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An Anniversary for an Icon: Chateau Montelena Celebrates Five Decades of Winemaking

It’s a classic name in Napa, made ever more famous by the fact that Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay won in the historic “Judgment of Paris” tasting held in 1976. This legendary tasting pitted top Napa producers against the best winemakers in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and much of California came out triumphant. The 2008 film Bottle Shock delved into some of the tasting dynamics and how a British former wine merchant, and now wine writer, Steven Spurrier put the tasting together.

Flash forward 40-something years and Bo Barrett, the CEO of Chateau Montelena, put together a retrospective of the winery’s primarily Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from the 1970s to the present. It was meant as a testimony to how these wines can age, something that is rarely tested in Northern California as a number producers don’t hold back enough stocks of their older vintages.

The wines tasted, dating back to 1974, showed their ability to age and demonstrated how winemaking has evolved in Northern California over the past decades. Barrett, who admits that in his early career he was more focused on skiing and surfing than fine wine production, said that the idea of terroir was not a concept in the 1970s—and much of the 1980s—in the Napa Valley.

“We were trying to accentuate what this vineyard would tell us,” he said about the early days of production at the winery. He added that he and his late father—Jim Barrett—didn’t see the true promise of the property until they had farmed it until 1978 and that by 1982 the family had started getting confident about its winemaking potential.

“Chateau Montelena has always been a classic,” said Clyde Beffa, the co-owner of the four-store, California retailer K&L Wine Merchants, who attended the tasting. He added that he found the winery’s style to be more Bordeaux inspired and less voluptuous and ripe than many of the region’s other producers. It is a thought that was echoed by other attendees. “The wines age well,” he said, adding his belief that they should continue to show well. “I want to buy everything he has but I doubt that it is for sale,” he joked.

The Truth About Calistoga

When Chateau Montelena started producing wines the area at the northern end of the Napa Valley, Calistoga was remote, and was considered to have hotter climatic conditions than the middle and southern areas of the Napa Valley. That is all somewhat ironic, he said, since as much of the region has emerged as a relatively cool-climate, wine-producing area.

It is also surprising because with the build up of the southern Napa Valley, many of the towns and producers have become much more commercial, leaving Calistoga as the “cool zone,” in more ways than one.

Barrett said when he first came to the region from Los Angeles as a kid, the whole vibe of the European spa community felt strange. Now, those classic mud baths have been upscaled and the charming hamlet of Calistoga—and its relatively cooler-climate wines—is all the rage. “Calistoga is the place to be,” confirmed Beffa, who added that a handful of new luxury hotels, such as the Four Seasons and Enchanted Resorts, are slated to be breaking ground shortly.

Montelena’s Wines and Philosophy

Bo Barrett was the winery’s winemaker for some time, although he has continually passed off the reigns to a number wine country greats such as Mike Grgich and Jerry Luper. He said that he has managed to retain consistency in the house’s wines by following a Bordeaux model, which focuses on house style regardless of who is the winemaker.

Karen McNeil, the Napa-based wine writer and educator, said that with Montelena’s wines, “There is some intersection between earthiness and berryness that is delicious.” She added that the earlier vintages had a sense of freshness, something about which a few other attendees concurred. She added that the relative youth of many of the wines from the 1970s and 1980s that were tasted may be attributable to “the fact that they weren’t picked overripe.”

Barrett added that by the 1990s his winery’s vintages had started to “show more pure vineyard characteristics.” Matt Crafton, the current winemaker, noted that wine production at Montelena has been committed to the same principle each vintage. “We’re trying to accentuate the differences of every year. We high-five when we put something together in which we can taste the common thread,” he said. Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, who was at the tasting, confirmed that: “Overall elegance is their hallmark.”

“We have been committed to making the same, iconic, single-vineyard, American wine for 50 years,” said Barrett. “The vineyard is what sets the tone.” He added that he hopes that he can get consumers to realize that “our vineyards are as good as any on the planet.”

If it had not been for the Judging of Paris, Montelena might no longer produce Chardonnay, he said. Regardless of what ensued on that day, he shared his belief that Chateau Montelena’s wines are basically Old World in style because of their acid and alcohol levels as well as their pH levels.

He added that producers in Calistoga have the advantage of living close to a charming town that bears the appellation’s name, much like Bordeaux’s right-bank region of Saint-. Émilion. “It is not so much about us as it is about the place,” he concluded about his family’s winemaking legacy.

