It takes a team, even if my name happens to be the one on the bottle. You can be the best winemaker in the world but if you don’t have a supportive team, you won’t succeed. I’m a big believer that it’s important to inspire a team and to work together at all levels. The biggest challenge is always the unpredictability of Mother Nature, which will alter the vintages from year to year (which we certainly learned in 2017). But if everyone is fully engaged, working together in the winemaking process towards one goal, and feels a sense of ownership at each step, this will be reflected in the quality of the wines and will tell our story for future generations.
Of course, we want to continue to maintain our position as one of the oldest, most historical wineries that has set the standard for Napa Valley wines, namely Cabernet Sauvignons. However, we’re always looking to raise the bar and improve our wines when possible, and our winery and vineyards. I’ve joined the team at an exciting and pivotal time for Beaulieu. We have some exciting developments planned for the future of our visitor center, how we’re innovating in winemaking techniques, and improving the quality of our vineyards, which will ultimately enhance the caliber of our wines.
WWB: Your 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (WWB, 95) is a stunning wine, showing incredible terroir and wonderful tension. Can you talk about this gorgeous Cabernet wine and what we have in store for the 2015 Georges de Latour?
TD: Our Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been widely recognized as the benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford since its inaugural vintage in 1936. The 2014 vintage is a superb example of this iconic wine showing a beautiful fresh fruit character and rich, full-bodied structure. Muscular tannins support the plush, expansive palate, while its acidity is balanced and adds to the wine’s overall vibrancy. We fermented this wine in a combination of 55 percent new French oak barrels to provide early integration of fruit and oak character into the blend and enhance the dense, rich texture.
The balance of the must is fermented in stainless steel and upright wood fermenters which preserves the freshness of the fruit. We blend a small amount of Petit Verdot and Merlot with the Cabernet Sauvignon to further enhance the wine’s aroma and flavor profile.To create this stunning vintage, we hand-selected grapes from the western bench of the Rutherford AVA in our iconic BV Ranches No. 1 and No. 2, originally planted by Georges de Latour in the early 1900s. We focused on clonal selections (6, 4, 169, 5197 and 7), which yield small berries with high skin-to-juice ratio needed to make intense wines with long lifespans. I recommend aging this one at least 5 years, although it can surely age longer if cellared correctly.
I think the 2015 vintage will be recognized for excellent quality, although low in quantity. The drought conditions created small, concentrated berries that produced very concentrated, expressive wines with a ripe tannin profile. We’re just starting to release a few of our 15’s now and they’re tasting beautifully. They’re surprisingly very approachable early but with an intense flavor profile and they also have the depth and structure to age for some time. For example, our 2015 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet (although not releasing until late summer/early fall) has been delightfully surprising because of how approachable it is drinking currently. It is concentrated, powerful, very expressive and incredibly approachable now – but with great aging potential.
WWB: When you are not enjoying the great wines of Napa Valley what are some wines that you gravitate towards? Any favorite wine regions of the world to explore?
TD: I love Burgundy – the wines, the people and the region are very inspirational for me. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there in 2016 and had the chance to visit some incredibly famous vineyards and wineries, even having a chance to do a vertical tasting of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti on my birthday, which left an indelible impression. Overall, I was struck by the amount of passion from each of the vintners I met, and how each vintner was also the person farming the land, making the wine, selling the wine, and in some cases, they were even the 10th generation of their family to do so. There is also incredible history in Burgundy, which as a bit of a history buff myself, I was completely drawn to like the old buildings and the stories behind them. This was an incredible experience for me and what I enjoy reliving while I enjoy the wines at home.
I also love drinking Bordeaux and Champagne. Additionally, Mendoza, Argentina was another location that I was able to visit that left a lasting impression. Mendoza is newer than the historical French winemaking regions, but the culture and passion of the people, mixing with amazing wines left a huge impression, like tasting some of the best Malbec in the world. Domestically, I also really enjoy Oregon and Washington wines, which I find fun to taste, explore and learn more about.Favorites included:
- Hospices de Beaune – being in the building and tasting here – incredible
- Bruno Colin in Burgundy - we tasted in the caves here which was extraordinary
- Catena Zapata – incredible Malbec in Mendoza but also one of the most beautiful wineries to visit
- Achaval- Ferrer - Argentina
- Decero - Argentina
- Domaine Serene - Oregon