First put on the world map by their triumph in the famous Paris Tasting of 1976, Chateau Montelena has a history of producing wine since the late 1800’s when the late rope magnet Alfred L. Tubbs bought 254 acres north of Calistoga in the upper part of Napa Valley. Since then, the estate passed between multiple owners with little attention paid to the vineyards in the meantime. It was only with the purchase of the estate in 1972 by Jim Barrett did the modern rise of the estate begin. Barrett overhauled the neglected vineyards and started producing serious Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay.
While it was their Chardonnay that beat out nine other wines in Paris, it is Chateau Montelena’s Cabernet Sauvignons that continue to shine even after decades in the bottle. The estate vineyard is 120 acres in all and mostly planted in alluvial soils along the Napa River, with small portions of older sedimentary deposits and volcanic soils along the margins. Much of the vines date back to Barrett’s replanting efforts in the early 1970’s, enhancing the translation of terroir to the wine and naturally restricting yields.
Chateau Montelena’s wine making has always been focused on building wines for extended aging. Their Cabernets in particular beautifully balance the ripe fruit with lifting acid and supporting tannin. The location of the vineyard North of Calistoga at 400 to 650 ft above sea level means hot days give way to cool nights, promoting ripeness while retaining acidity. Chateau Montelena is one of the earlier pickers in the area, waiting for the perfect moment where acids drop in conjunction with phenolic ripeness. Recent updates to winemaking equipment following the unsuccessful sale of the estate have refined Chateau Montelena’s wines even further, retaining the “Old school” style typical to the estate while focusing and purifying the profile as a whole.