September 01, 2018

The Russian Who Made Napa

André Tchelistcheff (1901-1994) was the son of Russia’s Chief Justice of the Moscow Court of Appeals, and the godson of Prince Lev Golitsyn. He fought with the White Army in World War I and was left for dead on the battlefield. He subsequently fled Russia to Yugoslavia in 1919 and was educated in Czechoslovakia and France. In Paris in 1937 he was recruited by Georges de Latour to help rebuild the California wine industry after it had been decimated by the thirteen years of Prohibition, and made invaluable contributions to the style of Napa’s finest wines and winemakers.

A documentary of Tchelistcheff’s life has just been released, André: The Voice of Wine, by his grand-nephew, the filmmaker Mark Tchelistscheff, and narrated by Ralph Feinnes. The film is an enthralling and affectionate biopic  of the colorful and charismatic Russia-born winemaker who more than any other individual was responsible for making Napa the wine capital of America.

There were just six wineries in Napa when Tchelistcheff arrived in 1938, and over the next half-century he worked with nearly every one of the valley’s new growers, from Beaulieu, Charles Krug and Louis M. Martini, to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rodney Strong, and many, many more.

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