As we near the end of 2019, we're reminded of all the great wines we've tasted over the past year. It's fun to taste past vintages at selected time points on the vintage continuum. For example, in 2019, we've been enjoying wines from 2014 (5 years), 2009 (10 years), 2004 (15 years), and 1999 (20 years). Since we have jusr a few days left in this year, I'll write about a couple of these wines, and will plan to share more thoughts on the wines in this 5/10/15/20 cycle as be embark on a new vintage journey in 2020.
This special vineyard is on State Lane in the Yountville appellation. In 1982, we purchased 15 acres of the historic State Lane Vineyard from Beringer. For many years, the wines from this vineyard have been the foundation for our Corley 'Reserve' Cabernet Sauvignon, and also our Monticello 'Jefferson Cuvee' Cabernet Sauvignon. For many of those years, this vineyard as one of our largest blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, and produced wine of such depth and intensity that it has served us well as a primary building block for our most robust Cabernet Sauvignon offerings.
In 2004, we bottled the first 100% single vineyard offering from State Lane Vineyard. This small bottling was isolated from 6 barrels from this vineyard for that year. We continue to bottle these small single vineyard offerings, and Vintage 2019 will represent our sixteenth consecutive vintage of State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottlings have grown slightly, but remain very limited. Over 16 vintages, the bottlings have grown from just 6 barrels per vintage to 20 barrels per vintage.
State Lane Vineyard has long been one of my favorite vineyards for building blends. Its intensely dark color, rich tannin structure, and long finish makes it a perfect wine to build upon. The State Lane Vineyard provides the broad shoulders for other lots and varietals to stand upon. When selecting the barrels for a single vineyard offering, the parameters are a little different though. The Single Vineyard wine will be 100% from this vineyard. There is no blending, just barrel selection. We need to be thoughtful in selecting barrels that will provide us the right balance of depth, complexity, and intensity ... but also the right amount of resolve and smoothness on the palate. With the Corley 'State lane Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon, I expect these wines to age for 20+ years, so they can tend to be a little firm in their youth. The tannins mellow over time, and I find these wines from this vineyard really are in a magnificent plateau of sweet spot between years 5-15.
Last night, we enjoyed a bottle of the Corley Cabernet Sauvignon 'State Lane Vineyard', Vintage 2009. We paired it with a Filet Mignon and New York Strip. Both cuts were fantastic with the wine. At 10 years, the wine was still displaying much youth, and we cold see the early signs of maturity, particularly on the softening of the tannins in the midpalate and finish. The color reamins inky and dark, and on the nose the wine still has ample youthful aromas of blackberry, currant and hints of spice. On the palate, the wine has a wonderful balance of rich midpalate voluptuousness, framed by modest tannins that have aged very gracefully over the past ten years. The finish is long and lingering. This vineyard tends to shine brightly at ten years, and this bottle of 2009 was no exception.
If you're interested in learning more about our State Lane Vineyard, and our latest release of Vintage 2015, which received 95 points from Decanter magazine ... please visit us at www.corleyfamilynapavalley.com/product/-2015-State-Lane-Vineyard-Cabernet-Sauvignon
I just returned from a trip to Asia. I visited two countries, one of which we currently enjoy a wonderful following for our wines, and another which will be a new market for us in 2020. As is true for all of the markets that we sell in, great relationships really are the key to success. From our own perspective, we make really good wines and sell them at fair prices. I'll concede that, these days, there are a lot of wineries that make really good wines and sell them at fair prices. So what differentiates us from them? There are many factors, but for this post I'm going to focus on great relationships.
We've been selling wine in Taiwan for about 6 years. We enjoy a robust following for our wines, in particular our CORLEY Single Vineyard series Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, and our MONTICELLO Jefferson Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon. Our customers are very knowledgable about not only our wines, but also many other wines of Napa Valley. I've put a lot of energy into this market over the last 6 years. I visit a couple of times a year, and we present the MONTICELLO and CORLEY wines at wine dinners and tasting events. These events give me valuable facetime with our existing customers and introductions to new customers. Over the years, our customers become increasingly familiar with our various offerings and at this point, we are able to discuss more specific aspects of the wines, for example differences in vintages within our Single Vineyard series, or general underlying characteristics of the different vineyard offerings from sub-appellations, suchs Oak Knoll District, Yountville, Rutherford, and St. Helena.
More importantly than simply building our brand recognition, these dinners and events give us an opportunity to forge, develop and maintain great relationships, even if we are physically separated by 6000 miles of Pacific Ocean. It takes a considerable effort and time to travel this distance, and our customers appreciate that. From my perspective, the effort and time is an investment in the relationships with a high return. We have valuable shared experiences over time. Making great wines and selling them for fair prices is necessary, tablestakes really. Forging, developing and maintaining great relationships is as well.
While I've spent a lot of time in Taiwan over the last 6 years, I've just visited the Philippines for the first time. It was a brief trip to Manila to visit with some potential importers. I'm very excited about the opportunities, and am optimistic that we'll begin to distribute our wines in the Philippines in 2020. While there is a modest supply of Napa Valley wines in the Philippines now, there is currently more focus on European wines.
