What The Critics Said
Only one note from the 1976 Judgement tasting survives.
Christian Vannequé, head sommelier at the Tour dArgent in Paris, wrote: A very agreeable wine, which will blossom pleasantly and has a good equilibrium. To be followed.
The owner of the celebrated restaurant would later rebuke Vannequé for having participated.
columnist Michael Broadbent wrote in 1980. It is certainly my idea of a fine California Chardonnay broad, slightly sweet, fully developed positive but not excessive dryish, more body than a Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet, but not heavy. Fine, rich, a touch of meatiness. Very good acidity. Perfect.
Winemaker Matt Crafton Talks
The 1976 Judgement of Paris in which California wines outscored French wines at a blind tasting, judged largely by French judges, put California wine on the global map. The top white wine out of the ten in the tasting was the 1973 Chateau Montelena, out scoring four top Burgundies. With that victory, Chateau Montelena became a global household name.
The winery exists under the same ownership today, although a younger generation has taken the reins. The wine maker since 2014 has been Matt Crafton, a University of California, Davis viticulture and enology graduate who started making wine in his native Virginia before moving to California. I recently had the opportunity to interview him and catch up with what the winery is doing now.
AC: Chateau Montelena is defined by the victory of its Chardonnay at the Judgement of Paris . Obviously, that was made by someone else but I am sure that you have been fortunate enough to taste the wines of that era. How does the Chardonnay that you make today differ from those?
AC: What about Chateau Montelena chardonnay stylistically, relative to other California chardonnays?
Matt Crafton: Our style is not scalable. There is a very small area of Napa Valley that can grow chardonnay with the characteristics we need and that constrains how much we can produce. There is vintage variation of course but an enduring practice is that I pick before letting the grapes get too ripe.
AC: Lets come back to vine stress. How much is needed?
Why Chateau Montelena 1973 Is A Wine Legend
It came top out of the 10 French and Californian Chardonnays poured blind at the event. Six of the nine French judges awarded Montelena their highest score.
Montelena 1973 also made from young vines, confounding the French conviction that vines need to be mature to deliver top-class wine.
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History: Winemaker Mike Grgich And Montelena
Miljenko Mike Grgich was a Croatian who in 1958 emigrated to California. There he worked with many of the existing wineries from the late 1960s, including Souverain, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu and Mondavi. In 1972 he was offered a job at Chateau Montelena, founded in 1882, but owned since 1969 by lawyer Jim Barrett and his partners. Grgichs wines met with an enthusiastic receptionand he remained at Montelena until 1975, when he left after some acrimonious disputes to found his own winery.
Chateau Montelena Wines : Key Points
Immortalized by winning the white wine category for its 1973 Chardonnay in the 1976 ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting, Chateau Montelena has earned its position as one of the legends of Napa Valley wine. Established in 1882, Chateau Montelena is one of the most historic vineyards in the US and was revitalized in the early 1970’s. The estate is comprised of a variety of soils and microclimates, and it is this diversity of terroir which lends the wines their unique and aromatic qualities.
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Chateau Montelena: A Varied Terroir Managed With Care
Chateau Montelena is situated in the Calistoga AVA of Napa Valley. Vineyard Manager Dave Vella credits the quality of the wines to the regions terroir, where soils and climate and slope have come together to create the perfect spot to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. The estates seven vineyard locations have also been managed with sustainable agricultural practices for decades, with very close attention paid to the character and unique needs of each plot.
The Estate Vineyard is Chateau Montelenas largest property, spanning over around 115 acres, of which 83 acres are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 to Zinfandel and Primitivo and the rest to Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Around the estate is also the 28-acre Barberis , the 15-acre Montelena Blossom Creek and 6-acre Montelena Garnet Creek , and the 8-acre plot south of Calistoga also planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to these properties, Chateau Montelena leases a 55-acre plot of mostly Chardonnay vines in the Oak Knoll District at the base of Mt. Veeder, also supervised by Vella but managed by Bill Hanna. Montelena sources its Chardonnay from a neighboring vineyard, owned and managed by Hanna. The winery produces around 1,500 cases of Riesling with fruit purchased from Potter Valley.
Chateau Montelena: Us Vineyard That Beat Top French Wines Is For Sale
Chateau Montelena, a Californian white which shocked the wine world in 1976 when it beat France’s top vintages in a landmark tasting in Paris, is about to be sold to a Bordeaux estate.
