Come Taste For Yourself

As a new member of the Montelena family, we invite you to meet us, taste the wines and enjoy a bounty of benefits.

Visit The Chateau

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.



Easy Do-Ahead Gougères

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Wanting to pull out that 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet at sunset for friends? A perfect small bite to pair with this sumptuous red is a plate of warm gougères just out of the oven. Gougères traditionally are made with a choux pastry base. But who wants to fuss with making the pasty when guests are on the way over? Puff pastry sheets fit the bill. The versatility of this product should never be underestimated! The pastry sheets thaw quickly and can make easy work of impressing family and friends.*

Faux Gougères

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and center a rack in the oven.

Thaw one sheet of puff pastry in fridge or on the counter as directed on the package.

On a lightly floured stone counter top, roll the pastry to an 8 x 12 inch rectangle.

In two separate bowls, mix:

-one egg white and 2 T. milk

-any mixture of 3 T ea: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried thyme, dried marjoram, madras curry, dried dill, minced dried onion or shallot. Put together what pleases you. Add to this bowl: 1/3 c. grated gruyere or dry Vella Jack cheese, and a dash of black pepper or cayenne.

Brush the rolled square of pastry with the egg white mixture; then liberally sprinkle the mixture of herbs, seeds and cheese over the pastry. Press gently with your rolling pin, using a light touch.

Using a very small cookie cutter (1.25 inch diameter, or the top of a shot glass), stamp out the shapes. This should yield at least 2 dozen gougères.
Bake on a silpat mat or ungreased cookie sheet for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. These yummy bites freeze beautifully for up to a month…cool completely before wrapping and freezing. Reheat frozen gougères @ 400 degrees on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes, until warm and slightly crisp.

*Tip: Keep the boxes of puff pastry frozen until you’re ready to use. You can put a box in the fridge up to a day ahead if you like, but after a few days the sheets will develop a sour taste and will fail to rise properly.

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…


Napa Cab is Finally Here…

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Today is the day; 2008 Napa Cabernet can now be yours.  If you thought the ’07 was good, wait till you try this wine!  The only problem: so little was made of it.  Such a bummer.

Come see us and get a few bottles before it’s gone…


House Party 2012 – Rock & Rotisserie

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We’ve been hard at work planning a new bash for the New Year.  Introducting: House Party 2012 – Rock & Rotisserie.  On January, 28, 2012, we’ll open up the Chateau for our first-ever House Party, where our guests will have the run of the place (and the first glimpse at our newly renovated cellar).  Upstairs, downstairs – there will be food and wine around every corner.  We’ll be featuring slow-cooked rotisserie meats (think: pig, lamb, poultry and beef) to enjoy along with the Montelena classics, a special collection of older vintage wines from our library, and even a few limited-production winery-only wines.  Join us to eat, drink and be merry and then stay to party the night away, dancing to the music of San Francisco’s Wonderbread 5, at the first great party of the New Year.  Rock and Rotisserie 2012we hope to see you there.

Tickets are on sale now – reserve yours today.  It’s a perfect gift for someone special; a perfect occasion to celebrate once all the holiday parties have died out; a perfect excuse to come enjoy the beautiful Napa Valley for a weekend getaway; a perfect opportunity drink some great wine, dance to your favorite 80′s and 90′s hits and be merry.  Whatever your reason for joining the party, we can’t wait to see you here!

Good Ideas; Bad Decisions

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Up here at Chateau Montelena, we like to think that we know a good idea when we see one, even if it sometimes takes us awhile to get on board. So, in what is proudly a blatant rip-off of the Schramsberg “Harvest Dress”, we present to you the “Harvest Hat!” A real gem that I found in Chinatown and just couldn’t pass up – who doesn’t love a fuzzy white pig? The rules are the same as for the dress – wearer must have done something to deserve it. In this instance one of our interns (Matt Johnson), in a case of bad judgment, failed to hang the “man in press” sign on the outside of the press while cleaning it, so now he gets to wear the hat as a reminder to himself and the rest of the staff to follow the rules for their own safety. Goes nicely with his outfit, don’t you think?

On the more serious side, today was our 3rd day of fruit this year, and we’ve got just shy of 60 tons in so far. All white grapes to this point (Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc), but we’re looking at potentially harvesting the first few tons of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon tomorrow. Today’s hot weather is moving everything along quite nicely, and should help push several blocks into pickable condition. Rain next week? That’s the next big question…

Stay tuned and happy harvesting!

Giants Are Done; Life Can Go On

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As the avid sports fan, I’m in a quandry at this time of the year.  Yes, I’m a Bay Area sports fan: 49ers, Raiders, Giants, A’s, Warriors  (it is possible to like both sides of the Bay).  This time of the year, I would never have to worry about the Giants going too deep – well, until last year, that is.  Normally, they’re done by what – say, August?  I can then get on with my life – worrying about the high season at the Chateau, harvest and holiday preparations.  Last year was tough; the Giants went all the way to the World Series, so I had to balance my time between them and the Chateau.  Sadly, this year the Giants are already out of the running.  It’s funny how our expectations of them are so great now that they’ve won; their failure to get in to the post-season is a horrible let down (when in the past 40 years, having a +500 season was an achievement).   Even at the point where there were 14 games left and they were like 8 games out, people were still optimistic that the Giants could pull it off.  Come on!  Let’s be realistic.  Now it’s time for me to move on.

Anyways, I can rant all day about sports…but, I now get my life back early and can concentrate on the harvest and activities around the Chateau now.

That is, until the new Fall season of shows started back!  Damn that tv addiction….


First Crush, 40th Vintage

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Crush for our 40th vintage started today.  The first bin of Chardonnay from the John Muir Hanna vineyard arrived and we wasted no time getting a video of sorting table activity for your enjoyment.  This is always an exciting time here, more so this year with our newly retrofit cellar.  Enjoy.

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Early Autumn Carrot Ginger Soup

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There is nothing better for a do-ahead recipe than this easy-to-prepare carrot ginger soup. Of course, we have the 2010 Riesling in the chiller for warm harvest season nights …who wouldn’t love this off-dry lovely first glass alongside a starter of early autumn carrot soup? The ginger, lemongrass and orange zest pick up the natural bright floral notes and spicy finish of our crisp and refreshing Riesling.  Serve them both chilled on a warm harvest evening!

  • 1 large Vidalia or Maui onion large dice
  • 1-2 Tbsp extra virgin floral green olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp of minced fresh ginger
  • 2lb. carrots, large dice
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 qt. chicken stock
  • ¼ c. orange zest
  • ¼ c. cilantro
  • 2 T. lemongrass paste
  • sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of stockpot. Add onions and cook until translucent; reduce heat as needed. Add celery, ginger and carrots and cook until soft and fragrant, about 7-8 minutes. Add stock, orange zest, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered, on very low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and lemongrass and allow to cool to room temperature.*

In batches, puree soup in blender (an immersion blender works in soup pot).

Thin with additional broth as needed. Season to taste with sea salt and white pepper.

*Do ahead tip: This soup is easy to make and very little prep is needed…refrigerate in a microwave-safe container for up to three days, and reheat to serve warm. In summer, this soup is delicious when served chilled with a dollop of greek yogurt or low fat sour cream, and, of course, our 2010 Chateau Montelena Riesling!

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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