Chris Corley
 
January 14, 2010 | Chris Corley

In Memoriam : Diego Garcia de la Huerta Sutil

Posted By : Chris Corley

Earlier this week we lost a dear friend to a tragic plane accident. Diego Garcia was a friend, a devoted husband and father, and a talented winemaker. His family had a long tradition of farming grapes and other crops in the Colchagua Valley of Chile. They recently had developed part of their property into a winery and hotel project that was making waves and showcasing this valley in Chile as an upcoming winemaking region on the world scene. You can read more about what Diego and his family has accomplished with their winery and hotel project at their website www.laplayawine.com.

Julianna had met Diego in 1998 when she was working at Robert Mondavi Winery, whom Diego's family had been doing some business with in Chile. In 2000, my wife Julianna and I and a couple of friends from Napa visited and stayed with Diego and his family in Chile. Diego and his family were the most warm and welcoming hosts imaginable. I proposed to Julianna in the Colhagua Valley while we were staying with them and we celebrated that evening with Diego and our friends.

COLCHAGUA VALLEY, CHILE (2000) - Lara, Chris, Julianna, Diego, Lee

He and his family are already leaders within the Chilean wine industry and, had his life not been cut short so tragically and suddenly, he would have been at the forefront of Chiles wine rising prominence on the world stage. Diego was young and charismatic, and although he is no longer with us, Diego Garcia de la Huerta Sutil will remain a shining light over the Colchagua Valley.

A SHINING LIGHT OVER COLCHAGUA VALLEY

Our deepest sympathies and love go out to Diego's family, his wife and children. Although we did not know the other three victims in the accident, we'll be sending our thoughts and prayers to their families as well.

For those readers who knew Diego or his family, you can link to the article posted today in the Santiago Times at www.santiagotimes.cl

Chris Corley
 
January 1, 2010 | Chris Corley

Zine Wine : Wines and Vines Magazine at Monticello

Posted By : Chris Corley

This past harvest, we had an opportunity to host some of the editorial staff at Monticello as they harvested their own grapes of our vineyard and crushed the fruit at Monticello. We all had a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to tasting the finished wine. Following is the recent article in Wines and Vines written by the editor Jim Gordon. You can link directly to the article at www.winesandvines.com.

12.30.2009

MAGAZINE STAFF MAKES WINE
 

WINES & VINES CREW HARVESTS MERLOT DURING THE CHALLENGING 2009 VINTAGE

by Jim Gordon

San Rafael, Calif. -- Wines & Vines staff members had a chance to put themselves in their readers' boots during the harvest of 2009, thanks to a generous Napa Valley vineyard family, a patient Marin County winemaker and a barrel-refurbisher. A small crew of people normally more comfortable with computer mouses than grape knives harvested half a ton of Merlot to make a 60-gallon barrel of wine.

Along the way we experienced the same anxiety and excitement that most Northern California winemakers felt during a harvest rudely interrupted by cold, torrential rains Oct. 13 just as the grapes were nearing peak ripeness.

The Knollwood vineyard from which we harvested the Merlot is a 31-acre property on Big Ranch Road about two miles north of the city of Napa, the same parcel where Lewis Cellars sits. The Corley Family, who operate Monticello winery nearby, own the Knollwood property. The Corleys bought the first 19 acres of what is now Knollwood in 1984, said Kevin Corley, and later purchased another 12 acres.

The vineyard was in its second year of organic farming. The location is in the Oak Knoll District, with Coombs gravelly loam soil and the AVA's typically cool microclimate on nearly flat terrain. Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines grow on a few different trellis setups here. The row of 9-year-old Merlot that we picked from was clone 181 planted on 3309 rootstock and trained on a lyre system with vines spaced 10 feet by 4 feet, trained onto wires held by 36-inch cross-arms at the bottom and 52-inch cross-arms at the top. Kevin Corley said the yield is typically 4 tons per acre.

We harvested on Oct. 23, having waited about as long as possible for the vineyard to dry out and hoping for the fruit to increase in sugar after the rain. Some evidence of white mold was beginning to show here and there, and berries were beginning to fall off the clusters when a vine was shaken. But the skins were intact and the flavors tasted fresh, so when Kevin Corley advised that waiting any longer would not help we harvested.

Under the watchful eye of the Corleys' long-time vineyard manager, Angel Avina, we picked into lug boxes and dumped the grapes into a macro bin on a flatbed truck at the end of the row. It was a quick trip to the Monticello winery across the road, where we processed the fruit on a new, efficient sorting setup that winemaker Chris Corley was trying out.

