The Judgement of Paris Mosaic

The Judgement of Paris Mosaic

The Judgement of Paris Wine Tasting Competition that Dethroned French Wine

The Judgement of Paris wine tasting changed the course of history.

It was a blind wine tasting competition held in 1976 that totally shook the wine world. But not just in a way that fancy wine experts would understand or care about.

It was a quiet – and accidental – revolution that rattled the wine establishment and opened the door for small wineries everywhere to get a spotlight on the global stage.

The judges’ table at the Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris

Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy, was asked to decide which
of the three goddesses, Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite, was the most beautiful.
Aphrodite told Paris that if he chose her, she would provide him with the
most beautiful woman in the world. He chose Aphrodite and she provided him
with Helen, who was already married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. The father
of Helen had made the young men pledge to defend Menelaus if anyone were to
steal his bride. The result was the Trojan war, an Helen became the face
that launched a thousand ships.

The myth turns out not to be a beauty contest at all. What Paris judges
is not the radiant beauty of the goddesses, naked or clothed, but rather the
quality of their gifts. Hera would have provided honor, Athena would have
provided wisdom, but Paris chose love. It is important that he did not choose
the love of the woman who was already in love with him, Oenone. Oenone,
being a nymph and a goddess, could have given him anything he wanted on Mount
Ida. But Paris chose the forbidden love of the most beautiful woman in the
world who had been pursued by the most gallant and powerful young men in the
world and was already married. Oenone wanted Paris to choose Athena and her
gifts, but Paris made the passionate choice of love. Later Oenone could give
Paris the gift of life, but Oenone found Paris too ungrateful and let him die.
The judgement of Paris is about gifts and their value, and choices and their
value, not about beauty.

In the Trojan Women by Euripides Helen explains: (line 919)

Euripides The Trojen Women , line 925, “A day came and this Paris judged beneath the trees, three crowns of life, three diverse goddesses. The gift of Pallas (Athena) was of War, to lead his East in conquering battles, and make bleed the hearths of Hellas. Hera held a Throne– if majesties he craved– to reign alone from Phrygia to the last realm of the West. And Cypris, if he deemed her loveliest, beyond all heaven, made dreams about(Helen’s) face.

The myth of the Judgement of Paris reflects the importance of the three
Goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite at the time of the Trojan war. Notice
how in the following picture, the three goddesses seem to be
bearing gifts to a god rather than being judged:

Judgement of Paris.
Another example: Hermes leads goddesses
Another: Anonymous judgement of Paris
This suggests an earlier role of gift bearers for
these goddesses. Homer picks up on this notion but he adds Artemis to the
other three in the following passage from Book XX of the Odyssey:”

By the time of Homer Artemis had achieved a status equal to the other
important goddesses. Homer does not even discuss the judgement of Paris. In
Book III of the Iliad Hector says the following about Paris: “When I look
at you to-day, can you be the man, I ask, who picked yourself a crew
of friends, sailed overseas in your much-traveled ships, hobnobbed with
foreigners and carried off a beautiful woman from a distant land and warlike
family,….You would soon find out the kind of fighter his is whose lovely
wife you stole. Your lyre would not help you at all, nor Aphrodite’s gifts,
those locks of yours and your good looks,….” There must be some other,
earlier story about Paris, that involves him stealing Helen as a result of
gifts he received from Aphrodite. He also received gifts from Hera and
Athena, but he must have spurned those gifts so they were mad at him. Jane
Ellen Harrison suggests that Hera brought Royalty or Grandeur, Athena
brought Prowess, and Aphrodite brought Love. Notice
how the images of the judgement of Paris change from three godesses bearing
gifts to three goddesses being judged.

In the Iliad, Book XXIV, Homer says: “All were of this
mind save only Hera, Poseidon, and Zeus’s grey-eyed daughter, who
persisted in the hate which they had ever borne towards Ilius
with Priam and his people for they forgave not the wrong done
them by Paris in disdaining the goddesses who came to him
when he was in his sheepyards, and preferring her who had offered
him a wanton to his ruin.”

More details of this tale were to be found in the Cypria, an epic like the Illiad that has been lost from view. About 50 lines exist that were quoted by others, but there are many summaries and references to it.

The contemporary view of the judgement of Paris as a beauty contest does not seem born out by archaic references. But in any case it is a contest of choice. The relation to fertility festivals where the best young man was matched to the best young woman must be noticed. Different methods of choice have been mentioned. Footraces are common. The Herarae was of this sort. But it seems likely that beauty contests were also done. The children sent to the Minotaur are in one case by lot and another by Minos. This could be the same type of judgement. If Theseus was chosen first then beauty may have been a criterion.

Reference is made to the judgement of Paris in the drama Andromache by Euripides, line 283:

The names Paris and Alexander are used interchangeably. In The Trojan Woman byt Euripides, line 997, the names are identified and defined:

The first corresponds to an Indo-European derivation of the name Alexander while the second does not. Neither seem to relate the name to the context of the story of the judgement.

The place of Hermes in the judgement may be multiple. First Hermes served as a herald who preceeded the the goddess and announced them to Paris. He also served as their guide. According to W. K. C. Guthrie in The Greeks and Their Gods , p 88, “Hermes is an ancient god of the countryside named for the ἕρμα, also called ἑρμαῐον, which was a cairn or heap of stones” Hermes not only marks boundaries but also guides the way for the traveler. When he beame more anthropomorphic he was given a phallus to promote fertility.” So the story of the Judgement of Paris seems to be about fertility. It might be about the choices that one makes that promote fertility. Paris chooses Aphrodite, an obvious choice for fertility, when in reality Athena would have been a better choice.

As a final comment Euripides, in his drama the The Trojan Women calls the whole story a lie. At least he presents good arguments why this story should not be true. He puts these arguments in the mouth of Hecuba staring with line 969,


Images by more recent artists follow:


To ask a question about this topic note the topic (judgement) and
Click here

Questions and Answers

Question: what dose it mean

Answer: The later classical writers set up the judgement of Paris as a
beauty contest caused by the vanity of three women goddesses. This was a
comment on the vanity of women. Earlier writers were more concerned with
the life choices that each man must make between love, power, and wisdom.
Robert Graves felt that the earliest interpretation involved what Paris
got from the goddesses, possibly the alphabet.

Question: Was Peter Paul Rubens commissioned to paint The Judgement of Paris?

Answer: It was commissioned for the Spainish court and now hangs in
the Museo de Prado, Madrid. This picture is an oil on canvas that was
completed 1638-9. Venus in the center is a likeness of the artist’s wife.
Note that the goddesses are displaying their naked beauty, as is the
case with the later artists. The artists of ancient Greece were more likely
to emphasize the gifts that they would provide. After all it was
Aphrodite’s gift that swayed Paris, not her appearance.

