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Category Archives: Winery News

A Dose of Thanks

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As George noted last week, Thanksgiving is finally here!  And I can hardly believe it – feels like it was NYE 2011 just the other day!  Regardless, it’s great for me because Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday.  Any day that I can eat delicious food to my heart’s content, spend time with my favorite people and drink amazing wines is a great day by me.  This year, I’ll be attending two Thanksgiving feasts which is pretty much double the fun.  I’ll really have to pace myself, that’s for sure.

This year, I’m really looking forward to dessert (which probably comes as no surprise to those who know me).  I’ve found a scrumptious Paula Deen recipe laden with cream cheese, pumpkin and sugar that I’m hoping will take top prize in the annual dessert competition.  As a bonus, it’s an homage to one of my best friends (and college roommate) who used to bake a traditional St. Louis-style gooey butter cake every time she went home for the holidays – and brought back the ooey, gooey, goodness when she returned to school each January.  Needless to say, that cake was always devoured within about an hour after her arrival back on campus…it’s just THAT good.  Now I’m trying my baking hand at it with the addition of pumpkin.  I fully expect that to tip this dessert off the charts.  Wish me luck in the competition.

As for the wine?  Guess it’s time to raid the cellar and pick out a few special bottles.  It’s always a treat to open those bottles that I’ve been saving for a special occasion – what better occasion than a fantastic feast with family and friends?

So this year, this Thanksgiving, I’m incredibly thankful for the people that make me laugh and smile each and every day and an opportunity to have them all together at one dinner table.  Of course, I’m also thankful for great wine and the occasion to break out those special bottles and for Paula Deen and her indulgent sweets!  I can barely wait for Thursday.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones.  Open that special bottle and enjoy!


Thanksgiving is Here?

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It just doesn’t feel right that Thanksgiving is next week.  We’re just not in the holiday mode yet (despite the fact that the weather, tv commercials and retail stores are already getting Christmas into our heads).  I remember back in the days when it used to be after Thanksgiving that we saw the holiday transformation happen.

Now is a good time to reflect on what to serve with your meals.  I’m seeing more and more households move away from turkey, but whatever you choose to serve, be the hero and make a good wine pairing.  A lot of us get caught into that ” I don’t want to bring great wine to be wasted on my aunt, who would just throw an ice cube in it anyways.”  For me, being in the industry, I’m expected to bring good stuff, so I work to uphold my reputation.  I’ve turned a lot of wine cooler/boxed wine people into budding wine snobs – they hate and love me at the same time…they can never go back to the bad stuff.

So, I encourage you to bring something good to the table.  Educate; spread the wealth.  If, after pouring Aunt Mary a great Zin or Chard and she tastes it then STILL reaches for the ice cubes…well, then she just gets jug wines from now on.



A Whole Lotta Nothin’

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So that’s my topic for this blog post – no theme, just random thoughts and maybe a little tribute to the late Andy Rooney…”ever wonder why…”.

I’ve been awol for a couple weeks.  In my line of work, I take days off when I can; it just so happened that the last 2 weeks that day off fell on Tuesday which is my blog day.   Yes, I guess I could’ve blogged Wednesday, but I’m a creature of habit.  By Wednesday, blogging is deprogrammed from my mind.

I think Fall just blew right by us.  Summer wasn’t all that great, but what happened to the transitional season?  It’s been in the 30′s here at night…just when this growing season is mercifully over.

So did this harvest crash and burn?  Not exactly.  Maybe we didn’t bring in as much fruit as previous years, but the quality is good!  Take it from the writers’ mouth: I’ve tasted the 2011 juice and it is darn good.

Just finished the CSW test yesterday (Certified Specialist of Wine). After 6 months of study sessions with my peers and two weeks of intense studying (and cramming), I quickly remembered why I swore off college after graduation…tests really suck!  While the subject matter is interesting (and my profession), getting graded on it raises that stress level just a bit…just like I was in back in college.  I’m just glad it’s over; pass or fail.  Now I can go back to watching mindless tv and bad sports without guilt.