We pitch-forked the fruit onto a conveyor, which then released it into a gentle destemmer and sorting operation that enabled five people at a time to sort out all jacks and material other than grapes. The final sugar reading was 22.9 degrees Brix, and the fruit was very clean, smelled fresh and didn't appear to have suffered from the wet spell and late harvest. With the help of ropes, a tarp and plenty of duct tape, we secured our must in a macro bin in the back of a pickup, and drove it to about 35 miles to San Anselmo in Marin County, where the owner and winemaker of Ross Valley Winery, Paul Kreider, accepted it for fermentation. About two weeks later the wine had gone dry and was successfully pressed into a small tank to let the gross lees settle before racking into a five-year French barrel refurbished by Cryo Clean Barrel Blasting and outfitted with a stave insert array designed to give the effect of 40% new oak. Wines & Vines thanks our partners in this winemaking venture. We hope to provide readers an update on the quality of the wine later as it ages.

Chris Corley
 
June 15, 2009 | Chris Corley

International Wine and Food Society - June 13, 2009

Over the weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting the Napa chapter of The International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) at Monticello for a tasting and lunch. IWFS was founded by a fellow named Andre Simon in London in 1933 and has expanded to international membership with nearly 5000 members in 87 different chapters. You can learn more on their website at www.iwfs.com.

38 of those 5000 members visited us at Monticello on Saturday afternoon for a five year vertical tasting of our CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine, vintages 2002-2006. Since we debuted the CORLEY PRW in 1999, this wine has been a big hit, and a lot of fun for us to put together at the blending table. It is a Cabernet Franc based cuvee, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and in recent vintages, small percentages of Syrah blended in.

It's also an interesting to taste vertically with a group like this. Because it encompasses three, sometimes four varietals, the general characteristics of each vintage are showcased well in this flight. The CORLEY is also a great wine to taste to get a sense of the overall fruit that we're growing on the property, as it represents all of the red varietals that we grow (with the exception of Pinot Noir).

After our tasting in the cellar, the group enjoyed a fantastic Paella lunch on the terrace of the Jefferson House, prepared by Gerard Nebesky and Anna Ming of Gerard's Paella, www.gerardspaella.com. We have had Gerard out to Monticello to prepare lunches and dinners for us many times. He never fails to excite. Absolutely delicious, and perfectly prepared with no corners cut. Gerard was the proud winner of his Throwdown with Bobby Flay in Season 5.

We'll be looking forward to our next opportunity to have Gerard back to Monticello, and hope that we'll see our friends from The International Wine and Food Society soon as well ..."

Chris Corley
 
May 21, 2009 | Chris Corley

Full Court Press

Posted By : Chris Corley

Last week, we shipped out the second and last of our original two presses. These presses were purchased in 1981 & 1982, and we used them faithfully for 25 years until they finally gave out after the 2005 harvest. We replaced them with a single 50hL Diemme bladder press in 2006, which we are very happy with.

1981 Bucher Press (Shipping Out in 2009)

Still, I'm kind of sad to see the old equipment go out. Our dad was about my age, 38, when he came up to Napa and started our vineyard business. It would have been an exciting time for him, and probably spiced with a little anxiety. It would have been a large undertaking for a young man, and Napa in 1969 wasn't a guarantee. Keep in mind that Robert Mondavi Winery was only started 3 years earlier, in 1966. When our winery was built in 1981, our dad had about 11 years of grapegrowing behind him, so he was primed for making his own wines from the vineyard. These presses were some of the first equipment purchased.

 

1981 Bucher Press (Recently Installed in 1981) - Jay Corley & Alan Philips

I personally have spent countless hours crawling around inside these old presses, going back to 1990 when I started full time. At least twice day, the screens would need to be installed and removed, and they were a bear to clean. We had a kind of stainless steel toothpick that we would use to get the seeds out of the slots. That being said, those our some of my fondest memories of my early days on the crush pad. There's nothing better than being covered in sticky grape juice, a beard full of seeds, and sweatin' your stones off in a wine press sauna cleaning heavy metal screens. Seriously. The best cold beers in my life have been after I crawled out of those old presses.

The life span of these old presses is not unusual for us. We've been careful over the years to take good care of our equipment and make it last, sometimes for decades. When you work with a big piece of equipment like this for the better part of two decades, and you spend the amount of late night and hot afternoon hours with it as we have, you grow attached to it. So we're sorry to see the press go.

That being said, we're happy that it has found a new home through the work of our good friend Mark Burns, who has arranged for our old press to be a centerpiece of his winegrowing display, which will be featured in the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, opening this September.

Chris Corley
 
February 8, 2009 | Chris Corley

Offbeat Thoughts in the Offseason

Every year, typically after harvest, we consolidate all of our notes, experiences and thoughts for a review of the year. We discuss the growing season and winemaking practices and assess the results. This review helps us set our course for the next season, which typically starts the following January with pruning.

Usually, the topics for review revolve around the core of our winegrowing practices - pruning and training techniques, fermentation strategies, barrel selection, crush pad layout and equipment needs, etc.