Answer: Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Question: who did paris judge

Answer: The judgement of Paris is often portrayed in art as a beauty
contest which gave the artist the wonderful opportunity to paint three
beautiful nude women. The women portrayed were the goddesses Aphrodite,
Athena, and Hera. But in fact it was not the goddesses that were judged,
but rather their gifts. Athena would have given wisdom. Hera would have
given honor. The three goddesses are so beautiful that no human could
have judged them. Artemis would have given health, but the reason why
she was left out of this judgement is a long story. She is as beautiful
as the other goddesses and ends up with Aphrodite as the implications of
this judgement are played out.

Question: Who was left out of the wedding?

Answer: Eris, the goddess of discord. Eris is the goddess of strife and the
sister of Ares. It is she
who threw the golden apple with the words ‘for the fairest’ that caused
the three goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera to contend for the apple.
Paris did the judging and Aphrodite bribed him with Helen. He ran away with
Helen and this started the Trojan War.

Of Eris Hesiod says only “On a fifth day, they say, the Erinyes assisted at
the birth of Horcus (Oath) whom Eris (Strife) bare to trouble the forsworn.”

Question: Why do u put false statements in here.

Answer: I know of no false statements. Many of the statements are
carefully researched. If you question one of the statements then point it
out. I will be glad to consider it again, especially as it may be a typo. If
further research proves a statement to be wrong, then I will change it.

Question: what was the mountain

Answer: Mount Ida in the neighborhood of Troy. “…when a second [p. 47]
babe was about to be born Hecuba dreamed she had brought forth a firebrand,
and that the fire spread over the whole city and burned it.4 When Priam
learned of the dream from Hecuba, he sent for his son Aesacus, for he was an
interpreter of dreams, having been taught by his mother’s father Merops. He
declared that the child was begotten to be the ruin of his country and advised
that the babe should be exposed. When the babe was born Priam gave it to a
servant to take and expose on Ida now the servant was named Agelaus. Exposed
by him, the infant was nursed for five days by a bear and, when he found it
safe, he took it up, carried it away, brought it up as his own son on his
farm, and named him Paris. When he grew to be a young man, Paris excelled many
in beauty and strength, and was afterwards surnamed Alexander, because he
repelled robbers and defended the flocks.5 And not long afterwards he
discovered his parents.” (Apollodorus, 3.12.5

Question: can i relate the city “PARIS” to The Judgement of Paris

Answer: I do not think so. The city is named after a word for swamp.

Question: what century did the judgement of paris originate?

Answer: The Greeks took the judgement of Paris to be an historical fact.
It occurred about 1194 BCE.

Question: How does the myth relate to painting?

Answer: Artists have found the myth to be a popular subject for painting. It
lends itself to pastoral landscapes with beautiful goddesses appealingly posed.

Question: Can you give me all Hera’s brothers and sisters

Answer: The children of Cronus and Rhea are Hestia, Pluto, Poseidon, Zeus,
Hera, and Demeter.

Question: Does any one know where to find any pictures about the judgement
of Paris? I need some non-nuditity pictures for my mythology class.. thankyou

Answer: During the classical period the judgement degenerated into a beauty
contest giving artists the opportunity of painting naked goddesses trying to
look beautiful. But the earier interpretation was a judgement of the
gifts the goddesses could bring. An earlier image follows:
Click here

Question: What time period was this wrritten in?

Answer: The judgement of Paris occurred about 1200 BCE and it has been
written about ever since.

Question: What is the portrayal of Athena in The Judgement of Paris?

Answer: Originally the judgement of Paris was probably a judgement of the
value of the gifts of the goddesses. In the Odyssey the story
about the daughters of Pandereus suggests that Athenas gifts were skill in
all famous handiwork, while Hera gives beauty and wisdom. But later as
Athena took over the realm of wisdom, she gave wisdom and craft, while
Hera gave dignity and Aphrodite gave beauty.

Question: Was Athena’s portrayal inThe Judgement of Paris accurate?

The Greeks were not that concerned with accuracy in their myths so their is
no definitive treatment of the judgement of Paris. Athena’s portrayal
varies from source to source so it is not that accurate.

Question: Artemis was said to be lovely-haired, beautiful,tall and fair
of stature. But she was not involved in the judgement of Paris. Was it
because she wasn’t beautiful enough or was it because she didn’t care
or was it because ot wouldn’t suit her image as a warrior?

Answer: Actually it was because she was not accepted as a goddess in Greece
at the time of the judgement of Paris. But she was just after that because
she is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey. She did participate
in the Trojan war but not in the early preliminaries. It was she that required
the sacrifice of Iphiginia, and she fought with Apollo on the side of the
Trojans. You might also say that she was not vain enough to participate
in such an event. Hestia also was excluded, perhaps for this reason. This
was more true later when the judgement turned into a beauty contest among naked
goddesses. Really only aphrodite was that vain.

Question: What are the different versions of the judgement of Paris?

Answer: Originally the judgement was of the gifts of the goddesses and
they were portrayed in regal garments with their gifts. Later it became a
beauty contest and the goddesses were displayed nude.

Question: What is the significance of the winged child?

Answer: The male child with eagle wings is Eros. The female child
with butterfly wings is Psyche.

Question: which one is aphrodite? Who is the male figure behind the tree?

Answer: The goddesses are identified by their symbols: Athena wears a
helmet, Aphrodite wears a crown. Hermes is often the extra figure. But these
issues vary from picture to picture. Identify the picture you are referencing.

Question: who are the other two girls? How did paris’s choice precipitate the trojan war?

Answer: Nymphs probably. Aphrodite’s gift was the love of a married woman.

Question: What was going on while Paris judged the goddesses?

Answer: Mycenae was beginning a period of 150 years of war at the end of
which that culture was destroyed.

Answer: Aphrodite won by bribing Paris with the love of the most beautiful
woman in the world.

Question: what is the size of the original painting by Marcantonio Raimondi?

Answer:11 1/2 x 17 3/16 in. (29.2 x 43.6 cm) is the size of the copy held by the
Metropolitan Museum oF Art in New York. It is a print of a painting by Rubens.

Question: Was Artemis involved in the judgement of Paris

Answer: No. But this fact is interesting. Of the five major goddesses
three, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, were in the judgement of Paris. Hestia and
Artemis are not. Artemis was probably left out because the story predates her
arrival. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite arrived in Greece from Crete, while
Artemis seems to have come from the North.

