A Founding Father
Visitors to our winery are often curious to know more about our winemaker, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, the mysterious man responsible for making JARVIS' great wines. For many people the name Tchelistcheff conjures up memories of a very famous and outgoing character in Napa Valley's history...Andre Tchelistcheff, Dimitri's father. Dimitri, like his father, is incredibly passionate about the art of winemaking. Contrary to his father, our Dimitri is not flamboyant at all, but is a more private person who lets his great wine speak for him. The recent unveiling of the above bronze statue of his father, Andre Tchelistcheff, provides a rare glimpse into the history of his fascinating family and also gives us some nuggets of information that otherwise would be difficult to pull out of our winemaker himself.
First we learn from our winemaker, Dimitri, that his name comes from "Grand Count Dimitri Donskoy" of the Russian nobility. In the year 1380 Grand Count Dimitri lead an army of 150,000 defeating the mongol hordes, though half of his soldiers were killed. Fighting alongside Count Dimitri was his first cousin Brenk. Brenk and Count Dimitri had grown up together and actually resembled one another. In a specific battle on September 9, 1380, while fighting the Tartars at the Battle on Kulikovo Field, Brenk galantly donned Count Dimitri’s armor as a decoy to save his cousin. The Grand Count escaped with his life, unfortunately Brenk did not. Grand Count Dimitri went on to build the first kremlin or fortress of stone around Moscow. The Grand Count had a large estate encompassing a whole county. Most of this estate was passed on to his daughter, who happened to be the wife of Ivan the Terrible, with the exception of a large parcel of property given to the family of Brenk for his valiant act of loyalty. Our winemaker, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, is a direct descendent of Brenk and so this land was passed down through his family tree.
This estate is where Dimitri's father, Andre, grew up until as an 18 year old he was caught up in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1919. Being a White Russian of noble birth, Andre was a prime target of the Communist zealots; first they burned his family home and then in a battle they machine gunned his army unit and left Andre for dead in the snow. The plot thickens as Andre's family mourned his death at a funeral, though he was not dead afterall and lived to escape from Russia to Paris. While Andre was studying oenology in Paris his son, Dimitri, our winemaker, was born in the Hotel de Dieu on the Isle St. Louis. Dimitri grew up in Paris speaking perfect French, the language of wine.
Dimitri's father, Andre, was recruited away from Paris by Beaulieu Vineyards of Napa and thus began a story book history of Napa Valley. Under the wine making leadership of Andre Tchelistcheff Napa has become a world class region for fine wines. This is the reason his formidable bronze statue was recently unveiled at The Culinary Institute of America up valley in St Helena.
As a teenager, our winemaker, Dimitri did the winery lab work for his father. After graduating from Davis as a full fledged winemaker, Dimitri focused his efforts to become an international wine consultant just like his father. In the late 80’s when JARVIS winery approached Andre to be our consultant he was already cutting back on his accounts and recommended Dimitri, saying that in many respects Dimitri was now a better consultant than he. Dimtri agreed to consult with JARVIS winery because he saw this as a chance to make the fine wine that he had single mindedly pursued all his life. After three years as our consultant, Dimitri changed from his consulting career to become our full-time winemaker. This is now his 10th year as our winemaker. We at JARVIS are most grateful to have this very intelligent but unassuming gentleman at our side. From a family of White Russian refugees to peaceful Napa Valley. an interesting story don’t you think?