Chateau Montelena Winery has to be one of the most beautiful spots in Napa. What began as a winery in 1886 with Alfred Tubbs, became a bucolic retirement spot for Yort Winn and Jeanie Frank in 1958. Frank was a Chinese engineer who had built the Manchurian Railroad. They added Jade Lake and the Chinese-inspired garden. This is an incredibly beautiful spot to relax and have a picnic (prior permission is needed) or just go for a stroll.
When the property was again sold in 1968, all the land was cleared and replanted under the direction of James Barrett, a lawyer from San Francisco. He then hired Mike Grgich, a Yugoslavian immigrant, as his winemaker. They began producing wines again in 1972. James, Barrett’s son, Bo Barrett, is currently operating the winery.
In May 1976, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was tasted against nine wines both French and Californian. It took first prize against white burgundies and Chardonnays in the “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. This put California on the global wine map and inspired some major European players to purchase vineyard land in the Napa Valley. You may recall the movie, Bottle Shock which is based on these events.
The chateau was constructed in 1882. It is a stone castle straight out of Grimm’s fairytales complete with turrets, fountains and ivy-covered façade. Upon entering you will be in the tasting room. On the day we visited, Jason was pouring for us. I was impressed with how knowledgeable he was both on the wines we were tasting and the history of Napa Valley. He truly has a passion for wine and is planning to make his career within the industry. It was exhilarating to meet someone with so much enthusiasm and information.
We learned that the tasting room hosts approximately 40,000 to 50,000 visitors per year and they produce approximately 45,000 cases of wine annually (this fluctuates with the harvests). There is a $20. Tasting fee for a nice selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons. I especially enjoyed the Montelena Estate 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon but at $150 per bottle that will have to remain a very “special occasion” wine for me.
At the end of the main hall you will find the “Estate Room”. Here there are a number of historical artifacts as well as an exposed stone wall of the chateau. Especially interesting is the display of the soils that comprise the Montelena Estate vineyard.
If you have the opportunity to wander around the grounds you will find footbridges that connect the chateau to two islands which are available to the winery’s club members. The footbridges are crooked and Jason told us that was because Chinese legend has it that evil spirits can only travel in a straight line over water. If you look just beyond Jade Lake you will see the Estate Vineyard. The lake itself is a wonder with vegetation covered arbors and black swans swimming gracefully in the water.
Chateau Montelena is certainly worth a trip. Delicious wines and a one-of-a-kind location.