For more than four decades, the Barrett family has been making wine at Chateau Montelena, with credit for wines that combine intensity and power with a luscious, rich texture - wines that express the unique characteristics of the land they come from, rather than techniques. From the basement.
The rise of Chateau Montelena mainly came after Steven Spurrier staged a blind wine tasting in 1976. The best French whites from Burgundy and reds from Bordeaux were compared to the best the US had to offer at the time in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. And guess what: the Nappa Valley houses from the USA won in both categories. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars with red and with white, Montelena. You will understand that the wine world shook to its foundations, and American (read: Napa Valley) winemakers were really on the map for the first time. The most amusing way to get to know the whole story – if you haven't already – is to watch the movie Bottle Shock (starring the brilliant and very early deceased Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier).
Speaking of history, Chateau Montelena Winery was initially called A.L. Tubbs winery, after the founder. This successful businessman and senator from San Francisco dreamed of making world-class California wines in Napa Valley. He found the ideal spot a few miles north of Calistoga, at the foot of Mount Saint Helena. The chateau – indeed, without the accent on the a, because American – dates from 1888. Unlike other wineries built during this period, the construction was not made of wood but stone. The style of an English castle has thick walls to keep out the heat and cold. Also – unique for that time – built into a hill to better control temperature changes. Important for quality wine.
However, Tubbs himself didn't get that far. After Prohibition, his grandson Chapin got things going again. He harvested the vineyards, made some wine, and sold grapes to other wineries and hobby winemakers. In 1940, he christened the winery Chateau Montelena Winery, a contraction of Mount St. Helena. Things came to a standstill after his death in 1947. For decades the chateau lay abandoned. The Tubbs family sold their chateau in 1958 to Yort Wing Frank, a Hong Kong electrical engineer, and his wife Jeanie, looking for a place to enjoy their retirement. The area inspired Yort to dig a lake and create a beautiful Chinese garden. Today, Jade Lake is still one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Napa Valley, with a wealth of flora and fauna. And the wine?
The Rebellion only took on a severe face again with the arrival of Jim Barrett in the early 1970s. Under his leadership, vineyards were cleared and replanted, and the winery was equipped with a modern installation. He put together a team to oversee vineyards and winery well and did not rest until he had the best grapes in Napa. The wine was made here for the first time in 1972. The rest of the story is known
However, Montelena, with son Bo Barret at the helm, is still a celebrated family wine company that continues to persevere in quality and taste. The wines of Montelena are all unique. By Napa Valley standards, intense yet elegant wines gain in character and refinement with age. You will find the usual USA suspects: cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and petite syrah, but also cabernet franc for red. In white, of course, the legendary chardonnay, but also sauvignon blanc (late harvest and dry) and a surprising riesling.
These award-winning and iconic bottles may not be cheap, but they are well worth the splurge. Guaranteed.
For more information about Chateau Montelena, please visit www.montelena.com.
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