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Category Archives: Just For Fun

Montelena’s Happy Vineyard Crew

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

My co-workers – the people who make up the great, hard-working vineyard crew at Chateau Montelena – really help to make my time in the vineyard enjoyable. They are also good, patient teachers, and a lot of the fun for me has been practicing my Spanish. We carry on conversations as we work, and somehow I know about their lives and they know something about mine. Last week I was partnered with Jose for the morning and he showed me a very efficient way to do leafing in the fruit zone.  Clusters are getting big now, and it’s important to allow appropriate sun exposure and adequate ventilation around the berries.  Jose demonstrated how to lift the canopy with one hand, kind of like looking under the hood of a car, and using the other hand to “comb” through and pull off leaves, working fast but taking care not to accidentally pull off a cluster of grapes.  With experience it is possible to work quickly and avoid the fruit, but the key of course is to end up allowing enough sun exposure on the clusters but not so much you risk sunburn.  I told Jose he was “muy rapido” but that I was “lento(a)” – slow.  Somehow he made me feel that I was still doing a good job.  Today, I was part of a small team tasked with dropping fruit from some young vines.  Even knowing why this has to be done (keeping vine yields low to produce grapes with more flavor and intensity) still doesn’t make it any easier to snip off a perfectly beautiful cluster and throw it in a pile where it will shrivel and die in a matter of hours!  Depending on the size of the shoot, I was told to leave two, one, or no cluster.  The heat was back with us today, and the work was hard.  But I continue to be impressed and amazed that my coworkers are always smiling, singing, and happy.  Amidst their laughter and chatter, I can sometimes pick out a word or two or a phrase I understand.  Most of all, listening to them passes the time and makes me smile, and I am grateful for this experience.

Lightened-Up Caprese Salad…For Sauv Blanc Lovers

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Now that Heirloom tomato season is here, I’m planning meals around the ultimate tomato dish in our house…the Caprese Salad.  But our summer meals with Caprese on the table most often go to Mediterranean flavors. Lately, I’m loving sipping our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before sunset, with its crisp refreshing acidity and bright citrus notes. So I had to tweak the Caprese to pair with this wine and the light summer fare I serve along with it. It was an easy variation, of course. Instead of fresh mozzerella and snipped basil, I use deliciously salty and acidic fresh local sheep’s milk feta and fresh garden mint. Along with a splash of balsamic I layer a squeeze of lemon, and drizzle all with a lively green olive oil.

For four servings, you’ll need:

2 medium to large ripe heirloom tomatoes

6 oz. fresh sheep’s milk feta cheese

½ cup fresh mint leaves, washed and patted dry, then snipped

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

A splash of aged balsamic vinegar

A squeeze of ½ lemon

Fresh “green” olive oil, to taste

Slice the tomatoes and pepper liberally. Sprinkle the feta over the tomatoes, then top with snipped mint. Splash with the balsamic and lemon, then drizzle with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.


An Ode to Chocolate

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It is no secret that I love chocolate.  I even have a “chocolate stash” in a secret compartment of my desk (saved only for those moments when the sweet tooth rages it’s ugly head, which is often…usually daily).  I really enjoying discovering new chocolate brands and/or flavor combinations, particularly chocolate of the dark variety.  Just this past weekend, I discovered this amazing little candy, made by Cadbury (because many of life’s most delicious treats are made by Cadbury – why is that?) called a “Crunchie” bar.  Being milk chocolate, I wasn’t sure that I would love it…but this little piece of candy bar heaven is my new favorite dessert.  The description: “golden honeycomb centre surrounded by delicious Cadbury milk chocolate” and delicious it is!  I enjoyed this tasty little bar with a glass of our 2003 Zinfandel (Zin and chocolate – it doesn’t get any better).

So tell me, what is your favorite chocolate treat?  And what do you drink with it?

Three Generations of Montelena Winemakers

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We had a special guest here yesterday.  Jerry Luper stopped by to say hello after many years of living in Europe, and just about 30 years after turning Chateau Montelena Winemaker responsibilities over to Bo Barrett, now our Master Winemaker.  So it was fun to get them together with current Winemaker Cameron Parry for a group photo.  What strikes me, other than the idea of the shared history represented here, are the smiles on their faces.  It’s fun here at the old Chateau…and it’s the people who make it so.