Our hosts, Chef Philip Golding and Donatella Chua put out a wonderful spread of charcuterie. Chef Philip prepared some fantastic meats on the fly, and guided us through some expert pairings with our wines at their ChefWorks headquarters in Manila. We had a great tasting, delicious pairings, and forged the beginnings of what I believe will be a wonderful and prosperous relationship.
Sharing our wines, and the history of our family winery with customers and friends is a great pleasure of mine. Doing so abroad is very invigorating as well. I love the learning experience, learning about new foods, and the resulting pairings that I was not previously aware of. I've learned that our CORLEY 'Reserve' Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with the spicy side of the double-sided Taiwanese HotPot, and our MONTICELLO 'Jefferson Cuvee' Cabernet Sauvignon does well with the other side.
Any time we can teach and learn at the same time is a valuable opportunity in life, and these trips to Asia presenting our wines, and forging relationships, certainly provide ample opportunity for both.
MEET CHRIS CORLEY
Growing up in the heart of The Napa Valley, Chris Corley began learning winemaking through his father Jay Corley. Spending his high school summers in the cellar at Monticello Vineyards, he chose to focus on all things winemaking and winery operations and would in time, assume title of head winemaker at Monticello. Through thousands of visitors of the winery, to scoring dozens of 90+ point ratings each year, Monticello has become a breath of fresh air amidst The Napa Valley.
Although the successes are celebratory, Chris always looks to the future, as the winery is celebrating their 50 year anniversary in 2020, he is always strategically thinking about what clones to isolate for the next reserve or where to plant the next plot of Chardonnay. Chris also takes part in classes to increase his wine knowledge skillset and to continue to expand his wine education. Keeping a streamlined and consistent approach to the winemaking process, he maintains the same philosophy his father put forth since the beginning of Monticello - creating great wines they've become known for, and resisting the need to tailor yearly harvests to industry trends.
Visiting the winery, you can find Chris playing one of the two grand pianos on the property (one is tucked away in the bubble lounge and the other is nestled amongst barrels in the production area of the winery) or enjoying a bottle of Corley State Lane in the wine cellar after hours. On the weekends, you can find him snowboarding or scuba diving in Monterey with his wife and two kids.
As you can tell over here at Monticello Vineyards, we have an affinity for our third president.
Thomas Jefferson was not only a founding father but also America’s first great connoisseur. Food and wine were two of Jefferson's passions. Jefferson had a way of entertaining his guests with foods and fine wine unlike anyone in his time. He can be considered the US's first "foodie" and some even call him the Father of Wine. Jefferson regularly imported parmasean cheese from Italy and popularized macaroni and cheese in the States. He was well ahead of his time when he determined that America would need to import vine cuttings from France to make truly world-class wines. His forward thinking nature with fine dining, food and wine can also be displayed through his visions of the future of the United States captured in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson was just 33 years old when he drafted the Declaration.
Jay Corley admired Jefferson's passions and honored the third President by naming the winery Monticello Vineyards after Jefferson’s mountaintop home in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1984, Jay built the Jefferson House, a very close replica of Monticello, on the Home Ranch. Lou Gerhardt, architect employed to design the Jefferson House, went to Jefferson’s Monticello five times to get the real feel of the architecture. Paints were mixed together to get specific colors to match the color schemes from the era. The parquet floor in the parlor is Jefferson’s own design, which is still popular today. The furnishings are reproductions from that era. The Italian ceramic light fixtures are like the one’s Jefferson had. The four acres of grounds surrounding the Jefferson House are comprised of the same trees, shrubs and flowers Thomas Jefferson planted at Monticello.
It was on this day in 1984 when the Jefferson House was completed. Founder, Jay Corley created the plaque above to honor Thomas Jefferson on this day.
From everyone at Monticello Vineyards, we raise a glass to our country and Thomas Jefferson on this day!
Around this time of year, we always get a little more excited about Rose. The sun is starting to shine, the weather is warming up, the afternoon breezes turn warm and comforting. The grass is green, mountains brown, the vines are starting to flower, and roses in bloom. The new Rose has been in bottle for a few months and is shining brightly, ready for the summer season. It’s a beautiful time of year!
We love drinking Rose. It’s refreshing, crisp, vibrant and full of life. It goes down easy on a warm summer day, and the lower alcohol doesn’t bog you down in the heat. Wonderful, alive! The fresh fruit aromas are easy to understand, and the wine invigorates the palate without much premeditation or afterthought.
It’s easy to enjoy a glass of rose, to just viscerally love the wine that you’re drinking … to put away a whole bottle at sunset before you even realize it, because the wine was so good, and the laughter so loud. It’s easy to enjoy a wonderful rose without too much thought.