 

 

Chateau Montelena Winery Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Famed Judgment of Paris

In 2016 Chateau Montelena Winery will celebrate 40 years since the Judgment of Paris, also known as the Paris Tasting, when its 1973 Chardonnay beat French and American competitors in a blind tasting of wines in Paris. The tasting forever changed the way the world views American wine and helped put California at the forefront of the wine world.

On May 24, 1976, a who's-who of French wine and food influencers gathered for a blind tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines at the Paris InterContinental Hotel organized by wine merchant Steven Spurrier. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays, and when the scores were tallied, Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay rated above all other wines. The results proved that Chateau Montelena could produce some of the world's finest wines and that California's wine industry had come of age.

 

"When our wine was selected as an entry to the Paris Tasting 40 years ago, we couldn't have imagined the impact it would have on the American and global wine industry," says CEO and Master Winemaker Bo Barrett. "After the win Dad really said it best, 'Not bad for kids from the sticks.' Looking back, the Chardonnay's four decade legacy enabled us to launch our flagship Estate Cabernet from this special place. From our sustainability program to our next generation winemaker Matt Crafton to the incredible Chardonnay and Cabernet we produce today, we're ensuring Chateau Montelena will be producing superlative Napa wine for the next 40 years."

The 1973 vintage was just the second vintage year of wine produced by the Barrett family after their purchase of Chateau Montelena in 1972. Jim Barrett oversaw the winery and led the small winemaking team, with Mike Grgich as Winemaker; John Rolleri as Vineyard Manager; Bo Barrett, Roam Steineke and Tim Glenn as Cellar Workers; and Aaron Mosely as Cellar Master.

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary, Bo Barrett and winemaker Matt Crafton will be touring the country, tasting the latest releases and participating in retrospective tastings, as well as auctioning a once-in-a-lifetime lot at Auction Napa Valley 2016 in conjunction with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, the winner of the Cabernet Sauvignon tasting.

 

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History

The Chateau Chateau Montelena's rich history began on a chilly fall morning when Alfred L. Tubbs spaded over and inspected the soil where he thought of planting estate vineyards.

He had heard the Napa Valley was the best place to grow grapes in California. A deal was struck, and in January of 1882 the San Francisco entrepreneur owned 254 acres of rugged land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. The soils are well drained, stony and loose - perfect for the vines he would plant. It took less than a decade to turn his dream into reality. First Tubbs planted his vineyards, then he built his Chateau, and in 1886 he imported a French-born winemaker.

By 1896 his winery, christened Chateau Montelena (a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena), was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley. Winemaking at the Chateau came to an end with Prohibition. After Prohibition was repealed, the Tubbs family continued to harvest the vineyard, making some wines and selling grapes to other wineries and home winemakers. The Tubbs family sold the winery in 1958, at which time the Chateau and its overgrown grounds passed into the hands of Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire.

The Chateau inspired Frank to excavate a lake, with landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland. Today, Jade Lake is considered one of Napa Valley's most beautiful sanctuaries, home to a variety of fish and wildlife, and surrounded by weeping willows and native fauna. The next chapter began with the renaissance of Chateau Montelena Winery and the Estate vineyard. Under the leadership of Jim Barrett, the vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the Chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment. He assembled a team to oversee the vineyard and winemaking, then grew and contracted for the highest-quality grapes in the Napa Valley. In 1972 wines were made for the first time. Decades later, this celebrated family-owned winery continues to thrive with Jim Barrett at the helm. 

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Vineyards

The terroir

The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Montelena Estate Zinfandel are grown in one of the world's most unique winegrowing properties. The site's diversity of soils and slopes translates directly into the layers of complex flavors in our wines.

The Estate vineyard is comprised of varied terrain, from flat to steep hillsides. The vineyard gently slopes downward towards its base, where a small patch of sedimentary soil was deposited by the settling of an ancient ocean or lake. Extending out from the Napa River is the alluvial soil, the most prevalent type on the property. In the back and outside areas of the vineyard are volcanic soils, formed by ancient lava flows caused by tectonic uplifting.

This diversified soil profile results in aromatic, rich and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, characterized by the unique earthy-berry flavor that is the Montelena Estate. Our decades old Zinfandel vines, planted in volcanic soil, combined with our 10 year old vines in alluvial soil, produce a wine with a spicy, ripe berry flavor.

