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Category Archives: Winery News

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!

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

Summer Arrives at Chateau Montelena

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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:

Tuesday was officially the first day of Summer, and in the vineyard here it was appropriately HOT…97 degrees.  It seemed fitting that we spent the morning tending to the irrigation needs of the vines.  Irrigation involves more than simply keeping the plants alive.  In viticulture, the strategies for watering depend on the desired style of wine that will ultimately be achieved – there are different effects of irrigation on berries from budbreak to bloom and fruit set and all the way through to maturity. One of my favorite lessons from vineyard management class is that vines are like cats – they don’t like wet feet!  At Chateau Montelena, they practice deficit irrigation, providing just enough water to keep the vines from becoming overly stressed.  Heriberto, (Beto, as he is called by the staff here) who I spent the day shadowing, explained that when the vines are young they are irrigated more to grow a strong healthy vine and as they get older and start to produce fruit, the water is greatly reduced.  I always think of what Jim Barrett, i.e. Bill Pullman, said in the movie Bottle Shock – making the vines “struggle” intensifies the flavor.  Who would know better?  And this is where I put in a shameless plug for the movie…if you have never seen, go get yourself a copy and share it with friends.  You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate this wonderfully entertaining, feel-good movie.  If you are lucky enough to live in the area, you can pick up a copy (autographed by Bo Barrett) in the Montelena tasting room if you take the “Bottle Shock Chardonnay Experience” tour.  As with the movie, once is not enough!

Returning to the day’s events, I accompanied Beto as he turned on valves for several irrigation pump stations throughout the vineyard blocks.  Just when I thought to myself, oh, this will be an easy task….there is actually much more to irrigation and fertilization (fertigation when both are applied simultaneously) than I imagined.  As I said to Beto, learning about something in a classroom is never the same as doing it.  Beto has been with Montelena for more than 20 years, and it’s easy to see that he loves what he does.  We began in a hillside block, walking the rows to inspect the drip lines and replacing any failing, or plugged, emitters (the small, round cap-like spouts through which the water flows).  Next, travel to the various pump stations where, in some cases, valves need to be turned on.  At other stations, filters need to be removed and cleaned out.  Valves are shut off at the end of the work day, then the whole process repeats again the next day.  I also observed as organic fish fertilizer was applied through the irrigation system to one of the blocks of baby vines (this is done once or twice a year on young vines).  The huge 300-gallon tank has to be transported to the application site with a forklift, and then a myriad of hoses connects the tank to the irrigation system with a portable pump.  Quite a remarkable way to apply fertilizer, considering how painstaking it must have been in the days before all this wonderful machinery was developed!


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.

So, How Is 2011 Shaping Up?

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Vineyard Manager, Dave Vella, has over 25 years of experience working with the soils, vines and weather here at the winery.  With that kind of experience working with one particular vineyard, he has seen it all over the years.  I recently caught up with him to get an update on how things are shaping up in the vineyard for the 2011 vintage.

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Vineyard Tours Starting Soon

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Most of you know wines from what you buy at the store, read in reviews, hear from friends and enjoy at dinner parties.  For those who venture to the regions where it’s actually made, their learning curve goes up exponentially.  They get the stories first hand (sometimes, subjective); but even then, that’s a good thing. What makes our wine different than someone else’s may seem better to some, not to others.  That’s the beauty of enjoying wine. If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

Well, we’re taking your learning curve a bit farther if you visit us in Calistoga.  Starting soon, on Mondays and Wednesday mornings at 10:30am, we’re offering vineyard tours.  Our little 8 passenger electric cart will whisk you around (in an environmentally-friendly way) our 100 acres of vineyards, giving you a fun and educational, Disney-like drive through our Estate vineyards.  You’ll get an up-close and personal experience learning how our wines begin.   Should start up next week; but check our website for details soon!


The 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay

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It’s official…the 2009 Chardonnay is released and ready to enjoy!

Have you had a chance to try it yet?  If so, what do you think?


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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

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