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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

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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