‘Patience and Persistence Paid Off’: San Ysidro Ranch’s Wine Collection Returns to its Glory

By Gabe Saglie   |   May 27, 2021
The newly acquired collection of all Chateau Petrus wines includes one bottle only of some of the most sought-after bottlings, including the 1945, 1947, 1959, and 1961 vintages

For the wine program at the San Ysidro Ranch, 2021 has been a very good year.

The newly rebuilt subterranean wine cellar at the Ranch is temperature- and humidity-controlled and holds more than 12,000 bottles

The lucrative wine selection at the landmark luxury resort was completely destroyed when mudslides roared across the Montecito foothills in 2018. Millions of dollars in some of the world’s very best wine — more than 12,000 bottles and a list that had won several coveted Grand Awards from Wine Spectator — annihilated in minutes. The endeavor to return that collection to its former glory — to rebuild it into something bigger and better, even — began right away.

Three years later, the job is done, and the Ranch’s Stonehouse Restaurant can now claim, without exaggeration, one of the most coveted wine lists on the planet.

The crowning jewel of this very personal project for owner Ty Warner and his team, including Wine Collections Manager and sommelier Tristan Pitre, arrived just last month: the largest restaurant offering of Chateau Petrus in the United States, and one of the very few of its kind anywhere. “Patience and persistence paid off,” says Pitre.

Indeed, this acquisition, which includes every single bottle of Petrus from the legendary 1945 Victory vintage to the chateau’s latest 2017 release — 70 vintages in all — was its own journey. 

The hunt was led by The Wine Source, an L.A.-based importer-distributor that locates and authenticates rare wines for discerning clients from around the world. By 2019, they’d located the rare vertical collection in Bordeaux, the home of Petrus, the legendary brand that, from a mere 28 acres of mostly merlot in the heart of the Pomerol appellation, consistently produces what most oenophiles consider the best red wine in the world. The wines had sat with just two original purchasers who had obtained the bottles directly from Petrus upon their releases. 

“The wines were in remarkable condition,” says Tom Wark, a spokesperson for the Ranch, who adds that the identity of the original owners is being kept confidential. “But then the big question: were they real?”

The 2018 Montecito mudslides completely destroyed the Stonehouse Restaurant wine cellar at the San Ysidro Ranch

In the world of fine wine acquisition, where fraud has been known to fool even the most astute collector, authenticity and provenance reign supreme. In procuring this Petrus collection for the San Ysidro Ranch, those were achieved, says Wark, “beyond question.”

Buying the bottles was one thing. Getting them to the Ranch was another story.

The Trump administration slapped import taxes on European wine in October 2019, a retaliation for subsidies that the EU had placed on American-made Airbus aircraft.

“That would have forced the Ranch to pay a whopping 25% in tariffs,” says Wark. “So, they stayed in Bordeaux for an extra year.”

The Biden administration paused the tariffs this past March.

So last month, finally, the 70 vintages of Chateau Petrus — 119 bottles in all, with most of the early vintages, starting with 1945, as single bottlings and most of the older vintages, from 1966 onward, as duplicates, arrived at their new home inside the subterranean cellar of the Stonehouse Restaurant. Three years — 1956, 1965, and 1991 — are not represented.

“The only gaps in the collection are poor vintages where wine was not produced by Petrus,” says Pitre.

The Stonehouse wine list has already been updated. The Petrus lot takes up two pages, and the price points definitely match its rarity and distinctiveness. The one bottle of the 1945, for example, which is considered a superlative 20th century vintage in Bordeaux, is listed at $38,500. Tasting notes for this wine are rare, and those that exist are many years old.

“Part of the excitement is not knowing exactly what you’re going to get,” says Pitre. What you’re paying for is more about having “a once in a lifetime experience.”

The 1945 Chateau Petrus is considered one of the best, and most rare, wines of the 20th century. It’s on the Stonehouse wine list for $38,500.

In fact, once that 1945 is ordered, as with so many of the vintages, especially the early ones, “restocking it will be pretty much impossible,” adds Pitre. “It’s priced to make it a big sale — a big moment both for us selling it to you and for you buying it.”

Other vintages of note, most one-offs in the Ranch’s Petrus collection, include the 1947 ($31,500), the 1959 ($13,500), the 1961 ($25,000), the 1982 ($12,500), and the 2000 ($14,500). Of the more current vintages, the 2016 “is probably one of the most exciting and age-worthy,” says Pitre. It’s on the list for $9,500.

The lowest-priced Petrus on the list? The 1977, a growing season in Bordeaux wrought by severe frosts in the spring and a cold, sunless summer. It’s yours for $5,300.

Pitre says that the ceremony around ordering any of the Petrus wines will be dictated by the patron themselves, of course.

“We’ll probably bring them into the cellar, and the wine will go into a cradle. And to get the cork out perfectly and precisely, we’ll use the Durand,” he said of the patented device often preferred by oenophiles for the removal of fragile corks.

Pitre would likely not recommend immediately decanting the older vintages but, rather, pouring some of the wine straight into the glass first.

“That’s a way to gauge where the wine is, and then they can decide if it’s worth decanting the rest.” Whatever the guest decides, though, he jests: “I might invest in wide receiver gloves — those white, sticky ones,” to transport the wine as steadily and as securely as possible to the table. 

A special display case to house the 119 bottles is currently under construction and should be installed in a few weeks. That’s when even those who may not be in the market for a Petrus will get a chance to view this extraordinary anthology.

Since the Ranch reopened post-pandemic, Pitre has been offering private tours of the cellar, which once again houses more than 12,000 bottles. The 30-minute experience, which includes champagne and individually plated canapés made with herbs from the onsite organic garden, is available to Stonehouse diners with advance reservation and priced at $125 per person. The three time slots — 5 pm, 5:45 pm, and 6:15 pm — allow for 15 minutes between showings for sanitation. •MJ

For more, visit sanysidroranch.com.


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