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Winemaking

Philosophy in winemaking

Although the combination of perfect soils and climate are indispensable, it takes the hand of man to realize a vineyard's full potential to produce a world-class wine. At Chateau Montelena, we have a dedicated team of individuals with decades of experience working in our vineyards and handcrafting our wines.

 

There are hundreds of decisions that go into making a bottle of wine and it all begins in the vineyard, with the land. One of the most basic and essential ingredients in growing a great grape is starting with healthy soils. Mother Nature has determined the makeup of all the soil types found on our Estate vineyard, but it is the responsibility of the vineyard team to ensure that these soils are healthy and balanced. Instead of chemical products, we use only sustainable, organic farming methods to promote the health of the soil and ultimately preserve the land's productivity. For example, instead of using chemical pesticides, we combat destructive pests by growing cover crops and releasing ladybugs into the vineyard.

 

While our vineyards are naturally low-yielding because of their rocky soil types, we help to keep the vine yield low by dry farming as well as thinning our crops each year. Smaller yields produce more intense, concentrated, and complex wines. To ensure even ripening of the grapes, we carefully monitor the canopy, removing leaves several times each growing season. For the same reason, the vines in each vineyard block are trellised specifically for optimum exposure to the sun and to promote air circulation. At harvest time all of our grapes are hand-picked by our experienced vineyard crew, picking the grapes at night to capture the natural flavors we prefer in our wine.

 

The wines produced by Chateau Montelena are handcrafted in our cellar by our dedicated winemaking team. The wines express the fruit from which they are made and the vintage in which they are grown, with all other elements in balance to complement the fruit. To achieve this goal, we use modern crushing, de-stemming and pressing equipment to process the grapes as gently as possible. We then use temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to allow the wines to ferment slowly and evenly. Once fermentation is complete, the wines are transferred to small, French oak barrels to begin the aging process. We use a combination of new barrels along with older, neutral barrels to ensure that the natural flavors of the grapes are not masked by oak. After blending and bottling, the wines receive enough aging time prior to release so that they can be enjoyed right away or laid down to mature for years to come.

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Inside information

1976 Paris Tasting In 1976 Chateau Montelena helped put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who's-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines.

 

The results proved that Chateau Montelena could produce some of the world's finest wines, and that California's wine industry had come of age. June 7, 1976 JUDGMENT OF PARIS Americans abroad have been boasting for years about California wines, only to be greeted in most cases by polite disbelief - or worse. Among the few fervent and respected admirers of le vin de Californie in France is a transplanted Englishman, Steven Spurrier, 34, who owns the Cave de la Madeleine wine shop, one of the best in Paris, and the Academie du Vin, a wine school whose six-week courses are attended by the French Restaurant Association's chefs and sommeliers. Last week in Paris, at a formal wine tasting organized by Spurrier, the unthinkable happened: California defeated all Gaul. The contest was as strictly controlled as the production of a Chateau Lafite. The nine French judges, drawn from an oenophile's Who's Who, included such high priests as Pierre Tari, secretary-general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes, and Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand Vefour restaurant and doyen of French culinary writers. The wines tasted were transatlantic cousins - four white Burgundies against six California Pinot Chardonnays and four Grands Crus Chateaux reds from Bordeaux against six California Cabernet Sauvignons.

 

GALLIC GEMS As they swirled, sniffed, sipped and spat, some judges were instantly able to separate an imported upstart from an aristocrat. More often, the panel was confused. "Ah, back to France!" exclaimed Oliver after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. "That is definitely California. It has no nose," said another judge - after downing a Batard Montrachet '73. Other comments included such Gallic gems as "this is nervous and agreeable," "a good nose, but not too much in the mouth," and "this soars out of the ordinary." When the ballots were cast, the top-soaring red was Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' '72 from the Napa Valley, followed by Mouton-Rothschild '70, Haut-Brion '70 and Montrose '70. The four winning whites were, in order, Chateau Montelena '73 from Napa, French Meursault-Charmes '73 and two other Californians, Chalone '74 from Monterey County and Napa's Spring Mountain '73. The U.S. winners are little known to wine lovers, since they are in short supply even in California and rather expensive ($6 plus). Jim Barrett, Montelena's general manager and part owner, said: "Not bad for kids from the sticks."

