In 1981, when Jean-Charles Boisset was 11, he visited his first American winery: Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery. Founded in 1857, it is the oldest winery in California.
He visited the historic winery with his grandparents and 14-year old sister.
“I’ll remember forever discovering the oldest stones of the California wine world – a grand winery estate – the first gravity flow winery, the first caves, and the foundation of modern viticulture in California,” shared Boisset in a recent interview for the Sun.
The night of their visit, Boisset’s grandparents opened a bottle of Buena Vista Chardonnay at their Sonoma hotel room.
They let Boisset and his sister smell the wine: “pure, elegant and tropical,” reflected Boisset on the scent that made a lasting impression on his family – these wines were different than what they were producing in Burgundy, where the family owned their own wine estate.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to one day make wine in California?” Boisset asked his sister. Even then, he knew he had a destiny to make wine in California.
In 2003, Boisset Family Estates acquired DeLoach Vineyards in Russian River, Raymond in Napa Valley in 2009, and finally, in 2011, Buena Vista Winery.
After acquiring Buena Vista, Boisset began a major renovation of the historic, yet crumbling property. The Champagne Cellars, which date back to 1864, were on the verge of collapsing and had to be retrofitted – this is where the first traditional methode sparkling was made in California.
Boisset brought in a crew of historians and preservationists to ensure the renovations would be historically accurate and sound.
Starting this year, the renovated cellars have been reopened and are being used for wine production again – the first time in decades.
“Restoring the winery was not only a mission of personal enjoyment, but of cultural preservation for all of the generations to follow,” shared Boisset, who invested a great amount financially in the renovations.
“We may not achieve the necessary financial return in this lifetime, but we didn’t do it for today. We did it for California, for our daughters and their daughters— for the world to know that California has been making incredible wine since the 1860’s and has an incredible history that began long before we often realize – and it all began in Sonoma.”
Channeling the spirit of the gold rush, winery founder Count Agoston Haraszthy, and the Victorian Era, the winery also underwent an extensive interior design overhaul.
From velvet and silk, to peacocks, stone and wood, it’s a tactile environment that makes for a luxurious tasting experience. Especially the Bubble Lounge, where you can drink Boisset’s own JCB sparkling wine in a private lounge with your friends.
At the winery, you can also taste their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and recently reintroduced Zinfandel, which was historically made on site, and old world varietals like Dolcetto and Charbono.
It’s been a real labor of love – and it’s being noticed. This year, Boisset is an Honorary Vintner Chair of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.
The annual fundraiser, from Sept 4-6, benefits many Sonoma Valley non-profits, with an emphasis on children’s literacy. Millions of dollars are raised at a series weekend events, including an auction and the Taste of Sonoma.
“I’m incredibly honored to have been asked to be a co-chair of the Wine Auction and I take the responsibility very seriously. The cause of children’s literacy is something very dear to me and giving back to this incredible community that has given me so muchand inspired me greatly is of the upmost importance.”
With a World’s Fair theme, the event is bound to be over the top – craft, innovation, and discovery are key components to the theme, and Buena Vista is a perfect partner. He’s chairing alongside Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane of Santa Rosa’s Benovia Winery.
The auction and events around it are known for being more casual, friendly, and funky compared to it’s nearby counterparts. It also celebrates Sonoma County’s winemaking heritage and the people behind it.
“The focus is on the viticulture, agriculture and horticulture as well as honoring the creators and those in the arts…That is what winemaking is all about – the stories, the rich heritage, the creation of art in a bottle,” he energetically expresses.
That energy is infections and inspiring. He’s a Frenchman with more passion and love for American heritage than most Americans I have met.
His drive for preserving and sharing the history of winemaking in Sonoma is evident in his dedication to renovating Buena Vista to its former glory and to co-planning a legendary wine auction.
In Boisset’s eyes glitters a hint of the 11 year old boy that wanted to make wine in California – and is living that dream and bringing us all along on it.