This will be a new series for me and all of you who read this blog. Approximately once a month I am going to feature one of my favorite wineries. The first is Chateau Montelena. Chateau Montelena gained its fame in the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, where their Chardonnay shocked the world (especially the French) by winning best in class in a blind tasting of French and California wines. California wines actually rated best in every class, but it was Montelena who was praised for putting California wines on the map. The story of this victory is frequently told in articles, books and in the Bottle Shock movie but it’s the beauty of the grounds, the consistent quality of the wines, and the Chateau itself that makes Montelena a staple of the Calistoga AVA. They’re known for their Chardonnays and Cabs, but definitely try the Zin.
The history from Chateua Montelena’s web site:
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 After Prohibition was repealed, the Tubbs family continued to harvest the vineyard, making some wines and selling grapes to other wineries and home winemakers.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.
The following was written by Cameron Perry, winemaker at Chateau Montelena and best describe the uniqueness of the Calistoga AVA:
The Calistoga AVA has a lot of great sloping/hillside and higher elevation vineyards and the well recognized concentration that they bring, along with a relatively small amount of “flat” valley floor land. That valley floor land has a lot of alluvial influence, so even though it is flat, it is not that heavy – lots of stony, well drained soils. There are 3 different soil origins, and numerous classified soil types, which bring in a great complexity as well. But, it’s not just the dirt! One of the most defining features of the Calistoga AVA is the influence of Mt. St. Helena, which acts like an air pump: drawing air up (pulling cooler air in from the Knights Valley gap) during the day as the mountain warms, and sending cool air sliding down slope at night. This near constant air movement helps keep temperatures in check and reduces the mildew pressure. It also contributes to a large diurnal swing (as much as 40 degrees a day on a regular basis), which (without getting into too much grape physiology) helps preserve the natural acidity in the grapes resulting in wines with great balance, complexity, and longevity. Many people think that Calistoga is the hottest of the AVA’s in Napa, but in reality the hottest part of the valley is just north of St. Helena. The other often overlooked aspect of the Calistoga AVA is the orientation of the valley. Most of the Napa valley runs about 340°, but right around Larkmead Lane, the valley turns West by about 20-25°, running about 305°. The result is that the Calistoga AVA has a very different solar exposure than the rest of the valley. The result, here at Chateau Montelena, is that we see earlier ripening/earlier harvest dates than many other locations, which often means that all of our fruit is in before the fall rains. Somehow we also seem to have better solar capture even in the “difficult” years, meaning that we always get ripe fruit.
Thank you for reading this post. If I can ever be of help in finding you the perfect property here in the Napa Valley, please email me at Curtis@NapaValleyAddress.com
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