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4 different wines with 58 vintages

Winemaking since 1882

  • Bo Barrett

    CEO
    The most important thing in winemaking is balance; from the technical aspect it is the strength of the triangle: balance of art, farming and science to make consistently great wines.

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Wine Moments

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 Erin Larkin, Wine Writer (Australia)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  14 wines 

CHATEAU MARGAUX 2017 / 89% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 2% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot/ 100% new oak. Red currants, succulent and intense, also sweet… great harmony and choral resonance… I realise I’ve drifted off in my own thoughts with this wine… the flavour lingers so. This is BDX, it is the best wine we’ve had today (this week/month etc) and it is the reason why we seek to make and drink better wine. Holy crapola.

1m 4h ago

 Jancis Robinson MW, Wine Writer (United Kingdom)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  22 wines 

Opus One 1979 / Fully mature, brick rim but good depth of crimson too. Sweet, gentle fully mature nose. Not desperately intense but certainly eloquent enough. Quite a luscious palate entry with a bit of acidity showing now and some dryness on the finish. As though this wine is going downhill but very, very slowly. Not especially alcoholic. Fresh, refreshing. Contrary to popular folklore, Opus claim they didn’t poach fruit for this from the 1979 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Reserve because Lucian Sionneau of Mouton chose the leaner samples, leaving the fatter ones for Reserve. Only 10 day skin contact and he captured some of the press wines to mitigate this.

1y 2m ago

 Janus Stern / Sommelier, Pro (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  20 wines 

Mascarello's Monprivato 2010 is an icon in Barolo. A classic and traditional wine that is coy in its youth, displaying light and lovely notes of rose petals, tar, and tobacco over gentle red berry fruit. This wine will continue to gain power and depth with additional cellaring and should prove to be a classic wine at the very peak of what this vintage of Barolo can achieve. 94 points

2y 11m ago

 Hannu Kytölä, Wine Collector (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  16 wines 

Worderful tasting at Colgin with the winemaker Allison Tauziet

3y 1d ago

 Mikko Pakkanen, Wine Collector (Monaco)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  12 wines 

Tasting latest Continuums with Tim Mondavi

3y 2d ago

 Cameron Parry / Chateau Montelena, Wine Maker (United States)  tasted  20 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  20 wines 

"The wines here at Chateau Montelena are often described as having classic “old-world” structure with ripe California fruit, and it is in years like 2010 that this really shines through.   What that means is that these wines tend to have more acid, lower pH, and more moderate alcohol levels as compared to some of the flashy “modern” Cabs.   This classic chemistry allows them to pair very well with a wide variety of dishes and sets them up for graceful aging.  The beauty of our style is that you get all the wonderful ripe flavors that California is known for, but with much more expression of place, and without all the noise and distraction of high alcohols and overwhelming new oak flavors.

3y 4m ago

 Château Montelena  has news

An Anniversary for an Icon: Chateau Montelena Celebrates Five Decades of Winemaking It’s a   more ...

3y 4m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  100 wines 

1928 Château d'Yquem; Huge expectations, the best wine I've had, 28 Suduiraut, if there is a wine to beat it..... Difficult to read label, cork states quite clearly Yquem, Lur-Saluces, 1928. B/C level fill, above mid shoulders. Pale amber with broad green yellow rim. Nuts, apricots, apple, lemon, raisins, minerals and even schistes. A glorious, layered and transparent in the best sence of the word mix of mature and more youthfull flavours. Perfect balance in a different league, great acidity, such finesse, pineapples comming to join the elegant party, even coconut and papaya, acidity is tender, doing its job gracefully like the queen greeting her guests. Gorgeous length. Minutes again. But this bottle do not beat the Suduiraut, and that is mainly because of the Suduirauts length and even better freshness. The 28's seems to be marvels! 99

3y 11m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  21 wines 

2015 Bouchard Montrachet / Pale lemon yellow. Apples, minerals, fruity. Minerals, vanilla, spices, detailed, transparent yet fuller nose. Fresh acidity, fresh, fruity, detailed, playful, rounded, fresh apples, spices, layered, stunning length, superb balance. 98p

4y 2m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  11 wines  from  Château Montelena . In a tasting of  11 wines 

Château Montelena vertical with Bo Barrett!

4y 4m ago

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