Chateau Montelena’s rich history began on a chilly fall morning when Alfred L. Tubbs spaded over and inspected the soil where he thought of planting estate vineyards. He had heard the Napa Valley was the best place to grow grapes in California. A deal was struck, and in January of 1882 the San Francisco entrepreneur owned 254 acres of rugged land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. The soils are well drained, stony and loose – perfect for the vines he would plant. It took less than a decade to turn his dream into reality. First Tubbs planted his vineyards, then he built his Chateau, and in 1886 he imported a French-born winemaker. By 1896 his winery, christened Chateau Montelena (a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena), was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley. Winemaking at the Chateau came to an end with Prohibition. After Prohibition was repealed, the Tubbs family continued to harvest the vineyard, making some wines and selling grapes to other wineries and home winemakers. The Tubbs family sold the winery in 1958, at which time the Chateau and its overgrown grounds passed into the hands of Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire. The Chateau inspired Frank to excavate a lake, with landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland. Today, Jade Lake is considered one of Napa Valley’s most beautiful sanctuaries, home to a variety of fish and wildlife, and surrounded by weeping willows and native fauna. The next chapter began with the renaissance of Chateau Montelena Winery and the Estate vineyard. Under the leadership of Jim Barrett, the vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the Chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment. He assembled a team to oversee the vineyard and winemaking, then grew and contracted for the highest-quality grapes in the Napa Valley. In 1972 wines were made for the first time. Decades later, this celebrated family-owned winery continues to thrive with Jim Barrett at the helm.
Dense, rich ruby color in the glass, this Estate Cabernet Sauvignon shows complex aromas of dark cherry, dried fruits, earth, cedar, and vanilla cream along with hints of licorice and leather. The palate opens with big, chewy tannin – firm but not coarse – and builds even bigger into a mid-palate loaded with ripe red fruits and dried black fruits. There is a good, strong acid backbone completing the balance and structure. The barrel flavors are well-integrated throughout but are best evident in the warm and spicy finish. Still quite young and powerful, this dense compact wine will open beautifully with time.