Surprising and Fun Ruby “Port” From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena with the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, my first post on this website, and then with the 2009 Chardonnay early this year. I figured it would be fun to return to Montelena today with a unique and special bottling.

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: Twenty Year Ruby

100% Syrah; 20.3% ABV

The Twenty Year Ruby is translucent medium ruby to deep garnet in color. The nose is rather beautiful and surprisingly complex, showcasing aromas of bing cherry, raspberry liquor, strawberry shortcake, licorice, spice cake, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, baking spice, and vanilla. Meanwhile the palate offers equal depth with notes of orange peel, cranberry, red plum, red licorice, fig, anise, caramel, mint, chocolate, and clove. This is full-bodied with high acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. An outstanding and fun wine, though only available to Chateau Montelena club members in California or with visits to the winery.

Price: $125 (club price). I don’t think I can call this 500ml a great value at $125 each, however it is a delicious wine and surpassed all expectations I had for it. If you’re in the Montelena club, why not give it a try.