Tucked ever so gently in the deeply wooded hillside in the fertile Napa Valley, lies the stately Chateau Montelena Winery. The 254 acre estate was established in 1882 by San Franciscan entrepreneur Alfred Tubbs. Tubbs was convinced that the loose, stoney soil at the base of Mount Saint Helena near Calistoga was ideal for growing grapes.
A French wine maker was brought to the estate and Tubbs’ dream soon became a reality. The château was built soon thereafter and was aptly named Chateau Montelena, which is actually a contraction of the name “Mount Saint Helena”, the nearby noble peak.
Chateau Montelena Winery prospered until the Prohibition Days. In post-Prohibition days, Tubbs continued to grow and sell grapes to local family winemakers. However, the vineyards fell into disrepair over the following years and the property was sold in 1958.
Chateau Montelena’s new owners were Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were merely seeking a quiet place to retire. As a tribute to Frank’s homeland of China and to his wife Jeanie, the beautiful Jade Lake was created. Today, Chateau Montelena‘s Jade Lake is known as one of Napa Valley’s prettiest lakes, a wildlife refuge which is also available for private winery events.
In the early 1970’s, the estate was purchased by Jim Barrett, who replanted the vineyards and started the California wine industry as we know it today, showcasing California wines, specifically Napa Valley wines.
Barrett’s trials and tribulations in the vineyards and cellar is the storyline of the epic movie, Bottleshock. Set in the early 1970s, the movie, Bottleshock, was filmed at Chateau Montelena Winery and is a true account. Chateau Montelena Winery was invited to enter their 1973 Chardonnay in the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting, a blind tasting competition pitting four white Burgandy wines against six California Chardonnay wines.
Beating out the four French wines and the other five California wines, the win for Chateau Montelena Winery’s 1973 Chardonnay was tantamount, giving top accolades and recognition to California wines as a major player in the world of wine. www.bottleshockthemovie.com
Chateau Montelena Winery’s tasting room is located on the top floor of the chateau and exudes old European charm. Bottleshock movie memorabilia and historical photos line the hallway walls. The tasting menu is quite impressive, featuring a wide selection of white wines and estate red wines.
Of particular interest is the 2012 Riesling sourced from Potter Valley in the Mendocino AVA, a bright, dry, pale gold Riesling with rich peach and apple aromas, with juicy layers of apricot and pear. The 2011 Chardonnay is also delightful with crisp stone fruit, not overly done in oak, wonderfully full-bodied and creamy with a touch of nuttiness.
Interesting to note, that although Chateau Montelena Winery won the world class wine competition in 1976 for its Chardonnay, the source of the winning grape was actually from the Russian River Valley. Likewise, all the white grapes are sourced from neighboring AVA’s due to the dramatic temperature swings typical of the Napa Valley area.
Montelena’s estate is planted primarily in Cabernet Sauvignon with some Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, opens with anise and spice, moving into layers of blackberry and cherry compote. While it would be better to hold this young wine for a few years, it can be decanted for drinking now.
The crown jewel is the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ~ aged 22 months in french oak. This dense crimson ruby red wine is a big wine! Black cherry, currants, and plum spice cake notes with layers of smoke and anise and soft tannins make it an excellent library wine to drink or hold.
Chateau Montelena Winery offers guided vineyard tours weekly and great wine club events. The tasting room staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and has many fabulous stories about the Barretts to share. Bo Barrett is at the helm daily and often greets guests in the tasting room. Unfortunately I did not meet Bo this time…perhaps on my next visit. www.montelena.com