My Friends with Wine

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As I conclude the July 4th holiday and get ready to head out for a real R&R vacation in the beautiful state of Montana, I’ve realized that among my many friends, I’ve grouped them into two categories.  There are those that are wine collectors, or “snobs,” and those that aren’t.  Don’t get me wrong; when I say “snob,” I mean that in an endearing way.  I, myself, am lumped into that category by all my friends.   I live by the creedo, “life’s too short to drink bad wine,” and have even taken it a step further. If I’m gonna take in the calories on a beer, I’m going for the good stuff – Microbrews all the way!   If I opted for a lite beer, I’d just assume drink water; far better for the body if I’m just putting flavorless liquid in it.  If I opt for a burger, I’m not going to a place that wraps it in wax paper in a styrofoam box and offers drive-thru; I’m sitting down to a $15 gourmet Wagyu or premium ground sirloin with Maytag blue melting down the sides. You get the point.

So back to my friends.  My guests for the July 4th barbecue were the non-snobs.  Yes, they appreciate the good wine when it’s there, but most will settle for whatever’s white, whatever’s red.  They love it when I break open a good bottle; but when my back is turned and I’m out the door, they’re back to sipping  the stuff in a box. I occasionally turn a few of them towards the other side; they curse and thank me at the same time.   With these friends, a great time is had by all, regardless of what we drink.

Now to my Montana trip.  Going with close friends, and all are “snobs.”  When we normally get together, we all bring some prize bottles to share, knowing this is the group of friends who we like to brag to each other about what we have; and that they can appreciate the nuances of some of these subtle, yet, intriguing wines.  We’ll all bring 4-6 bottles each for a group of 6 of us; and we’ll return home with 4 or 5 of what we brought.  We’ll leave knowing we’ve drunk to our fullest of some of the finest wines from each other’s cellars.  In fact, a good portion of our conversation is dominated by what we consumed.  We soak in the moments with food…and great friends.

What is the moral of this story?  Life is about diversity; you can’t live on a bland, predictable diet.  Having friends with differing interests keeps me healthy. My picnic friends make me realize there’s more to life than just great wine.  They enjoy the knowledge that I can share with them, and make me feel good about what I know; and at the same time, laugh and talk about other worldly and not so important topics.  My snobs? They rejuvenite the juices in me to further learn, as I realize I really don’t know everything about wine there is to know.  We learn to appreciate the finer things in life; the details.  Both sets of friends are truly loved and appreciated.

And yes, there are other friends that are “tweeners.”  A whole other, but appreciated category!

Happy 4th!

Hawaiian Ahi Avocado Poke

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Looking to pair our new release 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay with fresh fish? I love pairing this visually stunning first course of fresh ahi tuna and avocado with the luscious texture, citrus and tropical notes of the 2009 vintage. Traditional island style poke usually contains kukui or macademia nuts as an ingredient. Here, I’ve married a bit of California to the recipe…with avocado as a middle layer in a stacked presentation. The roasted seaweed adds some salty sweetness and a wonderful crispy texture component. This should be prepared within hours of serving, but once stacked and plated, it’s really done and ready to go*. Preparation time is about 20 minutes, including plating. Serve with plain water crackers.


16 ounces sashimi quality ahi tuna, medium dice

2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Pinch chili flakes, or siracha sauce

2 Tablespoons green onion, sliced very thinly

1 teaspoon garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)

2 medium Hass avocados, halved and pitted

Juice of one small lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Kim Nori (roasted salted seaweed), as garnish

Hoisin sauce (optional), for plating


Combine first eight ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and gently mix. In a separate bowl, combine avocado, lemon, salt and black pepper, mashing to a chunky consistency. For each serving, rub the inside of a 3 inch ring mold with sesame oil; set on serving plate. Gently press about 2 oz of ahi mixture into the mold using the back of a teaspoon. Spoon a layer of avocado mixture gently on top. Finish with another 2 oz. of ahi and gently press. Keeping pressure on the spoon, lift the ring mold off of the stack. Garnish with the dried seaweed.  I

*Tip: If you don’t have a ring mold, try using an oiled large ice cream scoop, stacking per instructions above, and then inverting on a chilled plate.


Our New Pavilions

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If you have ever visited Jade Lake to enjoy its tranquility – and especially if you are a CellarMaster Wine Club member who has reserved one of its two islands for personal use – you are familiar with our pavilions.  These structures were originally built by Yort and Jeanie Frank, whose family owned and lived in the Chateau in the mid-20th Century.  It was in fact Yort who excavated the lake, created its enchanting gardens, and named it all after his wife, whose nickname was Jade.  After decades of exposure to the elements, even with our careful upkeep, it finally became necessary to replace the pavilions.  This work was recently completed, faithfully replicating the original design, and even incorporating beautiful roof tiles sourced directly from China.  Here is a picture of the left island pavilion, taken just before guests arrived for our annual Movable Feast event in late May.  Next time you visit, we hope you take in the view.  Better yet, after your visit maybe you would have a picture or two to share with us (hint…hint)?

