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.

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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.

Can One Overindulge On Vacation?

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The answer is yes.  I just got back from the beautiful state of Montana.  After driving 6 hours from Billings to BigFork, I understand why they call it “Big Sky.”  One can’t appreciate what that means till they look over the horizon of thousands of acres of wheat fields, rolling green hills, or glacier covered mountains on the Continental Divide.  The sky really looks bigger!

Anyways, to my point.  I was traveling with some of my closest friends, one of which has an extensive wine collection, primarily French, with a smattering of Italian and Australian; but all top shelf brand names. He’s collected for years; and like many of us, looking for the right occasion to open them up.  Well, he felt this was the right occasion, as we all got together and stayed at a beautiful home on Flathead Lake.

Among the four adult drinkers in 8 days, we averaged 3 bottles a night.  We drank some of the best Europe and Australia has to offer: Romanee Conti, 1996, La Tache, 1999, Chateau Margaux 1982, Gaja 1990, Sassicaia, 1996, Grange 1996, Hill of Grace 1994.  I could go on, but it would sound like I’m bragging. Well, I am a bit! You don’t often get an opportunity like this very often, if ever.  Every day was a new experience, a new terroir explored.  By the end of the trip, we were in true bliss.  It’s nice to drink like royalty, even if it’s for a week.

Back to reality, as vacation is done.  The next day, I swore I would not drink for at least a week.  Phone rings; here comes friends from out of town to stay for the night.  Being from out of town, coming to Napa, of course they want to go wine tasting and drink at night.  So, out comes some bottles from my collection. Far from my friend’s cellar; more dominated by Napa Valley.  Was I ready to have a glass?  I thought not…but I was. And after all we drank the week before, I was happy to drink some local wine and realize how good our wines are…and at a fraction of the cost!

My Favorite Vineyard Day

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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:

One day last week I spent my morning at Chateau Montelena working on some Petite Syrah vines.  The Montelena Estate vineyards are exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon and old Zinfandel; the Petite Syrah vines are experimental (maybe the winemakers will try them in some new blend?).   Arriving at the vineyard at 5:50 a.m., I learned that the rest of the crew was working offsite.  I wondered what I would be doing, since that meant I would be working alone.  Did they actually trust me to work on my own in the estate vineyard with no supervision?  Beto asked if I would like to work on the four rows of young Petite Syrah vines that needed a little “tidying up” – vines creeping out into the row middles needed to be tucked into the catch wires and trimmed above the top wire.  Sure!  I said, happy to have any opportunity to use my pruning shears.  I love pruning and cutting and trimming and snipping – as someone who has never really worked in a garden of any kind before, I had no idea how empowering it is to “discipline” a vine….maybe it’s because I can’t seem to establish the same control over my two obstinate Pugs.  At this stage, when the vineyard seems to be growing like crazy, the vines are like unruly children.  Fortunately, and unlike my dogs, they respond well to just about anything you do to them!   It was a glorious day in Calistoga – very warm, but not too hot – with a soft breeze and a postcard-blue sky.  As I was talking to the vines in the peaceful silence and listening to the birds chirping, Mr. Barrett rode by on his little motor scooter, and it made me happy to see him out and about.  After a bit Dave Vella, the Vineyard Manager, stopped by to ask how things were going for me.  In addition to what I was already doing, Dave suggested I start “dropping” berry clusters – in effect, pruning to leave just one cluster per shoot.  When vines are young, this allows them to put their energy and resources into producing berries with more concentrated flavors.  Montelena purposely keeps their vine yields low because smaller crop yields produce wines with more intensity and complexity.  I was excited about this new task, until I started trying to decide which clusters would live and which would die. The problem, I discovered, was that by and large, all of them were beautiful and soon I realized I was spending far too much time trying to pick and choose and that it probably was not an effective use of my time.  Where there were clear and obvious choices, I snipped off the “lesser” bunches, but I have to say that I did not enjoy murdering those little clusters that will never grow up to become fine Chateau Montelena wine!  All in all, though, a perfect day.  Next week I plan to focus on my co-workers – the people who make up the great, hard-working vineyard crew at Montelena.  See you then.


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?


Summer Vineyard Activities

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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:

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July.  At Chateau Montelena, the vineyard has really been flourishing – the warm, sunny weather has given the vines everything they need to grow, and grow rapidly!  It is very exciting to see the berry clusters taking shape and increasing in size; “peppercorn” diameter now (about 4 mm), they are actually beginning to look like bunches of grapes.  “Berry set” occurred in June and this month wineries can begin cluster counts to determine their crop projection for the year.  Because everything is growing like crazy at this time, it’s also necessary to keep up a busy pace of tucking vines up into the catch wires as well as continue with suckering – removing unwanted shoots we don’t want and the vines don’t need.  Extra shoots “rob” the vines of the vigor and productivity that has to go into growing, ripening and maturing the fruit, so this is a very important task.  We have also started some shoot “thinning” to eliminate crowding and allow the leaves – i.e. the little solar panels of the vines – full sun exposure and again, to give the vines the opportunity to focus their energy into fruit production instead of green (vegetative) growth.  We did have a day of real rain last week; happy for the cooler temperatures, we started work as usual at 6 a.m. under a light drizzle but within an hour the skies opened up to a full blown deluge.  I had my rain gear on and wanted to continue but Placido, the crew supervisor, wisely summoned us out of the vineyard and told us to go home – no sense jeopardizing anyone’s health or safety.  The sun and high temperatures have returned, and we are back at it – yesterday was spent doing more vine tucking and suckering.  These things grow like weeds!

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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About Our Authors

Kristina King

Born in Colorado and led a nomadic life until the ripe old age of four. Kristina loves to travel, eat, drink wine, and enjoy the outdoors. One of her mottos is: Life is an adventure - enjoy!

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.

Cameron Parry

Winemaker since 2008, Cameron has been an integral member of the winemaking team at Chateau Montelena since 2004. He and his wife live in Calistoga with their two beautiful daughters.

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