A Wine Star Rises From Valley to Valley
I traveled to Beaulieu Vineyards to meet with Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor. He took me on an amazing tour of the winey and vineyards and then sat down to taste 14 wines from BV’s amazing portfolio. During that tour and tasting he agreed to an interview for The Vindicator.
When one thinks of the Mahoning Valley we think of the industrial heritage that built the city and the resiliency of the people who survived black Monday and endured through the decades of slow recovery.
It is true that is Valley has produced some of the greatest minds in a diverse set of industries including several outside of manufacturing. The creativity and ingenuity of these former residents is well documented in the city’s history.
Those achievements not withstanding, it is almost impossible to imagine someone from our area rising to one of the top Winemaking jobs in the entire world at one of the oldest and most esteemed wineries in the famous Napa Valley. This is exactly what has happened though.
Jeffrey Stambor grew up on the city’s north side, on the corner of Bradley and Goleta. He graduated from Rayen High School in 1975 and by that time many of kids we had grown up with had moved with their families to Youngstown’s growing southern suburbs.
Like many people growing up in the valley in the late sixties and early seventies, his grandparents had immigrated to the United States and his parents were first generation Americans. His father’s family came from the Balkans region of eastern Europe and his mother’s family came over from Russia.
Stambor’s father served as an attorney for the City of Youngstown. The family witnessed the collapse of the steel industry in the late 70’s and Stambor left Youngstown in 1979 to attend the University of California Davis to study veterinary medicine.
What he didn’t realize at the time was that decision would lead him on a life long journey into the world of wine. UC Davis has the most comprehensive and respected school of Enology (the study of wine) in the United States. Stambor soon found himself changing majors and eventually earning a degree in Plant Science with a specialization in Viticulture in 1983.
After earning his degrees and spending some time working in various capacities in domestic wine business, Stambor landed at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) in 1989.. He worked as a Viticulturalist and Enologist combining a deep understanding of Viticulture and intuitive winemaking.
It was during this time he had the chance to work with one of the true winemaking legends Andrei Tcelistcheff who was BV’s winemaker until 1973. He worked side by side with BV’s founder Georges de Latour, building BV into one of the world’s most respected wineries.
Stambor was clearly moved by the chance to spend time with Tcelistcheff and sited him as an inspiration and role model.
“He was a little disconcerted with the fact that we hadn’t evolved enough as a winery. He though we were a little too rooted in the past. He really facilitated the beginning of the major changes we made to the winery over the next two decades.”
The “changes” Stambor refers to are really some of the most ambitious and comprehensive upgrades and technological investments ever undertaken at a winery as steeped in history as BV. Parts of the original winery are still a functional part of the current business and they are 115 years old.
He took me on a tour of the winery as part of our interview and what he showed me was impressive. The winery has three different aging cellars set at three different temperatures depending on the varietal being aged.
Each lot of the internationally renowned Georges de Latour wine is stored in an individual tank with a centrally based computer control panel. This allows Stambor to make adjustments to the fermentation process of each individual tank with a push a button.
“I use technology to take over the day to day, routine activities involved in winemaking. This allows me to focus on the artistry and creativity that is so important to making our wines.”
Stambor is appreciative of the investment that BV’s parent company Diageo has made in the winery. “My boss says the only thing I don’t have now is excuses.” He says with a sly mile.
Stambor traveled to France to further his wine knowledge and appreciation in. “The time I spent there really opened my mind to the potential artistry of wine.”
He soon found himself immersed in French cultural experiences well beyond wine and he ended up staying for two years. “That time kind of developed who I am as a person. The people there had a tremendous impact on me.
“In France, wine is part of a well set table. They almost take it for granted as an always present part of the meal.”
Stambor returned to BV until he took an opportunity for a sabbatical and moved his family to Argentina in 2000 to work at a winery.
“Argentina gave me more of an overall view of running a wine business in the big picture. “It was an amazing time for personal growth for me.
Stambor remembers fondly the impact that those two years had on his family. Picking up and moving to Argentina wasn’t easy for them.
“Those years proved to be a tremendous opportunity for our children. They fought us hard not to make the move, but they fought us even harder that they didn’t want to leave.”
Stambor has worked at BV since his return from Argentina and has risen to his current position of Winemaker. He oversees all winemaking operations and is responsible for ensuring the quality of ever wine BV makes
That’s a big job when you consider annual production at BV is now 8 -9.000 tons per year, mostly grown in the Napa Valley. Unlike most large California wineries, BV uses almost 100% of their own grapes to make their wines. It is common for wineries to buy or “source” grapes from other wineries throughout California.
Stambor’s main focus is producing quality wines vintage after vintage. BV’s wines are internationally renowned and their portfolio is large and diverse. Many of the wines Stambor makes are available locally in grocery stores, wine shops and on restaurant wine lists.
Stambor still has relatives in the area including cousins in Liberty and Austintown.. He doesn’t travel back to our Valley regularly, but does return to Northeast Ohio on occasion doing wine events promoting his brands.
You can read more of Jeffrey Stambor’s wine making philosophy and read a review of the amazing tasting I did with him during my visit to BV. Just log on to www.vindy.com/valleyfood to read all the details.