There are, however, plenty of other, more offbeat, ideas that crop up during the season. Admittedly, these tangential ideas are usually conceived towards the end of a long harvest day, maybe after a cold brew, but always when the collective cellar perspective has allowed itself to drift a little into the ether.

Here are a few of these offbeat ideas that were floating around last year that may or may not be pursued ...

Can we figure out a way to turn a red wine barrel back to use for white wine ? This one we figured out. Historically, once a barrel has been used for red wine, you can't ever put white wine in it again because the red pigments in the wood would tint the white wine and turn it pink. Now we've got a cleaning process to completely decolorize the barrel if necessary ...

How would wine react to having an electric current run through it ? We found some info related to experiments run in the late 1800s on this, but nothing in the meantime. We're thinking the result would have a lot to do with the oxidative rate of the wine and that there may be an impact on tannin development, but who really knows? We'll probably run some small-scale experiments in barrel this year ...

Could we make a palatable 'coffee' from roasted and ground grape seeds ? You never know until you try. We'll need to wait until harvest to collect the seeds and give it a go. We'll probably want to use low-tannin seeds from ripe grapes that are pressed pre-fermentation. I'm thinking Chardonnay and/or Syrah. Maybe there's a way we can think of to incorporate pressed skins. First and foremost, it's got to taste good. Secondarily, I wonder about health benefits of tannins and resveratrol ...

While we don't let these offbeat ideas interfere with the work at hand, it's fun to indulge the imagination. We always learn something, and every once in a while, we come up with a new technique or idea that is worthwhile ...

Chris Corley
 
January 17, 2009 | Chris Corley

Monticello Vineyards on Facebook !

Posted By : Chris Corley

Monticello Vineyards is now on Facebook! If you’re a member of Facebook, search through ‘groups’ and join “Fans of Monticello Vineyards”. It’s an open group and you’ll be able to share photos and comments about your visits to Monticello and wines of ours that you’ve enjoyed. You’ll also be able to keep up to date with events and news at Monticello !

Chris Corley
 
November 12, 2008 | Chris Corley

It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine ...

"It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine" ... a primitive cellar hand likely coined this phrase several thousand years ago shortly after the discovery of fermented bevereages. We certainly enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long hot harvest workday. In the cellar, we have varied tastes for beer. Most of the cellarmen enjoy the lighter styles of lagers, while I prefer a little heavier beer, pale ale. Our lab guy, Mark, tends towards the thick stouts, which I enjoy as well, particularly in the colder winter months.

This year, with some help from the guys, I'm going to home-brew batches through the winter. Yesterday was the first brew, an India Pale Ale. Given time and more familiarity with the process, we'll get increasingly creative with the recipes. I'm looking forward to home-brewing all different types of beers, but likely will gravitate towards ales, porters and stouts through the winter. I'm hopeful that the first batch will be ready by Thanksgiving so all the guys can take a bottle or two home.

In some ways the process is not all that different from making sparkling wine in the traditional bottle-fermented "Methode Champenoise", which we've used for our 'Domaine Montreaux' sparkling wines since 1983. Over the last 25 years of making Napa Valley sparkling wines, we've come to appreciate the beauty of the bubble. In both sparkling libations, the secondary fermentation within the bottle generates the effervescence.

We love growing things as well. It's in our nature to grow our own raw materials, as we've grown most all of our own grapes for our wines since day one. So it goes with beer. In the spring of 2009, we'll plant a small amount of hops so we can learn about these fragrant vines. I've ordered 10 organic rhizomes for next season. The rhizome is the root mass from which the plant develops in the spring. For this first season, we'll plant 5 different varieties of bittering and aromatic hops - Northern Brewer, Cascade, Fuggle, Perle and Willamette. As hops can grow to lengths of 20' tall, we'll grow these organically in used wine barrels along the west side of the winery building, with the trellis system supported from the roof of the building. They'll get plenty of afternoon sun and will provide some shade for that end of the winery in the summer. They'll also provide us some excellent home-brews next winter !

Chris Corley
 
September 26, 2008 | Chris Corley

If You Love Something, Set it Free ...

Posted By : Chris Corley

Tomorrow, we''ll be celebrating our annual Harvest Party. This party is always a great time, and an opportunity for us to gather with many of our friends and enthusiasts. The event also doubles each year as the release and first tasting of our 'Big Reds'.

This year, we're releasing our 2005 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 CORLEY State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2005 MONTICELLO Tietjen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm very excited about this vintage and particularly these wines. All three of these wines are produced in small quantities and represent the ripe, rich fruit and balanced tannins that we find so attractive about each vineyard site.