I am gonna miss the vegetable garden fun.  My body will, too.  I’m having thoughts of a winter garden, but trudging around out there in cold and wet just isn’t as motivating to get a few heads of garlic.  I’ll probably pass and wait till the Spring.

For those on the West, stay warm.  For those gloating in the Midwest (that you’re warmer than us right now…), remember you still have December, January, February, March…let’s talk then.



Save The Date: November 17th

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Save the date, Bay Area friends!  On November 17th we’ll be at  San Francisco hot-spot ZeroZero (826 Folsom) for a special Happy Hour appearance.  Featuring some classic Montelena wines, and a few special surprises, it’s an event not-to-be-missed.  Join us for some sips of your favorite Montelena wine or a new-to-you Montelena wine and stay for a scrumptious pizza hot out of the oven and cap off the evening with a sweet treat of soft-serve.  It’s the best of both worlds: pizza and wine.  We’ll be there from 6:00 to 9:00 – stop by and see us!

2011 Vintage – A Voyage of Endurance

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No doubt the scribes are hard at work summing up their take on the memorable 2011 vintage for public consumption.  Yes, it was an “interesting” year, the kind of growing season that builds character in growers and winemakers.  It was also the kind of vintage in which outstanding wines can be crafted.  Hot off the press, here is the Chateau Montelena 2011 Vintage Report from Master Winemaker Bo Barrett.  As you will see, he is quite pleased with the character of our harvest:

Some vintages are a walk in the nice little Napa Valley Park.  But vintage 2011, was more like Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance to Antarctica! Long & grueling and a risky harvest where fortune favors the bold.  Our collective experience gave us never ending hope and conviction enough to “gut it out” through the rough patches and as we write this commentary on a warm windy November 1, the voyage of Vintage 2011 comes to a very successful ending at Chateau Montelena.  We got through it but not without considerable risk assessment and knowledgeable response, trust in the vineyards we know so well, but also a healthy amount of astonishing luck in the late season’s wonderful weather.  It was a challenging growing season – with a late start, a consistently cool summer, and surprising rains.  As we wrap it up with our last two vineyards being harvested in continuing Indian summer dry warm weather we can now report 2011’s outcome for Chateau Montelena was quite good.

Despite the highly publicized, uncommon weather conditions besetting Napa Valley, our grape quality was high. We attribute our success to the truly exceptional nature of our vineyards (site), along with the experience of our winegrowers and winemaking team (management). More than a little courage in farming was essential to a very successful outcome. In particular, the Cabernet family of grapes does require quite a bit of heat to get fully ripe and make the wines for which Napa Valley is famous. After a consistently cool summer season, significant mid-October rain pushed the vintage even later.  But growers who waited and really “gutted it out” were rewarded with weeks of fantastic weather, a prolonged Indian summer that provided needed ripening time.  We waited.

All of the “money” blocks of our Estate Cabernet (those blocks that always make the blend) came in with near perfect phenolic maturity – lots of time on the vine will do that – and great flavors.  The tannin profile of these lots is classic Montelena: big and velvety.   Yields were down this season, but not the quality.  The 2011 Estate Cabernet will be a standout.  At this early point we expect our Napa Valley Cabernet to show classical styling, lots of depth and subtlety of flavor, and great longevity.  Grower of the year award goes to Buddy Barberis, whose diligent efforts paid off with a good full crop of ripe, balanced, and tasty Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.   In fact all of our growers for the Napa Cabernet made a yeoman’s effort this season, delivering fruit of the highest caliber.

Our patience was also rewarded with a Chardonnay that exudes precision and balance.  The mild, steady warmth of the summer months lacked any significant temperature spikes, which yielded uniformly ripe fruit and fantastic flavor development.  Expect to find zesty green apple and concentrated melon notes, with the refreshing acidity that remains a hallmark of our wines.  We have found in our long experience with Chardonnay that these cooler vintages make wonderful classic wines, and we rate 2011 as unequivocally successful.