Question: which godesses married Hermes

Answer: Hermes was involved with the following women:

  1. Acacallis
  2. Agraulos
  3. Alcidameia
  4. Amaltheia
  5. Antianeira
  6. Apemosyne
  7. Aphrodite
  8. Artemis
  9. Carmenta
  10. Charities
  11. Chelone
  12. Chione
  13. Chthonophyle
  14. Cleobule
  15. Creusa
  16. Daeira
  17. Dryope
  18. Erytheia
  19. Eupolemeia
  20. Hermaphroditus
  21. Herse
  22. Iphthime
  23. Issa
  24. Laothoe
  25. Libya
  26. Maia
  27. Myrto
  28. Ocyrrhoe
  29. Pandora
  30. Pandrosos
  31. Penelope
  32. Phaethusa
  33. Philodameia
  34. Philonis
  35. Polymela
  36. Telauge
  37. Themis
  38. Theobule
  39. Thriae
  40. Thymbris

I leave it to the reader to determine which one of these are wives and
which are goddesses.

Question: Why was Hera such a brat?

Answer: Click on the menu directory below and click on Hera.

Question: Why was Paris chosen to judge the goddesses?

Answer: First of all the goddesses went to Zeus to make the judgement.
He was very wise to defer to Paris because the judge was bound to earn the
animosity of the two loser goddesses. Hecuba, the mother of Paris, had a dream
when she was pregnant that she gave birth to a blazing torch from which
serpents issued. Seers then advised her to destroy the child. They obviously
knew of the deep trouble that Paris would cause, but they missed the specifics.
Zeus, who knows all, would have understood the true meaning and assigned
the task to Paris, having known that he was destined to do it. This is further
reinforced by the fact that the word for apple and shepherd is the same in
Greek. Paris was a shepherd on Mt. Ida when he was asked to perform the task.
Because of the circumstances of his life, he may have been the only shephard
at the time who was also a prince.

Question: was hera more godess or human like

Answer: Hera was a goddess with human qualities.

Question: where did hera live?

Answer: on Mt. Olympus in the palace of Zeus.

Question: was hera more pretty aphrodite

Answer: Most goddesses are beautiful especially Aphrodite, Hera, Athena, and
Artemis but Aphrodite was chosen by Paris to be the most beautiful.

Question: which character is which in Claude Lorrain’s painting on the
judgemnet of paris, also, does the sheeps represent anything in

Answer: This image can be viewed at: Click here. From the left the characters seem to be
Paris, Eros, Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. The sheep and goats are present
because at that time Paris was a shepherd. He became a shepherd because when
he was born a prince his mother received premonitions of his future behavior.
Her family then abondoned him on Mt. Ida where he was found and raised by shepherds.

Question: With the Death of Achilles it seems that the Trojans would win yet how did the Greeks think of the Trojan horse?

Answer: Athena helped Odysseus with the idea.

Question: How was Hera the sister os Zueses wife when Hera was his wife?

Answer: Hera was both Zeus’s sister and his wife. The deities had to
marry siblings because in the beginning there were so few of them. They did
not like human’s marrying siblings though.

Question: Do you have any information about “the three goddesses” painted
for Elizabeth I?

Question: What happend as a result of Pari’s choice?

Answer: When Paris chose Aphrodite then Aphrodite rewarded him by making
Helen fall so madly in love with him that she ran away with him. This, in
spite of the fact that she was legally married to Menelaus.

Question: What did Athena promise Paris to be named the most beautiful of all Goddesses

Answer: The wisdom to be victorious in war.

Question: Is the stroy of the judgement of paris told in any of the ancient myths, the oddysey, the illiad, the aneid, or metamorphosis?

Answer: Homer makes one passing reference in XXIV. The Aeneid and
Metamorphosis are Roman works and not relevant here.

Question: What role does Hermes play in this story?

Answer: Hermes is the messenger of Zeus who will explain to Paris
his duty. He will also carry out the will of Zeus.

Question: When and how did Paris die?What role does Hermes play in this story?

Answer: After Achilles was killed by Paris, Philoctetes wounded Paris with
an arrow from the bow that Hercules had given him. Paris called on Oenone,
the nymph he had spurned, to heal him, but she let him die, and later killed

Question: what were the items that athena hera and aprodite bribed paris with in order to win the beauty contest?

Answer: In the oldest versions of the story that are illustrated on ancient
ceramics it is the gifts of the goddesses
that seem to be judged. In later versions it is the beauty of the goddesses
that is judged. In the Iliad 24.28-30 the only comment
is that he “..approved the one who furnished to him an oject of grievous lust.”
In the Kypriawe are told that Paris is swayed by the promise of
marriage to Paris, but no mention is made of what Hera and Athena may have
promised. In Dionysalexandros of Kratinos (430 or 429 BCE) three
bribes are mentioned: Hera – political force, Athena – success in battle,
Aphrodite – handsomeness and sexual attractiveness.

Question: In what book was the story of the judgement of Paris first mentioned?

Answer: Probably the Iliad.

Question: How do Historians believe that the judgement of paris embodied greek culture or beliefs?

Answer: There are several ways that the judgement of Paris embodied
Greek belief. This event was part of the chain of causes that started the
Trojan war. The ancient Greeks were very interested in causes of things and
discussed this at length. The fact that it was a beauty contest among
three goddesses meant that an ideal had to be selected from several
alternatives. The ancient Greeks were very much into the idealization
of things. Finally, the judgement involved the explanation of the affairs of
men as a reaction to the emotions of the divinities. This is a common theme
in ancient Greek culture.

Question: Where did it take place?

Answer: Mount Ida, in Turkey. To read about it :
Click here

Answer: Normally an explanation involves a development of causes and
effects surrounding the event. But in fact the judgement of Paris is one
element of an explanation of the Trojan war. It demonstrates the concern
ancient Greeks had for cause and effect relationships. One reason this
tale exists may be that it does reflect an event in history that is a
cause for the Trojan war. It may also reflect a new realization of the
power of women. Whether it makes the Trojan war a conflict between passion
and reason is debatable.

Question: Did greek vase painters depict Paris as a barbarian or something else?

Answer: At the time of the Trojan war the residents of Troy spoke Greek
and worshipped the Greek Pantheon. During the Archaic period the Ionian
area on the eastern shore of the Aegean thrived as a Greek territory. But the
Persians conquered most of these territories and held them through the
Classical period. While the Persians held the Ionian territories Troy was
seen as a barbarian area. Whether Paris was viewed as a barbarian
might be viewed similarly.

Question: What did Paris do wrong?