The expected change of ownership was described as a “remarkable irony” by Jon Fredrikson. a respected American wine consultant.
“This is the ultimate recognition, that the French are now buying these great California wineries”, he said.
Talks are in progress between Michel Reybier, owner of Chateau Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux, and Jim Barrett, the founder of Chateau Montelena.
Terms were reached last week for an undisclosed sum with a possible final deal in autumn.
The “Judgment of Paris” – billed as the most famous wine tasting in history – put Californian wine from the Napa valley on the map when nine wine experts rated them top in both red and white.
They compared six chardonnay wines from California and four from Burgundy, then turned to six cabernet sauvignon from California and four from Bordeaux.
A Chateau Montelena, 1973 won the white tasting, with a Stagg ‘s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 chosen as the top red.
Aghast, some French critics tried to take back their vote, to no avail.
A re-run of the legendary tasting held two years ago ended in a near-identical outcome, with the Americans trouncing the French.
The highest ranked Bordeaux was a 1970 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which placed sixth out of the ten wines.
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Chateau Montelena: Old World Winemaking And Signature Style
The winemaking style of Chateau Montelena applies Old World traditions to fruit grown in the New World terroir of Napa Valley. The winery team relies on modern crushing, destemming and pressing equipment to treat the grapes as gently as possible. Fermentation takes place slowly and evenly in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, the wines are transferred to small French oak barrels. The proportion of new to older, neutral wood depends on each grape variety, vintage and parcel of origin, in order to ensure balance between fruit and oak. After the wines are blended and bottled, they are kept aging in the bottle for some time before release.
Chateau Montelena is perhaps best known for its Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a lush and mouth-coating blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged for 22 months in 100% French barrel of which around one-third is new. Revealing notes of cassis, black cherry and touches of tobacco on the nose, this Bordeaux-style blend offers silky, fine-grained tannins, a vibrant acidity and rich red and black fruit notes on the palate. The estate also produces the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blend, a Napa Valley Petite Syrah and both a Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc from Calistoga. Their whites include the Napa Valley Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling.
Red Wines Of The 1976 Tasting
- Stags Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley
- Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970
- Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Range 1971, Santa Cruz Mts.
- Château Leoville-Las-Cases 1971
- Mayacamas 1971, Napa Valley/Mayacamas Mts.
- Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley
- Heitz Cellars Marthas Vineyard 1970, Napa Valley/St. Helena
- Freemark Abbey 1969, Napa Valley/Rutherford
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White Wines Of The 1976 Tasting
- Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley/Calistoga
- Meursault-Charmes 1973, Roulot
- Chalone Vineyards 1974, Monterey County/Soledad
- Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley/Spring Mountain
- Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973, Joseph Drouhin
- Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley/Rutherford
- Batard-Montrachet 1973, Ramonet-Prudhon
- Puligny-Montrachet 1972, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive
- Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley/Mt. Veeder
- David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mts.
- Wine Shop
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Editing for Decanter.com by Chris Mercer
Life Lessons With Bo Barrett Of Chateau Montelena
Words byAdam Lechmere
Bo Barrett uses the word fun a lot. As in, if I sold the winery, what would I do for fun?, or flying a helicopter is way more fun than a plane or my dad and me, we had a ton of fun. If you didnt know anything about the 67-year-old owner and chief executive of Napas Chateau Montelena, you might think he was a bit of a dilettante.
He was portrayed as such by Chris Pine in the memorable 2008 film Bottle Shock, about the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the actor taking the concept of unruly and irresponsible California surfer dude to its most ludicrous extreme. Barrett liked Pines performance, even though it had nothing to do with reality. No, the truth is I had quit surfing and moved to Utah to ski. And theres nothing unruly about that. Powder skiing is a discipline you have to be up at 5am to be the first on the mountain. I was always very disciplined if I was into the work.
After Montelena shot to fame as a result of the Paris tasting , and the then Montelena winemaker Mike Grgich had seized the opportunity to start up on his own, taking his entire crew with him, Jim Barrett had to find another winemaker and cellar team. The call was put out to his eldest son Bo, who had worked many harvests and was seen as a reliable and enthusiastic cellar hand .
What exercise do you do?I do heaps of exercises including walking every day, bike riding, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, TRX workouts. I have to keep moving all the time.