Chateau Montelena Winery, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Support Your Local Farmer’s Markets

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I’ve been a big advocate of local farmer’s markets for many years.  While I do ponder why the costs of fruit and veggies at these direct-to-consumer venues is as high, if not higher than, some of your finest grocery chains, I’ve also come to realize that it’s still money well spent.  Here’s why:

*Quality.  Just as in buying wine directly from the source. You know you can count on the quality of it. Did it drive across country and back on warm, summer days?  Did it sit next to a furnace in some building?  No, it was stored best by the people who know how.  For produce, you know where it’s coming from; you meet the farmers and get first hand information.  You understand the TLC that went into it.  Tasting tree ripened fruit or fresh cut veggies from the ground is so much better. This is as close as most can get in an urban surrounding.  And, you’re often getting true organic or non-genetically modified produce; which translates to better for the earth, better for the body.

*Price.  Yes, it isn’t “as cheap,” but you know it comes directly from the source, and no middlemen taking their shares.  Think back when how farms struggled, and the government had to subsidize to make sure we have food on our tables.  They’re not getting the same subsidies.  This tremendously helps them to eek out a living. After all, when was the last time you drove by a farm and saw their mansion on the grounds?  It’s not high-profit careers until it gets to the hands of conglomerate grocery chains.  These folks stress every year about how the weather will be; they’re up at the crack of dawn till sunset; and they don’t often get two days off a week.

*Uniqueness.  Some, if not all of these markets will have things you’ve never seen or heard of.  Every July, I crave the candycots that are only available at the famous Ferry Plaza farmer’s market in San Francisco on Saturdays. These little gems, appropriately named, are like eating candy.  They are exclusively grown in the Fresno area, and just through the months of end of June and July.  Being far from where I live, I tracked down the farm and asked them if there’s any way to get these. Their response, “either come to our farm, or the SF Farmers market, that’s it!”  Can’t ship, no stores..  And, I’ve never found as sweet boysenberries; heck, haven’t found boysenberries, period; except there, for a 4 week window.  And the variety of Asian pears!   Oh my, I can go on… You just have to go frequently and find these unique things.

*Fun Factor. It’s just plain fun to walk around with friends and family; sample the “fruits” of their labor, be outside, and eat at the adjacent food tents.

So support these farmers, bring your wallet, and bring home of nature’s goodness!


A Reason To Drink #SauvBlanc

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This Friday, on June 24th, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of summer by cooling down with some refreshing glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in honor of #SauvBlanc Day.  To participate in the online festivities, simply use the hashtag #SauvBlanc when you are sharing/tweeting/Facebooking information about this beloved summer wine.  Visit the official page for more information:

My First Day In The Vineyard

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

I can’t move….

Yesterday was my first day of work in the Chateau Montelena vineyard – my “dream job” – ? Wow, this old body isn’t used to physical labor – especially not for 8 hours! The last time I worked this hard was back in the day (emphasis on “back”) when I was a gym rat, body building and power lifting, and learned “muscle has memory” – in this case, it had better be a long one!

We started off suckering the vines – pulling unwanted green shoots off of the trunks below the drip lines. No problem. Then someone handed me a shovel – !? Oh yes, using a shovel to break up/dig out weeds in the berms. If you have ever pounded a metal shovel into hard, dry dirt, you know it’s not a lot of fun! But I persevered. I couldn’t keep up with the men (incredibly hard workers), but at least I had their respect that I wanted to pull my weight and do my share. The heat did not help matters – yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, 90. Fortunately there was a breeze and I took my share of shade breaks. The good news is that I probably sweated off at least a pound – at this rate I’ll be back into most of my wardrobe by September! Also, the foreman told me there wouldn’t be any more shoveling – they were pretty much done with this for a while. So now we will be doing other typical summer vineyard activities – tucking the vines up into the wires, pulling leaves in the fruit zone, etc. Anyway, it was a good day – the workers are all very kind, seemingly tolerant to have me in their midst, and willing to take the time to explain how and why we do certain things in the vineyard… Placido, Paulino, Heriberto and Beto – those are the names I learned yesterday.

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About Our Authors

George Blanckensee

An expert event planner and an avid basketball and sports fan, George can tell you about all the best off-the-beaten path eateries.

Kali Clark

A Napa Valley native, Kali returned to the area after a stint on the East Coast and can be found documenting the latest happenings at the Chateau. When not behind the camera, she likes to experiment in the kitchen, travel, and enjoy the outdoors