Answer: A wise man avoids choosing among women. The one you choose might
be happy, but the ones you reject will be unhappy and scorned. But if you
must choose between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite then choose Athena as
Oenone suggested. At least you will have wisdom on your side when the
trouble starts. And why would you cast aside a loyal lover like Oenone for
the most beautiful woman in the world. The only thing wrong with Oenone was
that her love was too easy. She was beautiful and loved Paris even though he
was just a shepherd. But then the choice of Helen did bring a lot of
excitement into his life. The war he caused will never be forgotten. And
if he had not gotten himself wounded the outcome might have been better. But
when he was wounded it was Oenone who could have saved him. And she was so
hurt that she let him die.

Question: Who was the godess that threw the apple at Tetis’s weeding?

Answer: Eris, the goddess of discord, threw the apple at Thetis’s wedding.

Question: What is zueses horses name

Answer: Zeus used Pegasus to carry his thunderbolts. Pegasus was the
winged horse or flying horse. Pegasus is the symbol of poetry and the
creative arts because he brought forth a spr1ing for the muses that stimulated
poetry and creative arts.

Question: What are there so many pictures of the judgement of Paris?

The idea of depicting three nude goddesses is irresistible.

Question: did the other godesses bribe him as well?

Answer: Actually none of the goddesses bribed him. The moral of the story
is that a goddess must be judged by her gifts. Paris chose Aphrodite in spite
of the warning of Oenone to choose Athena. But this would not be the only
time that Aphrodite turned a man into a blithering idiot. Hera’s gift would
have been pride or status. Athena would have given wisdom and Aphrodite love.
The physical beauty of a goddess is fairly perfect so there is really nothing
physical to judge. But their gifts can be remarkably important depending
upon your situation.

Question: what was the impact on Greek culture from the “Judgement of Paris”?

Answer: Initially the judgement of Paris was one of the causes of the Trojan
war. Though this war may have brought about the downfall of the Mycenaean
Civilization, it had little effect on the politics of Classical Greece. But
the stories surrounding this war had a remarkable effect on the literature
and art of ancient Greece. And this, in turn affected the thought and culture
of that period. One concept related to the role of choice and fate. The
judgement of Paris is very much about the long term consequences of a choice.
In fact the insignificance of his choice could be noted. How could anyone
have known that the result of a choice of who was the most beautiful could
result in a war that would kill many thousands and even ones own death? Yet
the choice was frivolous. He was free to choose. If any choice had been fated
then Athena would have been chosen. And yet once the choice was made the
result necessarily followed. This set the Greek mind to look for causes and
when it did it discovered philosophy, logic, mathematics, and science.

Question: what are the distinguishing points in this work of art?

Answer: There are many literary works and art objects which describe and
illustrate this story.

Question: I am studying Wtewael’s Judgement of Paris and I had a few questions about it.
On your website, someone asked about the man near the tree. He is standing in
the background, almost in the shade. Do you know who he is and why he is
Also, in the background I can’t seem to figure out what they are doing. They
seem to be celebrating and an angel is coming down from the sky. What is the
significance of that background scene?

Question: What would Hera wear?

Answer: There are many pictures of the judgement of Paris showing the
goddesses totally nude when they are being judged. The merit of this is
that nothing is covered up or hidden. There is no deception in the view of
the goddesses. But many think there is an advantage to deception. If
the value of a woman is her sex organ then showing it removes all the mystery.
Covering the organ increases the mystery. Covering it with a totem is even
better. The totem enhances the power of the organ and makes it more fertile.
Hera would then wear an apron with a peacock or cow inscribed on it.

Even more mystery can be cause by a filmy, gauzy gown, that reveals curves
but hides blemishes. These dresses were much in style amongst the ancient
Greek women, especially the hetaerae. They would buy silk versions that
inspired every type of imagination

Then there are the outfits fit for a queen. Cloth of gold, and heavy
jewelry, with a crown on top. The jewelry will be so brilliant that this
is all the viewer will see.

Question: are any more pictures of the judgement of paris

Answer: There are many more. This is one of the most popular images in
all of art. I cannot hope to list all of them.

Question: How come Hera got married with her own brother?

Answer: When a mortal brother and sister marry and have sex the baby is
often born deformed. But this is not true with gods and goddesses. Zeus
was sexually aroused when his sister Hera popped out of their father naked.
He then contrived to deceive her into having sex with him. Hera immediately
knew that Zeus made her pregnant so she decided to marry him so her baby
would have a father. After all, she was the goddess of marriage.

Question: who were the major characters of Illisd and Oddysey?

Answer: The major characters are, to Homer, the gods and goddesses. The
mortals are secondary. For the tales of the Trojan war the major deities
are the quarreling goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. The major themes
of these works involve mortal accomodation to these divinities.

Question: what and where is the museum that houses Wtewael painting of the
judgement of Paris

Answer: The painting is NG6334. Bequeathed by Claude Dickason Rotch, 1962
to the National Gallery of London. Click here

Question: According to the myth “The Judgement of Paris” what would be a precise
translation of the myth in modern context? In other words if someone had
to rewrite the myth in modern tense what would be a good topic?

Answer: Moderns like to focus on the fact that it is a beauty contest of naked women
but you must realize that the goddesses are all ideally beautiful. Thus you must turn
to the goddesses’ other characteristics. These are the characteristics of the realm that
each goddess ruled. The ancients referred to these as the gifts of the goddesses. The myth
turns the gifts into bribes. But the real question involves a choice of life’s direction
for success. It is like the word ‘plastics’ in the movie ‘The Graduate’. Which of these
goddesses will lead to success in life if you focus on her realm. Aphrodite is a focus
on success with sex. Hera is success with status. And Athena is success with knowledge.
Paris chose sex but Oenone said he should have chosen knowledge.

The Judgement of Paris Mosaic - History

Such was the title of George M Taber’s book, published in 2005 by Scribner and never out of print. It features California and its wines in the second half of the last century, the meat in the sandwich being the blind tasting of California and French wines created by my wine school, L’Académie du Vin, on May 24 th 1976. Taber, part of the Time magazine bureau in Paris at that time, was also attending the wine school which I had started in early 1973. Had he not accepted our invitation to attend, and had my wife Bella not been there to take the photos, the results of that day might not have become international news, and their significance would hardly have been noticed.

At L’Académie du Vin, we had been receiving many visits from California winemakers and top US wine writers, all bringing bottles for us to try. American-born Patricia Gallagher – who was running the school at the time, as I was heavily involved in the busy wine shop – suggested we give a tasting to draw attention to the high quality wines California had to offer. She had spent time in Napa in September 1975, returning even more impressed with the Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. I then visited over Easter 1976 to make a final selection of the best, six of each.

While we had held regular tastings of non-French wines (sourced from the embassies) before, we knew that this one needed to be special: these wines deserved attention. We decided to invite some of the best and most influential wine authorities from across France. Fortunately, we had gained ourselves a decent reputation by that time, and they all accepted. Now all we needed was a ‘peg’ to hang it on, and Patricia provided the perfect answer: 1976 was the bi-centennial of the American War of Independence. What better year in which to draw attention to their wines?