Chateau Montelena: The Unique History Of An American Chateau
On May 24, 1976, Chateau Montelena made history, when it was named best white wine in the world at the Judgement of Paris, defeating even the very best of Burgundy and bringing global acclaim, for the first time, to California in general and Napa Valley in particular. But the story of Montelena begins long before that fateful day. The property, located at the base of Mount Saint Helena, two miles north of Calistoga, was first purchased by Alfred L. Tubbs in 1882. The founder began by planting his vineyards and then constructed his Chateau, which was truly unique at the time in that it was built of stone in the English Gothic style, with thick walls providing insulation against the external temperature. In 1886, Tubbs hired a French winemaker at the chateau.
After a temporary pause in winemaking during Prohibition, Tubbss grandson Chapin Tubbs resumed the harvest. He renamed the winery Chateau Montelena, a contraction of Mount St. Helena nearby. During the 1950s and 1960s, the estate served as a residence for Yort and Jeanie Frank, who emigrated from Hong Kong and were looking for a nice place to retire. The Franks landscaped the property in the style of a Chinese garden and excavated a lake, which is today home to a wide variety of fish and native plant species.
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The 1976 Paris Tasting
The 1976 Paris tasting, or Judgment of Paris as it became known, had a revolutionary effect, like a vinous shot heard round the world. Barbara Ensrud, Wall Street Journal
The Judgment Of Paris
On May 24, 1976, a wine tasting took place in Paris that changed the worlds view of California wines forever. The tasting was the brainchild of Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant who owned an innovative wine shop and adjacent wine school in the center of Paris. Having been recently introduced to California wines, and curious to see how these newcomers would fare against French wines made from the same kind of grapes, he arranged a blind wine tasting in celebration of the American Bicentennial activities in Paris. The French tasters chosen for the event had impeccable professional credentials. Spurrier chose French wines that were first and other classified-growth red Bordeaux and white Burgundies to be matched against California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The tasting was blind, with the identities of the wines concealed and the labels revealed only after the jury of nine tasters had voted its order of preference.
The unthinkable happened. The 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was judged the best. The Napa Cabernet had bested four top-ranked Bordeaux, including first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from California bested its French counterparts.
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Chateau Montelena began with a man by the name of Alfred L. Tubbs, an entrepreneur out of San Francisco who knew the stories of the fertile soils of Napa Valley which also happened to be perfect for grape cultivation. In the brisk winter weather of 1882, Tubbs purchased 254 acres of pristine acreage that would eventually become the large and booming business of today known as Chateau Montelena. It would only be a matter of years before Tubbs’ dream of transforming that landscape into rolling hills of expansive vineyards was realized.
1886 was an especially good year that proved to be a landmark period in the history of Chateau Montelena. This was when Tubbs brought in the first imported native French winemaker and had completed the construction of the renowned Chateau. Business continued to grow and continued even under the infamous Prohibition throughout the early 20th century. Tubbs eventually sold the vineyards to Jim Barrett and in 1972 the Chateau Montelena was reimagined. Wines were commercially produced for the very first time. The Chateau Montelena vineyards continue to be a presiding presence in Napa Valley under Barrett’s charismatic leadership.
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Chateau Montelena For Sale
Rumors are flying up and down the Napa Valley that Chateau Montelena is for sale.
“I can’t say anything about it,” said Bo Barrett, the winemaker and son of founder and principal winery owner Jim Barrett, when asked today about rumors of its sale.
According to a source familiar with potential deals, the famous Napa winery was recently put on the market and bidders have presented offers in excess of $100 million. The Barrett family, owners of the winery, are interested in selling and are weighing those offers.
Montelena is best known for its estate-grown Cabernets, from the Montelena Estate vineyard at the winery in Calistoga. It is also highly regarded for its Napa Valley Chardonnay, and it produces a second Napa Cabernet, along with Riesling and Zinfandel.
The winery vaulted to international fame with the famous 1976 Paris Tasting, where its 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay won a blind tasting, vanquishing competition that included prestigious white Burgundies and other California Chardonnays.
Located north of Calistoga, the winery dates to 1882, when Alfred L. Tubbs, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, purchased 254 acres of land and built the chateau. It had been abandoned for decades until 1969, when Los Angeles attorney Jim Barrett led a group of investors to purchase it.