"One bottle broke," she remembers. "Steven arrived to meet me in his customary white suit. We were there waiting for my luggage, and for the cases of wine. I smelled it before I saw it -- one of the cases had red on the outside and I said, 'Oh, my.' But Steven was very kind. He said, 'That's all right, not a problem.' He had at least two bottles of each wine."
The tasting, now six months in the making, was scheduled for May 24, 1976 at the Intercontinental Hotel, not far from Spurrier's shop and school. The nine judges, all French, included Odette Khan, editor of a prestigious wine magazine, and Aubert de Villaine, the director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a Burgundy estate that makes some of the world's best, and most expensive, wines.
Spurrier had no intention to cause a stir or to humiliate his French judges. He wanted little more than to create recognition for Californian wines and generate publicity for his school. But he did come up with a way of making things more interesting: he picked the four best white wines from Burgundy and the four best red Bordeaux blends from his cellar to go against the American wines, and covered up all the labels.
"It was only pretty much at the last minute that Steven decided to change the testing from an open one to a blind one. Blind tastings are common now, but at the time, it was a very innovative way to compare and contrast wines," says Andrew.
Among the French wines Spurrier picked were Batard-Montrachet, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion -- the elite of fine wine. The Californian offerings, 12 in total, included Ridge Vineyards, Freemark Abbey, Spring Mountain, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena -- all of which were largely unknown in Europe.
The journalist George M. Taber was given a card with the names of the wines that were being served, so he knew exactly what the judges were tasting. He soon realized things were getting interesting when one of the judges tasted a white wine and proclaimed, "This is definitely California. It has no nose," when he was really tasting the Batard-Montrachet, a Burgundy Chardonnay that is often categorized as one of the world's best white wines.
The unthinkable was indeed happening.
When Spurrier tallied the scores, it turned out that California had dominated the white wine category, with a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena as the winner, and three American wines in the top five. In the red category, a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars came out on top, narrowly edging out a 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux.
It was a David versus Goliath outcome, with wines that were much cheaper and younger unexpectedly getting rated higher. The Chateau Montelena retailed at the time for about $6.50 per bottle, a small fraction of the cost of its French rivals; Stag's Leap had been founded just six years earlier, in 1970, whereas winemaking at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild had been going on for three centuries. Both winners hailed from Napa Valley, which would go on to become one of the world's premier wine regions.
The French judges were far from impressed with the results. Odette Khan unsuccessfully demanded her scorecard back, according to Taber, so that the world wouldn't know how she scored the wines, while Aubert de Villaine later described the event as "a kick in the rear for French wine."