It was not planned as a blind tasting, but a while before the event I realized that of the nine tasters, only one – Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – would have experienced such wines before (he was married to a girl from San Francisco). I feared that had they known what they were, the panel might have damned the wines with faint praise – ‘c’est pas mal’ – and we were after more than that. So I selected four of the best white burgundies and four of the very top red Bordeaux from the shop to be tasted blind with the Californians, to make an interesting comparison, as indeed it turned out to be.

The 10 wines, whites first, were served one by one. The tasters then tasted them and ranked them using the 20 point scale their marks were then added up and divided by nine (the number of tasters). Here are the results, wines starred being from California.

*Chateau Montelena 1973 (14.67).

Meursault-Charmes Roulot 1973 (14.05)

*Chalone Vineyard 1974 (13.44)

*Spring Mountain Vineyard 1973 (11.55)

Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin 1973 (11.22)

*Freemark Abbey Winery 1972 (11.11)

Bâtard-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive 1972 (10.44)

Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1972 (9.89)

*Veedercrest Vineyards 1972 (9.78)

*David Bruce Winery 1973 (4.67)

*Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 (14.7)

Château Mouton Rothschild 1970 (14.00)

Château Montrose 1970 (13.94)

Château Haut-Brion 1970 (13.55)

*Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971 (11.50)

Château Léoville Las Cases 1971 (10.78)

*Mayacamus Vineyards 1971 (9.94)

*Clos du Val Winery 1972 (9.72).

*Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard 1970 (9.39).

*Freemark Abbey Winery 1969 (8.67).

So, three California whites were in the top five (six tasters put Montelena first, three preferred Chalone) and two California reds (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Ridge Vineyards). Once the word got out, the telephone rang off the hook at Stag’s Leap… Warren Winiarski went on to sell his property for $185 million in 2007 Mike Grgich of Montelena went on to found his own highly successful Napa winery, Grgich Hills. After that tasting in 1976, California wine was firmly on the map. It is no coincidence that the first vintage of ‘Opus One’, the Napa Valley joint venture between Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, was 1979, just three years later.

Twenty years after the Judgement of Paris, bottles of Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon were placed in Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and a further 20 years on, in May 2016, Bella and I were guests of the Smithsonian for a three-day celebration of the ‘Judgement’. The House of Representatives had recently voted that May 24 th 1976 had become an important day in American History, in honour of which they gave me a signed and sealed document and an American flag. On the second night of the celebrations there was a black tie dinner for 600 at the Smithsonian and I was asked to wrap up the evening. Taking into account the room’s anticipation, I said: ‘It is very just and fitting that we should be here at the Smithsonian to celebrate how a Croat (Grgich) and a Pole (Winiarski) made American history in Paris with a little help from an Englishman.’

Whatever May 24 th 1976 in Paris did for California, it subsequently inspired a series of Old World/New World blind tastings. Its lasting legacy was to have created a template whereby little-known wines of quality could be compared to well-known wines of quality. If the judges themselves were of quality, too, then their opinions on the wines would be respected. Never was this better illustrated than by the ‘Berlin Tastings’, about which I will write next month…

Wine writer and consultant Steven Spurrier, joined the wine trade in London in 1964 and later moved to Paris where he bought a wine shop in 1971, and then opened L’Académie du Vin, France’s first private wine school in 1973. Spurrier organized the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which unexpectedly elevated the status of California wine and promoted the expansion of wine production in the New World.

The Results

The results of the blind tasting shocked not only the participants, but the United States and, eventually, France. No one — literally no one — had expected Californian wines to even stack up against French wines, let alone win both the red and white categories.

For the white wine tasting, three of the top four wines were Californian, not French, with Chateau Montelena winning handily: 132 points total, nearly ten points ahead of the second-place Meursault Charmes, which received 126.5 points.

For the red wine tasting, the scores were much closer than with the white wines. But that didn’t change the fact that a Californian wine won again, beating out some of the greatest wines in Bordeaux. It was the Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon that carried the day.

Analysis of The Judgement of Paris by Rubens

The Greek mythological story of the Judgment of Paris appears briefly in Homer's Iliad (24.25㪶), and is mentioned by several later writers including Ovid and Lucian. Images of the story appeared regularly on Greek Pottery as early as the sixth century BCE, and the theme continued to be popular in the art of classical antiquity, before enjoying a major revival in Renaissance art - not least because it afforded artists the opportunity to depict three female nudes. The subject was painted many times by Rubens himself: see, for instance, the 1599 version in London's National Gallery the 1606 version in the Prado Museum, Madrid the 1606 version in the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna the 1636 version in the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden and the second version (1638-9) in the Prado.

Note: Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, was abandoned as an infant due to ill omens associated with his birth, but was rescued by shepherds (he was later received home again by his father Priam). Later, he was chosen by Zeus (Jupiter) to decide which of three Greek (Roman) goddesses was the most beautiful: Aphrodite (Venus), Hera (Juno) or Athena (Minerva). He chose Aphrodite and awarded her a golden apple. Helped by Aphrodite, Paris then seduced Helen (the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta), which - aggravated by the discontent of Hera and Athena - precipitated the Trojan War.

Rubens' painting depicts the moment when Paris awards the golden apple to Aphrodite. She is standing between Athena and Hera, while Hermes, the messenger of the gods, stands behind Paris. Visible in the clouds above is the Greek Fury, Alecto. As mentioned above, the scenario gives the artist an easy opportunity to paint three nudes, and Rubens takes full advantage to create the voluptuous female figures for which he is famous. They present the image of ideal female beauty which was used by both Leonardo (1452-1519) (Mona Lisa, 1503-6) and Titian (c.1485-1576) (Bacchus and Ariadne, 1523).

Aphrodite (Venus), goddess of love, beauty and fertility, has roses (love symbols) in her hair, as well as pearls that recall the legend of her birth. She tells Paris that if he chooses her, she will make Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) fall in love with him. Her bribe succeeds Paris chooses her as the most beautiful goddess. Athena (Minerva), goddess of war and wisdom, stands to the left, recognizable from the helmet and shield lying next to her, the latter featuring an image of Medusa the snake-haired demon whom Athena had helped to kill. On Aphrodite's right wearing a velvet wrap is Hera (Juno), the wife of Zeus. Rubens cleverly manages to paint the same female model viewed from all sides. Athena is seen from the front Aphrodite from the side and Hera from behind. The model is probably Rubens' second wife, Helene Fourment.

