Posted By : Chris Corley
When our Dad, Jay, started Monticello Vineyards in the late 1900s, he grew and sold grapes. The land that he purchased in 1969 was and old decrepit prune orchard, which he tore out and replanted to grapevines. Over the last 40 or so years, we've grown a lot of different types of grapes on the property. In the early days, we sold all of the fruit that we grew to other wineries. It wasn't until we built the winery in 1980 that we began to make our own wines and would keep a certain amount of fruit for our own winemaking needs. To this day, we continue to sell premium grapes to other well-regarded wineries throughout the Napa Valley for use in their winemaking programs.
Around this time of year, we get together with the winemakers that we sell grapes to so we can taste through and compare notes about the wines that they and we have respectively made from our grapes. It's a great way for us to keep in contact with our customers and exchange ideas and notes about the previous harvest. We'll compare and contrast winemaking techniques, look ahead to the next growing season and talk about any adjustments or improvements we would like to collectively make.
Just as tending to the field ensures that we'll grow the best grapes we can, cultivating our relationships promotes communication and better opportunities for all that are involved. Over the last month or so, my brother Kevin and I have been rolling around the valley visiting and tasting with our grape customers, tasting through their wines and sharing ours.
It is always interesting to taste two wines, made by two different winemakers from the same grapes. There are generally themes in the wines, especially when we taste wines from particularly expressive sites. These themes are usually oriented around particular or unique flavors or aromas that we would associate with that site. The winemakers hand also plays a large role in the wine. Certain fermentation techniques will lend themselves to wines of varying tannin levels, for instance.
Our family has always gravitated towards the open-minded and easy-going in the industry, and these types of winemakers are usually the most enjoyable to spend time tasting with. It's the open sharing of ideas that promotes creative thinking and helps us to continually improve our skills as winemakers and winegrowers ...
It's fitting that we've had so much rain over the last week. It's certainly welcome as things have been a little drier than we would like for the last couple of years. Our vineyards on the valley floor soak up the water pretty well. Because our vineyard is pretty flat, we don't really have erosion problens to speak of, although some friends up on Mt. Veeder have let us know that they're losing some soil and plants to erosion form some of the recent heavy rains. Our concern is the Napa River, which delineates the rear boundary of our property. We've had big trouble in the back of the property when the river has jumped its banks inpast years. So far this year, the rains have been coming in waves that the river has been able to drain everything without any grief. But give us lots of rain and a high tide and we'll be on alert !
In addition to the recent downpours, there's a lot of wine being poured around the valley, and we're happy to be contributing to the cause! With the Napa Valley Vintners annual trade auction 'Premiere Napa Valley' coming up this weekend, there are multiple wine tastings being offered around the valley which Monticello will be pouring at.
FIRST TASTE OF YOUNTVILLE www.yountvillewines.com Thurs, Feb 19
This afternoon, we'll be pouring several vintages of our CORLEY State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon along with a pre-taste of our Premiere Napa Valley lot, which is a unique blend of 85% State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon & 15% Knollwood Vineyard Syrah. Very tasty, in my unbiased opinion.
APPELLATION ST. HELENA www.appellationsthelena.com Fri, Feb 20
On Friday February 20, Dave Yewell and I will be pouring a couple of vintages of our CORLEY Yewell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Yewell Vineyard is located on Ehlers Lane a few miles north of St. Helena proper. We're very happy to be working with Dave and Nancy Yewell and really like the fruit that we get from this special vineyard site.
RUTHERFORD DUST SOCIETY www.rutherforddust.org Fri, Feb 20
Also on Friday February 20, my brother, Stephen, will be pouring multiple vintages of our MONTICELLO Tietjen VIneyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Tietjen Vineyard is located on Niebaum Lane in Rutherford, just west of Highway 29. It's a great site that we've been sourcing grapes from for a little over 20 years.
PREMIERE NAPA VALLEY www.napavintners.com Sat, Feb 21
On Saturday, we'll be pouring our wines along with a hundred or so other wineries at a trade-only event put on by the Napa Valley Vintners. Brother Stephen is actively involved as Vice-President, and our dad Jay has served as past President of the Vintners. Brother Kevin has led the charge in recent years as Director of the Beverage Committee for the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June. This year, we've donated a 5 case blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah from our State Lane and Knollwood Vineyards.
Weather aside, I'm looking forward to the oncoming downpours. These events are always fun and informative, and help to raise the community awareness. Please say hello if you find yourself at any of these events over the next few days ...
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 ...