The Day and the Wine That Changed the Business


Ralph taking notes on one of many Bordeaux trips

Ralph taking notes on one of many Bordeaux trips

There are some pillars here at K&L. We obviously have the Owners/Founders, Todd and Clyde, but I would argue that you would need to include Ralph Sands as well. One of our oldest employees and Bordeaux specialists, Ralph has been here almost as long as the business itself. Over those past four decades, he’s amassed quite a few stories, which he often shares with the staff. Recently, he sent this one out via email. It was so good, I thought I’d pass it along.

“The moment is frozen in my mind; It was a weekday during the summer of 1980 and 9am at K&L Liquors in Millbrae California. One of the two owners Mr. Todd Zucker, was in the back office doing the deposit; I was the only employee and I was behind the counter doing my very important job of guarding the cash register until 10am when other employees arrived.

I was a bit shocked when the other owner Mr. Clyde Beffa appeared in the doorway with a bottle of wine. He proclaimed to me that he loved the bottle of wine he had the previous evening so much, that he was going to change the direction of the business and that we were going to be Wine Merchants. 

 He told me that he would watch the register and asked me to fetch two wine glasses. We were going to taste the wine. I said ‘Really; now at 9am?’ This was very unusual. I quickly returned with the glasses and we tasted 1978 Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, the great 2nd growth from the commune of Pauillac. The wine was absolutely stunning! A beautiful expression of spicy Cabernet Sauvignon and opulent Merlot working together in full harmony, perfectly balanced with great freshness and lovely tasting. 

Clyde then told me to inform every employee when they arrived that day that if they did not want to learn about wine that they should find other employment. This was music to my ears as my Uncle Ralph is part French and I was very intrigued by everything French, especially the famous Chateau. I remember looking at menus and pictures in his cellar of places like Ch. Lafite, Ch. Latour and Ch. Margaux and all I could do at that time was wonder what the inside of these places looked like.

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The 1978 Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande was the spark that started an inferno of passion that changed the life of Clyde Beffa, his business, and the life of this employee forever. In 1985, Clyde made his first of over 70 visits to Bordeaux where he met and became close friends with the owner, the energetic and passionate May Eliane de Lancquesaing. When we tasted that wine, we were unaware that she had just inherited the estate in 1978 with the passing of her husband, and that her first wine had been made by a neighbor and good friend Jean Hubert de Long.

This wine started a 30-year run of excellence and incredible popularity worldwide, with May Eliane in full control. She had an unmatched passion for her wine and her customers, and she constantly traveled the world pouring her beloved Pichon Comtesse to sold out lunches and dinners, many with Clyde and K&L. The combination of her gracious personality and fantastic tasting wine made her a magnet that everyone wanted to meet; she was indeed the Comtesse herself.

Many were very jealous of her success, but no one could doubt the quality of her wine or the beacon of bright light that she helped shine upon the entire Bordeaux region. It was indeed a bit sad when she decided to retire and sell her beloved home, but her work there was done, and her legacy firmly established. She had become one of Bordeaux’s legendary ambassadors alongside the likes of Jean Michel Cazes and Anthony Barton. The incredible influence of these three Chateau owners cannot be overstated when it comes to the popularity of Bordeaux wine in the world marketplace today. 

Ralph and Clyde

Ralph and Clyde

They called 1978 “The Miracle Vintage” due to the great weather late in the season that saved that vintage. The ramifications from that bottle of 1978 Pichon Lalande are also a bit of a miracle; I’m still here today, after 41 years and 54 visits to Bordeaux and my love for Bordeaux is only eclipsed by my love for my family and the San Francisco Giants.

 It’s no miracle, but Clyde’s vision for K&L Wine Merchants was spot on. Today we carry a selection of over 5,000 wines in each of our three California locations, San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood, and are known worldwide for quality selections and knowledgeable service. 

 Cheers to the great work and vision of May Eliane and Clyde Beffa!”

- Ralph Sands





Megan Greene