Meanwhile, Paris, in an allusion to his birth is dressed in the clothes of a shepherd and armed with a crook. Hermes, standing alongside him is wearing a winged hat and holding a caduceus - a wand wrapped with two serpents. On the far left is Cupid, god of love, shown here as a young child. Like Mercury he too has wings as well as a quiver of golden arrows to make people fall in love. He will soon be despatched by Aphrodite to Helen in order to make her fall in love with Paris. Compare: Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid) (1602, Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin) by Caravaggio (1573-1610).

Soaring above the scene, with a snake in her hand is Alecto the Fury. She has already summoned thunder clouds to indicate that trouble is not far off. This sets the scene for the final part of the saga - not shown by Rubens - the abduction of Helen from her home in Sparta by Paris. Although, as promised by Aphrodite, Helen falls in love with him, her abduction leads to war.

Like a number of Old Masters, Rubens used colour to create the illusion of space. In the background, for instance, the bright blue of the distant hills and sky recedes creating the impression of depth. In the middleground, green is the dominant colour, while the darkest reds and browns appear in the foreground, making it feel closer. For more about colour in painting, see also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting (1500-76).

Interpretation of Other Baroque Paintings

• Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) by Pietro da Cortona.
Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

• Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

• Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-5) by Nicolas Poussin.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

• Et in Arcadia Ego (1637) by Nicolas Poussin.
Louvre, Paris.

• Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94) by Andrea Pozzo.
Jesuit Church of Sant'Ignazio, Rome.

The Judgment of Paris Turns 40

On May 24, 1976, the seemingly impossible happened. Though French wines ruled the world, two upstart California producers triumphed over first-growth and other renowned bottlings from Bordeaux and Burgundy at a blind tasting judged by France’s foremost wine experts. Dubbed the Judgment of Paris, the event put Napa Valley among the world’s great wine regions. Today, you can taste that history by visiting four wineries with deep connections to this historic event.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

The Connection: Warren Winiarski founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1970. His 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was the winning red at the 1976 tasting.

Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap since 2013, recently tasted the ’73 Cab.

“It still had this really nice red currant and cedary-spicy notes with some tobacco,” he says. “You see these characteristics in our younger wines as well.”

At the new Fay Outlook & Visitor Center, special tastings in May will showcase both library wines and barrel samples. Memorabilia include a bottle of the 1973 Cab and copies of the judges’ score sheets. The 2013 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon (scheduled to release on May 1) bears a throwback label designed after its victorious predecessor.

Chateau Montelena Winery

The Connection: The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was the winning white at the Paris Tasting.

Chateau Montelena Winery produced its 1973 Chardonnay to improve cash flow because its newly planted Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards would not yield quality wine for several years. Today, two-thirds of Chateau Montelena’s production is Cabernet, and the combination of estate vineyard soils deliver wines with a distinct sense of place. Or, as CEO Bo Barrett says, “Nobody can copy this dirt.” Tasting rooms in the grand 1888 manse showcase Judgment of Paris keepsakes, including a bottle of the victorious white, the congratulatory telegram from France and newspaper clippings.

Grgich Hills Estate

The Connection: Founder/owner Miljenko “Mike” Grgich (below) was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery who crafted the winning Chardonnay.

When The New York Times called Grgich in 1976 to discuss the victory, the recent émigré from communist Yugoslavia at first thought he was in trouble with the authorities. The resulting acclaim encouraged Grgich to found his own winery in 1977. Each year, he produces a reserve-style Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay priced at his current age—$93 for the 2016 release. Grgich just published his autobiography, A Glass Full of Miracles (Violetta Press, 2016).

Gustavo Wine

The Connection: Gustavo Brambila began work as cellar master at Chateau Montelena Winery just three weeks before the Paris results were announced. A lead character in Bottle Shock, the 2008 film about the tasting, is based on his experiences.

The son of an immigrant vineyard worker from Mexico, Brambila was one of the first Latino graduates from the oenology program at UC-Davis. He worked with Mike Grgich at Grgich Hills for 23 years before starting his own brand in 1999. Brambila makes a wide range of wines, but the Chardonnay remains closest to his heart. “For me, it’s all about making a wine that takes you back to a memory of each vintage.”

Judgement of Paris: What’s New?

Bottle Shock: The Musical. “You can get away with things in a song—the inner landscape of very passionate people—that you can’t do in a movie,” says James D. Sasser, co-creator of the new musical based on the 2008 film. A gala takes place at the Napa Opera House on June 18 the stage production by FOGG Theatre Company is slated to debut in October in San Francisco.

Judgment of Paris: The Film. “American Dream stories always resonate with people—if you work hard, you would succeed,” says Robert Mark Kamen, screenwriter for the upcoming movie Judgment of Paris, which chronicles the red-wine side of the 1976 tasting. The film is scheduled to begin production this summer. Kamen, who wrote The Karate Kid and the Taken trilogy, also owns Kamen Estate Wines in Sonoma.

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Bride Valley Sparkling Wine. The former wine merchant who staged the Judgment of Paris tasting, British wine journalist and author Steven Spurrier has gone over to the bubbly side. He and his wife, Arabella, have launched Bride Valley, which produces sparkling wines grown on the chalky slopes of Dorset. U.S. distribution coming soon.

Judgement of Paris: Fun Facts

* The 1976 Time magazine article on the winning California wines said they were “rather expensive ($6 plus).”

* Although Chateau Montelena Winery is in the Napa Valley, most grapes for the winning Chardonnay came from neighboring Sonoma County (Russian River and Alexander valleys).

* At the Paris Tasting of the Chardonnays, two other California wineries beat out French competitors: the 1974 Chalone Vineyard finished third and the 1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard was fourth.

* The blend for the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon included—surprise—1% Pinot Noir.

* Want to own wine history? At the 2016 Auction Napa Valley (scheduled for June 2–5), a lot to be auctioned live includes one bottle of each of the winning 1976 Judgment of Paris wines.

The Judgement of Paris

The 44th anniversary of the tasting that took place on 24th May 1976 and was subsequently written up in Time Magazine under the title “The Judgement of Paris”, it is worth giving a little background to the event that, according to author George Taber, “revolutionised the world of wine.”

Les Caves de la Madeleine

In autumn 1970, after a couple of years in Provence, my wife Bella and I decided to move to Paris where I said I would get back into the wine trade. Of course Paris did not have the same structured wine trade as London, but walking through a small mews-like street just off the Place de la Madeleine to have lunch with a lawyer friend we passed a small wine shop called Les Caves de la Madeleine. Pausing, I told my friend that that was exactly the sort of shop I could make a go of and he dragged me inside only to reveal, after a conversation in his fluent French with the lady owner, that it was in fact for sale.

