Faces of our San Francisco Tasting Room: Meet Russell Chang

September 18, 2018

One of the first of its kind in San Francisco, our tasting room in the lobby of the Westin Saint Francis is a popular location for visitors and members alike. Therefore, what better way to highlight this unique tasting location than introduce you to a member of our Montelena family that helps make it all happen. Meet Russell Chang, who is now in his fifth year of serving up wine and sharing stories at our San Francisco tasting room. 

What inspired you to work in the wine industry and did you always have a passion for wine?

I actually came to wine later in life, so I have missed a lot of great vintages.  However, once I was hooked, I have remained a fan.  I think wine represents personal inspiration.  Wine is that intangible collaboration of a person’s vision, Mother Nature, science, and a point in time.

What is the most rewarding part of working for Chateau Montelena?

I think the fact that we are still family owned is important and that we are always concerned about the quality of the wines.  It implies that we have a sense of tradition, a sense of our place, and that we want our wines to be able to “sell themselves.”  It is always easier to sell a product that you believe in. I also have the great privilege of working with a wonderful team both at our San Francisco tasting room and at our Calistoga winery. 

What does a typical day look like in the San Francisco Tasting Room?

We get a mix of people who have never heard of the winery, loyal fans and followers, and wine enthusiasts. As a very diverse city, we also get visitors from all over the world. Thus, the typical day involves telling the story and history of Chateau Montelena with its wines in a relaxed and captivating manner.  We are also really one of the few places where someone can get a bottle of quality wine in the neighborhood. We have a large following in the Bay Area whether it’s the casual visitor dropping in for a tasting or our club members who continue to show their loyal support. There’s also a core group that regularly visits our SF location and we truly consider them good friends!

With the seven year anniversary approaching of the tasting room in the Westin St. Francis, what is one of your fondest memories from the past few years?

I think our most memorable moment came in the wake of the unfortunate and disastrous fires of 2017. As Napa and Sonoma were being evacuated, we were the one place “open.”  For about a week and half, our lobby tasting room was crazy busy. We had people waiting outside the door to taste with us.  It was exciting, fun, sad, tragic, and a wine geek paradise all at the same time as people shared their various experiences and wine stories with us.

How is the tasting room in San Francisco an extension of Chateau Montelena Winery and what kind of experiences do you offer?

As a satellite of Chateau Montelena, we can give someone “a taste of Napa” as we offer the same daily Current Release Tasting menu on a walk-in basis. Although we don’t offer all of the same tastings in the San Francisco tasting room as we do at the winery, we do try to carry older and unusual vintages for purchase as well. Additionally, our club members can attend the San Francisco club events in both April and October and pick up their wine orders at the same time.

Do you have a favorite vintage?

I have to apologize and say that I have very limited data points vis-à-vis the older vintages.  However, for me, if I had to pick one vintage of Chateau Montelena, I would pick 1992 as I have had both the Estate Cabernet and Estate Zinfandel and they both were exceptional.  

When you are not serving wine and sharing stories at the tasting room, what do you like to do in your free time?

Of course, the answer has to be “drink wine.”  I also enjoy trying out food venues that are “different." In addition, I’m a San Francisco Giants fan and work part time as an usher at the games. Although the past few years have been painful, there was a recent stretch where we did pretty good!

Have your own question for Russell? Ask us on social via our handle @chmontelena. 

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