These 2005 vintage Cabernets were all bottled in June 2007. With 15 months aging in the bottle prior to release, we are excited to set these wines free! The tannins have evolved beautifully and the fruit is very expressive at this time. I anticipate that these wines will age gracefully for the next 9-10 years, perhaps longer. All three of these Cabernet bottlings will reward proper decanting, even in their youth. Tomorrow, we'll plan to decant the wines an hour or so prior to serving them to our guests.

It's always a pleasure to release our wines and pour them for our guests. You can think of the pleasure you might get from organizing and preparing a special meal at your home for friends or family. There is a deep satisfaction in taking the time to select the ingredients, prepare the food and select appropriate wines to make the meal memorable and enjoyable. This is the same feeling we have each year at our harvest party. Although we won't be preparing the dinner ourselves tomorrow night, we have spent years growing, making and aging the wines we will be serving - and we are extremely proud to be sharing them ...

Chris Corley
 
August 19, 2008 | Chris Corley

You Never Forget Your First ...

We had a lot of fun with our kids this weekend. We took both Jackson and Ruby to the Ringling Brothers Circus at the Oakland Coliseum on Friday night, and Jackson and I went to the 49ers-Green Bay preseason game on Saturday night at Candlestick ("we" the 49ers won 34-6). As I was driving home on Saturday night and Jackson was snoozing away in the back seat, I got to thinking about how much fun they had at their first circus and Jackson's first big NFL football game.

That got me to thinking how much fun we're having with some of our firsts at the winery. Our family has been growing grapes for nearly 40 years, and we've been making our own wine for 28 of those years. We've had our share of successes and pitfalls along the way, but for 40 years we've avoided the worst scourge of all - complacency. We are constantly reaching out for new goals and keeping things fresh. We're still getting excited about 'firsts' ...

This week, we celebrated our first few days of harvest, bringing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to be used for sparkling wine. We also brought in some Syrah, which we'll use for a Rose, to be made in a dry, crisp, low alcohol style. We're looking forward to making a sparkling Rose, which will be a first in a long time.

This year, we celebrated the bottling of three new wines. Earlier this summer we released our 2007 ROSE. Although we've bottled Roses in the past, this was the first that we've blended multiple varietals to create a non-varietal 'Rose'. It is dry, crisp in acid, bright in fruit and is great for a warm summers evening. We also bottled a CORLEY PINOT NOIR from the 2006 vintage. This is the first 'specialty' Pinot Noir we've bottled since the 1999 vintage. The Pinot noir is dense in raspberry, strawberry and cola flavors and has a beautiful integration of seductive new oak. Last, but not least - we bottled our 2006 YEWELL VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON, the first bottling under the Yewell moniker and the first off that vineyard to be bottled since we replanted the site after the 2000 vintage. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Helena is rich in texture and dark fruits and has a long finish that won't quit. Appropriately, the first magnum of this wine to leave the winery building went to the Yewell Family themselves.

Over the last few years, we've released our first ever 100% Cabernet Franc and 100% Syrah bottlings, both of which have been exceptionally well received.

A multi-generational family business like ours is steeped in important and meaningful traditions, but it also requires the freshness of 'firsts' to thrive. It requires stability from a solid foundation of traditions and vibrancy from active and creative minds. In a word - balance ... but that's a word for another blog post ...

Chris Corley
 
May 17, 2008 | Chris Corley

An Eastern Migration

Posted by : Chris Corley

In the (bizarro) spirit of those great Jeffersonian explorers, Lewis and Clark, my wife and I loaded up our stagecoach full of wine and blazed back east to visit a couple of our distributors recently. We made good time as our 'coach' was a newer model built by the team over at Virgin America.

Julianna's sister lives in Brooklyn, so we got a great feel for the local mojo in her neighborhood. There are some very nice restaurants and hangouts within blocks of her house, and a subway stop within a block, which was nice for our daily migrations to Manhattan and New Jersey ...

We spent a day in Manahattan and a few days in New Jersey, and the reception to the wines was excellent. It was also fun to visit with some of the retailers and restarauteurs who remember our Monticello wines from the late 1900s.

Our MONTICELLO Cabernet Franc and our CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine were big hits, and I was very happy with how the wines were showing throughout the week. People were really excited about our use of Cabernet Franc in our blends and in the 100% varietal bottlings.

On our last evening there, we had dinner with our NJ distributor, Jeff, and his lovely wife Sandy. They've been enjoying wine together since they got married nearly 27 years ago. The restaurant was a BYO (Bring Your Own, because they don't sell wine at the restaurant). Among others, Jeff brought two bottles to dinner, a 1986 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1986 CHATEAU MEYNEY St. Estephe. What a treat to taste the two bottles side by side! Both had aged gracefully and we easily segued into a conversation about what makes the great wines age well. Jeff is a nut about wine, and he also brought a very nice German Pinot Blanc and a beautifully complex Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) for the evening. What a great dinner with great friends !

We're already looking forward to our next market visit back east !

 
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