The price was agreed, but both sides thought a waiting period of six months would allow us to be certain of the deal, so I began working for Madame Fougeres as a cellar rat and delivery boy and on April 1st 1971 the keys were handed over to me. My first action was to place a classified ad in the Herald Tribune (“The Trib”) which was the ex-pats daily newspaper with the line “Your wine merchant speaks English, call Steven Spurrier.”

L’Academie du Vin

The Place de la Madeleine on the smart Right Bank of the city, was the true centre of Paris and at that time English speaking banks, law firms and the like were mostly in the area. I very quickly acquired a clientele who not only wanted to buy wine, but wanted to know more about it, so when, eighteen months later, the premises next door became available, I took them over and opened L’Academie du Vin, the very first private wine school in France. Since I was very busy with the shop this needed a manager. Patricia Gallagher, a young American lady who worked at The Trib, applied for the job and was taken on right away. This was early 1973 and the courses we created were popular as was the shop and, for non-French speakers, especially visitors, we were really the only game in town.

Californian wine and the seed of an idea

Thus it was that the occasional producer of Californian wine came to show their wines to us, and American wine writers, Robert Finigan of San Francisco and Alexis Bespaloff of New York, dropped by with bottles that we enjoyed over lunch. Patricia, who was from the East Coast, might have tasted such wines before but I certainly had not. We were both impressed and enthusiastic and since at L’Academie du Vin we had been breaking Parisian wine rules by putting on tastings of wines from countries other than France, Patricia suggested we present a range of these at some point. Fired up, Patricia decided to spend some of her vacation time in California and got in touch with Robert Finigan who offered to take her round a few wineries. She returned more impressed than ever, particularly by the Chardonnay whites and the Cabernet Sauvignon reds, and in autumn 1975 we put together plans to present a selection of these wines to a handful of the best and most influential wine people in France.

L’Academie du Vin was both known to such people and very well-respected as we were now teaching as many courses in French as in English, including the Parisian Sommeliers, so it was not difficult for us to receive acceptances from our first choice of nine exceptional tasters, including the owners of Le Grand Vefour and Le Taillevent, Paris’s two best 3 Michelin rosette restaurants. We decided that such an event needed prestigious premises and through a client were offered a fine space at the Intercontinental Hotel, a short walk from L’Academie du Vin. Finally, since all the tasters were French and might not have been aware that California even produced wine, I told Patricia that we needed a “peg” to hang this on. She immediately suggested that 1976 was the bicentennial of the 1776 American War of Independence, the French under General Lafayette joining in to fight the British, and although this was not a high point in my country’s history, I willingly agreed.

Selecting the wines

A date was set for late May and Bella and I flew into San Francisco over the Easter holidays to make the final selection. Patricia had made a shortlist and thanks to Robert Finigan and advice from John Avery MW, whose company in Bristol was already importing some of the best labels, we criss-crossed the wine regions to come up with a selection of six Chardonnays and six Cabernet Sauvignons. After the tasting I was asked why there were none of the big, established names like Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyard, replying that I preferred the much smaller and often recently created wineries, where the owners themselves were totally involved.

Customs Conundrum

Two bottles of each of these wines, purchased by me from the cellar door, were now in our hotel bedroom and the question was: how to get them to Paris? My experience in 1972 in trying to clear English wine through airport customs for the visit of the Queen to Paris had shown me that the chances of my being able to clear 24 bottles of “foreign” wine were slim and that even if possible, French bureaucracy would risk holding the wines well past the planned date for the tasting. Fortunately (and there was a huge amount of luck around the Paris Tasting from start to finish) I had met at one of the wineries a lady named Joanne Dickinson who had put together a group of 30 winery owners for a comprehensive tour of the main vineyards in France. They were to leave in mid-May and agreed to bring in the wines as their personal allowance of one bottle per head. I met Joanne and her group at Charles de Gaulle airport and was overjoyed to see the two cartons on the luggage carousel.

Patricia and I had prepared a tasting and buffet lunch for the group and then unpacked the bottles, one of which had been broken in transit, but there was a back-up. With about a week to go before the actual day – the tasters had confirmed their attendance and the Intercontinental Hotel the allotted space – I began to be concerned as to the outcome of what had been six months in the planning. Our aim was simple: to get recognition from this influential group as to the high quality of wines from California.

However, of the nine, I was sure that only one – Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Burgundy’s most famous vineyard the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – would have ever tasted such wines before, due to his having married a girl from San Francisco. The others, knowing that California was on the west coast of America a little north of Mexico, would have correctly assumed that the wines came from a warm climate and might have “damned them with faint praise”. We were after more than the French phrase “c’est vraiement pas mal”/it’s really not bad.

My solution was to select the four best white Burgundies from my shop and the four best Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red Bordeaux and put these in, thus creating a comparative tasting and to make this more interesting, to have the wines served “blind”, with their labels covered up.

Patricia pointed out that this was not what our guests were coming for and I said I would put it to them on the day and if they were not interested in the comparison, we would just taste the Californian wines.

The day itself

May 24th rolled around and assuming our guests would accept, I had written the names of each of the ten white and ten red wines on a bit of paper, folded them up and placed them in a hat, Patricia drawing them out to create the order of tasting. Once everyone was seated, I unveiled my idea to make it a blind tasting, to see how the “Californian Cousins” would stand up to the best from France, and the guest all agreed that it was an excellent idea.

The tasting progressed, wine by wine, first whites then reds, the tasters ranking the wines on the 20 point scale, their marks being added and divided by nine to obtain the result, and the rest, as they say, is history. Here are the results:

Chateau Montelena 1973 (Ca).
Meursault-Charmes 1973 (Fr).
Chalone Vineyard 1974 (Ca).
Spring Mountain 1973 (Ca).
Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973 (Fr).
Freemark Abbey 1972 (Ca).
Batard-Montrachet 1973 (Fr).
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1972 (Fr).
Veedercrest 1972 (Ca).
David Bruce 1973 (Ca).

Given the quality (and price) of the French wines I would have been happy to see Californian with say a 3rd and a 5th, but they got 1st, 3rd and 4th. Six of the tasters voted Montelena top and three voted for Chalone (my choice).

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 (Ca).
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (Fr).
Ch. Haut-Brion 1970 (Fr).
Ch. Montrose 1970 (Fr).
Ridge Montebello 1971 (Ca).
Ch. Leoville-Las Cases 1971 (Fr).
Mayacamus 1971 (Ca).
Clos du Val 1972 (Ca).
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1970 (Ca).
Freemark Abbey 1969 (Ca).

