Une Histoire D’amour
At the heart of Clos du Val is an epic love story. Wine, after all, is a product of passion, and ours is the passion project of John and Henrietta Goelet, together with winemaker Bernard Portet.
It was the early 1970s in France. The young couple were world travelers, patrons of the arts, and entrepreneurs who brought a visionary spirit to their every endeavor. They adored the wine culture of France, where they lived for many years, and shared family ties to some of Bordeaux’s most storied wine merchants, Barton & Guestier. They dreamt of founding a winery outside the insular world of the French wine industry, and sharing their love for French-style wines with the world. At the time, it was a daring idea–fine wine was still synonymous with France, and it was widely believed that nowhere else on earth could rival such terroir, tradition, and winemaking excellence.
The two took a chance, and challenged a young Bernard Portet–fresh out of winemaking school and steeped in the Bordeaux tradition–to travel the world and find a place where they could grow Cabernet Sauvignon that would rival the world’s best. A two-year global search ensued, ultimately leading Portet to the Napa Valley before it was recognized as a world-class wine region. Together with Bernard, the couple planted their first vineyard and began production of their beloved Bordeaux-style wines. Soon, early vintages of Clos du Val were turning heads at top competitions in France and the U.S., kickstarting what would become one of the couple’s biggest adventures yet.
Over the last half of a century, Clos du Val has seen three generations of Goelet family ownership. The winery is now held by John and Henrietta’s six grandchildren, including our Head of Winegrowing and Chairman, Olav Goelet.
John and Henrietta Goelet hire Bernard Portet, a young winemaker hailing from Bordeaux, to travel the world and find them the best vineyard site in the world for producing world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bernard’s travels take him to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America. While exploring the wine regions of Chile, he meets Hélia, his future wife, and she joins him on the next leg of his adventure: California.
Legend has it that while exploring the budding wine region of Napa Valley, Bernard was driving down the Silverado Trail with one arm hanging out of the window of his truck. He noticed that each time he passed a certain small area, the temperature seemed to drop. After further exploration, Bernard decided that this was the place he had been searching for—a place he could grow fresh, expressive, and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. This site became our Hirondelle Vineyard, the home of our winemaking, growing, and hospitality activity to this day.
The first vines are planted on the Hirondelle Vineyard site, and construction begins on the Clos du Val winery.
In a time when most Americans had never heard of Napa Valley and fine wine was still synonymous with France, the late Steven Spurrier organizes the legendary blind tasting known as “The Judgment of Paris.” The tasting pitted the best French Bordeaux against 6 Californian Cabernet Sauvignons, one of which was our inaugural 1972 vintage. The Californian wines took top scores, in a shocking result that reverberated around the wine world and placed the Napa Valley firmly on track to becoming one of the world’s renowned wine regions.
The first Clos du Val tasting room is opened to the public, as an extension of the working winery and Hirondelle Vineyard site.
Ten years after the original Judgment of Paris, the French judges demanded a rematch. They argued that the Judgment had been a fluke; anyone could make a decent wine that lasted a few years, but only French wines could age with finesse. The same vintages were tasted again, and this time, our very own 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon took first place.
Stags Leap District becomes an officially recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area). Planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, the region is known for wines with enticingly soft yet powerful tannin structure. At just three miles long and one mile wide, it remains the smallest AVA within the Napa Valley.
After a 37-year tenure, Bernard Portet retires as Director of Winemaking at Clos du Val.
Riverbend Vineyard becomes a part of the Clos du Val estate and is soon replanted to primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Ownership of the winery is passed on to the six grandchildren of John and Henrietta, including Olav Goelet, who becomes Chairman of the board and moves his family to the Napa Valley to take on an active role in the day-to-day operations of the winery.
Clos du Val welcomes Carmel Greenberg as winemaker, ushering in a new chapter for Clos du Val winemaking.