This year’s Estate Zinfandel and Primitivo lots are some of the finest we’ve tasted in the last 8 vintages.  Every tank has been a delight, showing excellent color, great tannin structure, and wonderful ripe fruit flavors – this will be one to look for.  The Zinfandel did amazingly well with the October rains, and while the yields were lower (primarily due to very selective harvesting), the quality is excellent.

Potter Valley proved itself once again.  This year’s Riesling came in with great ripeness and a good amount of Botrytis, so we’re expecting lots of yummy apricot and honey flavors in a very classic, cool vintage wine.  Look for a lot of richness in the bottle upon release, and the quintessential Riesling petrol after a few years of cellaring.

Bo Barrett, Master Winemaker

Where To Stay for House Party 2012

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If you don’t have plans yet for the last weekend in January 2012, make some – quickly – and join us for House Party 2012.  If you love wine, you can rest assured that we’ll be pulling out some incredible bottles from our cellar: current release wines, winery-only-wines (those that you can find only here at the winery) and even some special, older bottles that we’ve been saving for a special occasion.  We’ll also have slow-roasted meats and the musical talents of the Bay Area’s own beloved Wonderbread 5 (if you know this band, you know we’re going to have a blast!).  So I hope I’ve given you enough information to make it an easy decision that you need to get tickets and come party with us, but I understand you may be undecided about whether or not to stay here in Calistoga for the weekend or head back to the city.  To make the decision a little easier, we’ve partnered with a few local hotels so you can not only enjoy our party, but you can enjoy all of Calistoga, too.  Mention the “Chateau Montelena House Party” when you call to make reservations at either Stevenson Manor or Solage Calistoga.

So get your tickets, mark your calendar and come to party with us on January 28th.  Then stay and take advantage of all that Calistoga has to offer – great food, mudbaths and spa treatments, fantastic wine and a down-home vibe that makes everyone feel right at home.

The Creative Castle

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Last Saturday, a group of tasters joined us at the winery along with their families.  While the adults tasted through the current release wines, the children exercised their creative sides.  The talented young artists left us with some of their artistic renditions of the Montelena Chateau.  See for yourself below:


Stop the Presses…Please!

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Ok, I know I commented on this in a blog a while ago, but I’ll re state it since it is important to know.  The press will unmercifully declare the 2011 vintage in California a disaster.  Yes, the weather has been less than optimal for growing wine grapes, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  We’ve had late June rains, followed by a mild Summer and then a few October rains.  Some wineries continue that panic of “bringing in grapes” before the rains hit.  Well,  they’re basically saying “we’ll sacrifice optimal time for picking to avoid a total disaster.”  We, on the other hand, let nature run its course.  Over the decades, Mother Nature has really found ways to correct herself.  Our winemaking team continues to prove to us how good this year is shaping up.  We sampled juices of recently harvested fruit, and it’s as deep and rich as always.  Now, I may not be the best judge to taste wine in its infancy and be able to declare it a stellar product, but I have a pretty good sense of recognizing great wine by trying the juice over the years.

Will this year be one for the ages?  It’s too early to tell, but don’t be too quick to write it off.  In the winemaking circles, this vintage will test the mettle of who really knows what they’re doing in trenches.  I have all the confidence in our team….and proof has always been in the bottle.

The 1998 vintage was recognized for less than optimal growing conditions, but has proven to be a star over the years.



Once upon a time in a cellar in a hill….