This was a much tighter contest with Stag’s Leap winning by just 127.5 points over Mouton-Rothschild’s 126, but there were still two Californian wines in the top five. The result was particularly shocking for the Bordeaux chateaux owners, whose reply was that their wines had been tasted far too young and needed at least 10 years to come into their own.

A decade on and a re-match

So, in 1986 I re-held the tasting of the same red wines in New York with once again a panel of nine expert palates. That time the top five were:

Clos du Val 1972 (Ca).
Ridge Montebello 1971 (Ca).
Ch. Montrose 1970 (Fr).
Ch. Leoville-Las Cases 1971 (Fr).
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (Fr).

California on top 30 years on

I felt I had rebutted the Bordeaux point of view and saw no reason to hold it again 20 years on and it was only after a good deal of arm-twisting from Jacob Lord Rothschild in the UK and Robert Mondavi in California that I prepared, with the help of Patricia Gallagher, a “last hurrah” on May 24th 2006, simultaneously at 10am in Napa and 6pm in London, with once again nine tasters, one of the original 1976 guests being present at each, and once the rankings of the 18 judges were collated, the Californian Cabernets took the top five places:

Ridge Monte Bello 1971.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973.
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard 1970.
Mayacamas 1971.
Clos du Val 1972.

So, this just about wrapped up the ‘Judgement of Paris’, as George Taber had entitled his article a couple of weeks after the May 1976 event in Time Magazine, thus telling it to the world. Two decades later he published a book, a superb overview of Californian wines, under the same title, with the strapline “the tasting that revolutionised the world of wine.”

This is in fact the case, for while 1976 put California wines on the map and created a much-needed “kick in the pants for French wine” as said Aubert de Villaine, what Patricia and I created 44 years ago quite simply levelled the playing field for range after range of international wines that had been excluded from a closed European shop. From that day on, it was possible for unknown wines of quality to be tasted blind against known wines of quality and it the tasters were themselves of quality, then their views would be respected.

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Back in control

Winemaker Herzberg was thrilled to finally get a chance to taste these grapes herself. The Bacigalupis were only farmers, selling all their grapes, until the 2011 vintage, when they decided to start a wine brand and hired her. At that point, that fabulous block of their ranch was under long-term contract to Rudd.

Rudd founder Leslie Rudd died in May 2018 at age 76. I have a funny story to tell about Leslie, a gregarious man who once also owned the gourmet food stores Dean & Deluca and Oakville Grocery. On my first visit to his estate winery he showed off all the state-of-the-art equipment he had purchased, including an impressive door he had shipped from Italy. As he talked about how expensive everything was, and how he didn't plan to make very much wine at Rudd Estate so he could keep the quality high, I asked: "How can you ever turn a profit?"

Rudd told me, "We don't have to make a profit for 100 years."

But his daughter Samantha may not agree with that timeline, as within three months of his death, she contacted the Bacigalupis to tell them they could keep their expensive Chardonnay grapes if they wanted she would let them out of the contract.

"When we got the phone call that we were going to be able to take that fruit back in, you have those moments in your life where this is just a wave that comes over you," Herzberg told Wine-Searcher. "My first thing to do was to jump up and down and scream inside of my head. This is a big deal. This is momentous. It still feels that way. Wine is so special in that way, in that it connects you to pieces of history."

Herzberg is only 36 and has never tasted the Judgment of Paris-winning Chardonnay that was made 11 years before she was born. And she says she's never really heard descriptions of how it tasted. She sat down with members of the Bacigalupi family to ask them what they remembered about 1973, but it was a long time ago, and they didn't even remember the harvest date (which must have been much later before decades of climate change). So she went to the Rudd winemakers and asked them how they had worked with the block.

"There is a lot of variability in the block," Herzberg said. "Both of them said that part of the charm of the block is to pick it all together as one block. You get that mixture. It's old Wente clone. You get a lot of hens and chicks [large and small berries]. When you pick it all together you get little pops of acidity and also some riper flavors. Picking it all together gives you this complexity."

Winemaking like that is allowing the terroir to express itself, rather than have the winemaker pick every row of vineyards separately at the peak of ripeness, fermenting 10 (or 50) different lots and later blending them together, as is much more common in California high-end wines today.

"My philosophy and the Bacigalupis' philosophy is we don't add anything," Herzberg said. "We use indigenous yeast. The only thing we put in the wine is oak – French oak barrels. We don't fine, we don't filter, we don't blend, which makes it fun, because you have a true sense of what the vineyard wants to do. Luckily John Bacigalupi is one of the most amazing farmers I have worked with. The block was beautiful."

Herzberg normally makes the picking decisions herself but for this one she consulted with John Bacigalupi, because, she said, "I'm only 10 years into making wines from their property. He knows every single vine on every one of their ranches. I don't have that."

The winemaking was simple, and kind of a throwback.

"We whole-cluster pressed and we went straight to barrels, 50 percent new and 50 percent used," Herzberg said. "Nothing above a medium toast. From there, I just let it go. No additions. No water, no acid, no nutrients, nothing added. The barrel sat in a little part of a warmer area in the winery until it got going. It took about a week to kick off. Then we moved it to a cooler part, about 56 degrees [Farenheit]. That fermentation took about three weeks. It was beautiful. I like to ferment my Chardonnay quite cold. I think that slow consumption of sugar by the yeast makes it so the yeast doesn't get overly stressed or overly vigorous, for the slow building of flavors. That's something I like."

The Bacigalupis have never done a full replant, and they are lucky that phylloxera has never reached the ranch because the old own-rooted vines would be vulnerable to it. They have replaced some vines as they died with young vines.

"That adds to the nuance of an old vine block," Herzberg said. "It adds to the layers and texture of the finished wine."

Nonetheless, it's remarkable that the family persevered with a block that produces so few grapes – especially with Chardonnay. That's why Rudd charged so much and why the Bacigalupis' version isn't cheap either. They made only 99 cases of the 2018 vintage because, despite the vineyard's history, they aren't sure how much they can sell of a Chardonnay that costs $82 from the winery. The remaining fruit ended up adding interesting notes to the Bacigalupis' other Chardonnays, albeit at a big loss financially.

"We have replanted missing and dead vines over the years, but have never considered a full replant," Nicole Bacigalupi told Wine-Searcher. "You could not replicate the fruit that we get from the Paris Tasting Block. It would take generations. These vines helped to shape our family's farming legacy and are representative of the sweat equity of my grandparents and my parents over the last 60-plus years. The quality of the fruit in the Paris Tasting Block has always been extremely high – the variation it gets and the complexities outweigh any low yields due to its age. It's why the fruit was under contract up until a couple of years ago. We always knew when it became available to us once again, we wanted to share their magic and story."

Now it can be told: with the New World wines that upended the wine world, winemaking mattered, but terroir mattered too.

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