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What is a Chateau?

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By definition, a chateau is “a feudal castle or fortress” as well as “a vineyard estate.” Fittingly, the word usually conjures up a vision of some magnificent fairy tale castle in the Loire Valley of France, or a sprawling landscape of perfectly aligned vineyard rows bursting with wine grapes.

Chateau Montelena Winery exemplifies both definitions of “chateau” – a vineyard estate with its own feudal castle. In 1882 Alfred L. Tubbs, the founder of Chateau Montelena, was determined to create one of the finest winegrowing estates, or “chateaus”, in California. This project included the creation of “Hillcrest” – a luxurious 12 bedroom mansion for his residence – the “Chateau” – a massive two story stone wine cellar resembling a castle – and the “Vineyard Estate” – 250 acres of prime vineyards planted with cuttings from some of Europe’s most renowned properties such as Chateau Lafite, Chateau D’Yquem, and the original Liebfraumilch vineyard on the Rhine.

The construction of the Tubbs mansion and the setting of the vines began in 1882, followed quickly by the construction of the wine cellar – the Chateau. Held up by frequent landslides of the soft crumbling rock from the hillside into which the cellar was being built and the lack of experienced stonemasons, progress in completing the structure was slow. It was finished just in time for the harvest of 1888 and came to be known as one of the finest buildings of its type in 19th century California.

Over the years, the appearance of the Chateau has changed very little. Although it was originally designed for wine storage only, the impressive stone castle, complete with arched windows and doors, miniature turrets and parapets, is a multi-purpose facility today housing not only a wine cellar but also a modern winemaking operation along with a private residence and a congenial tasting room where visitors may sample the latest vintages.

There is a special energy that emanates from the Chateau. Well-traveled visitors often compare it with the great wine cellars of France. The massive timber supports of the cellar below give the impression of a subterranean cavern – a perfect place to make wine. Modern building plans and materials just cannot recreate the same environment. Close your eyes for a moment and the stainless steel tanks and modern winemaking equipment disappear. Let your imagination take you a little further into the past and you could easily be standing in the wine cellar almost one hundred years ago, with the sweet perfume of newly crushed grapes in the air and the heavy creaking noise of a horse-drawn cart laden with fruit coming from just outside the door.

As for the estate vineyards, Earth, Air, Sun and Water have combined at the foot of Mount St. Helena (our namesake) to produce one of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the world – a rare and unique piece of land with an established tradition for making great wines. Having come into full maturity over two decades ago, the vineyards continue to yield the exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and other red wine grapes used to produce the “Montelena Estate” red wines – wines that are crushed, fermented, finished, aged, and bottled (and sometimes consumed!) at the winery in one continuous process.

We invite you to visit Montelena and experience it for your self. We feel certain that you will come away convinced that it is truly a “Chateau” in the finest sense of the word and in the highest winemaking tradition.

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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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