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Back in the 1880′s under the direction of Alfred Tubbs, the building known as Chateau Montelena was constructed.  Facing almost due north and dug into the hillside, the Chateau was well suited to its mission as a barrel aging cellar with a naturally cool inside temperature (thanks to being partially underground).    At the time of the passage of the 18th amendment, Chateau Montelena was one of the largest wine producers in California.   Following the repeal of prohibition (the 21st amendment), the winery was re-started and the cellar re-invigorated, however, this was not to last and the winery slowly fell into disrepair, passing out of the Tubbs family and ultimately being re-discovered in 1970 by a young Irish attorney from southern California named Jim Barrett.   Jim fell in love with this beautiful old structure and set about restoring it to its former glory and purpose.   So began the construction of the second cellar in the history of the Chateau.  Using the technology available at the time, the lower floor of the Chateau was turned back into a fermentation and barrel aging cellar.  This cellar performed admirably for 39 vintages, producing an unbroken series of world class wines with very few changes to the physical plant.   In order to continue to improve on the legendary quality of the wines, starting in 2008 the wine-making team decided to make a philosophical shift in how the wines were being made – instead of picking enough grapes to fill the tanks to capacity we would pick only those grapes at their optimal ripeness, no matter what the quantity.   The result being many more small lots which was quite a challenge to accommodate in the existing cellar.

So it was that we began working on a complete redesign of the wine production cellar in 2008.   Over the last 3 years the design of the new cellar evolved thanks to hours of brainstorming and plenty of time with a glue-stick, cutouts of tanks,  and photocopies of the old cellar plan.    The engineers and architects were brought on-board, the details resolved, forensic structural investigations conducted, and finally a contractor hired.  During this time the project expanded to include structural enhancement and seismic reinforcing – Tubbs really did it right in the 1880′s and the Chateau  withstood all the various shakes and shimmies over the last 125 years, but we wanted to make sure that it will last for at least another 125 to come.

At the beginning of the second week of February 2011, construction (or rather demolition) began on the 6,600 square foot interior.   At night.    In fact almost all the work involved was carried out in the early morning hours before the tasting room opened and the tourists arrived.   Considering the scale and complexity of this project – removal of the tanks, complete demolition of  the existing slab, new post footings, addition of structural steel reinforcement, new slab, all new electrical, all new plumbing, all new tank cooling, all new lighting, all new trench drains, and more – for the project to be completed in 7 months (at night) is remarkable.   Yesterday we received our final inspection and the project was signed off with absolutely no comments from the county inspector, a rarity in itself, marking the formal completion of the third iteration of the cellar in this historic building – the physical component of the philosophical shift mentioned above.

In addition to the physical and philosophical changes involved with this project, there is another equally important facet: Chateau Montelena will now be recognized as a National Historic Place by the the U.S. Department of the Interior for its contribution to the history of wine making in California both during Tubb’s time and during the current (Barrett) era.

Below is a collage of images from before, during, and after the project showing (clockwise from upper left) an artist’s rendition of the new cellar, the new cellar prior to the installation of the tanks, some of the new fermentation tanks, the cellar during demolition, and the former cellar full of barrels.   Please also have a look at this 360° panoramic tour of the new cellar.  But what is better than any of these images is first hand experience, so come on out and visit our new old Chateau in the hill!


SF Party Oct 13: Did You Get the Golden Ticket?

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So this Thursday, Oct 13th, at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco, we’ll be celebrating the unveiling of our new tasting room in the city which is situated in the lobby of this historic hotel.  This hotel has a special place in my heart for a few reasons:

1:I used to work there.

2:It defines San Francisco and its storied past.

3:There are some wonderful people who work at that hotel; and have so through decades.

US Presidents, foreign dignitaries, movie stars, sports teams have all passed through the hotel’s doors.  So, it was only natural that one of the historic wineries of California should partner with this hotel to be the first (and only?) winery to have a remote tasting room in the city.  The party will celebrate the opening in style with current and library wines, an amazing array of canapes from the Culinary team, and all our closest friends at the winery.

Sorry to say it’s by invitation only, but if you have one of the  golden tickets, be sure to RSVP now before it’s too late (which it will be tomorrow morning).  The tasting room is open to the public from 1-8pm Wed-Sat.   If you’re one of our Cellarmaster club members, your benefits will apply at our new location just as if you were visiting us here at the Chateau!  Be sure to say hi to Ryan or Jonnie when you stop by…


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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