And yet, even with all that thoughtless pleasure, we likely will still think about different roses. We might compare and contrast different producers, different styles, we might ask which is the best rose? I’ll posit that there is no such thing. No such thing as the best rose. There are many best roses. My best, your best, his best, her best? Best is suggestive. My best might be your better, and someone else’s good. It’s okay. There are so many aspects that contribute to your interest in a wine. Your relationship with the winery, with people at the winery, perhaps you had a wonderful memory associated with that wine that triggers happiness every time you drink it. Or maybe it just tastes good at the right time.
One thing that I believe is common to all the best roses would be that they are a blend of thoughtfulness and intention, regardless of varietal. Very generally, rose can be made in a couple of different ways …
SAIGNEE : A common method is to do ‘saignee’ with the ripe grapes. The term saignee means ‘to bleed’, and that’s basically what the winemaker does to the freshly crushed red grapes. As soon as the red grapes are crushed, the winemaker quickly ‘bleeds’ (or drains) out a portion of the juice. This juice generally has a light pink color from the short contact time with the skins. Because the grapes were likely picked at full ripeness, these types of rose are generally higher in alcohol, and have lower acidity. Simply put, they generally are not as fresh and vibrant as we prefer at Monticello.
EARLY WHOLE CLUSTER PRESS : Another technique is to pick early, while the sugars are still low, the natural acidity is high, the aromas and flavors are fresh, light and vibrant. These grapes can be crushed and bled, or whole cluster pressed, but the defining feature is the timing of the pick and the resulting vibrancy of the rose.
At Monticello, we employ both of these techniques. We dedicate a certain quantity of our Pinot Noir blocks for rose and thoughtfully and intentionally produce Estate Grown, Single Vineyard Rose of Pinot Noir ...
In early August, we pick some Pinot Noir around 19 brix from our estate vineyard. We whole cluster press these grapes, and the resulting juice has a faint salmon color, wonderfully vibrant acidity, and the precursors for all sorts of wonderful strawberry, raspberry, citrus and even slightly peppery aromas and flavors. This juice is fermented in neutral oak barrels, and the 20 brix (roughly 20% sugar) produces a light, crisp wine of about 11.5% alcohol.
In early September, we pick more Pinot Noir for Rose. This time around 24 brix, when the grapes have darker skins, deeper texture, more sugar, lower acid and riper tannins. These grapes are sorted, crushed, then bled (saignee). This juice is a little darker in color, and has darker berry aromas, purple fruits, hints of cola, and more texture on the palate. It is rounder and more full.
My preference is in the middle of these two, which is how we arrived at this dual picking technique for our rose. This is an example of 1 + 1 = 3, which is always the goal when blending, or combining lots. You might ask, why not just split the difference, and pick once in mid-September, rather than go through twice? Simply put, it’s not a game of averages. I’m looking for aromas and flavors that are specific to those two points in time. Those specific aromas and flavors don’t exist in the middle. By picking the grapes at those two points in time, then blending them together, we capture those essences that don’t exist in the middle.
I’ve been so happy with the results, we’ve extended trials of the dual picking technique to some of our other still wines in 2018, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. So far, I’m very pleased with the results.
Enjoying rose without thinking about it too much is fun. Making rose thoughtfully and intentionally is fun too. Again, we avoid the middle. This is our best rose. We hope it can be yours too.
If you’re interested to taste our Monticello Vineyards ‘Estate Grown’ 2018 Rose of Pinot Noir, or any of our other wonderful summer sipping wines … please come visit us at the winery, or visit us at /product/2017-Ros--of-Pinot-Noir-Copy. You can also call us at (707) 253-2802.
Chris Corley, Winemaker
Each month, I hold a Winemaker's Workshop with our Hospitality Team. These tasting and discussion sessions are valuable for everyone involved. It's a monthly opportunity for us to share information about our wines and the purpose and stories behind each wine. I've found that I learn by teaching, and because we promote these sessions as open dialogues, we tend towards transparent discussions of our winegrowing and winemaking activities. Sharing the stories behind the wines is important, because it gives the hospitality team deeper and broader insight into the wines, which they can then share with our guests.
Last month, our Winemaker's Workshop focus was on our Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Whenever we talk about our Estate Grown Pinot Noirs, an early question is ‘Why are you growing Pinot Noir in Napa Valley? Isn’t that Cabernet Sauvignon country?’ This is a good question … Napa Valley has grown to be synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon. While that’s easy to see in 2019, our dad came here almost 50 years ago, and what lured him to Napa Valley was the desire to grow world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Noir will always be dear to us. It’s the varietal that brought us to Napa Valley 50 years ago, and as a family, we are fiercely loyal, even with our grapes!
By definition, all of our Pinot Noir offerings are single vineyard wines, meaning all of the grapes in the blend were grown on a single vineyard. Of our five vineyards spanning the length of Napa Valley, we grow our Pinot Noir on the Monticello Vineyard, located in the cooler, southern end of the valley, in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The daily breezes that come in from San Pablo Bay are critical for us to maintain the necessary acidity to make a world class Pinot Noir. (More on our Oak Knoll District weather patterns in an upcoming post!). On the Monticello Vineyard, we grow three different clones of Pinot Noir in two separate blocks. Each of these clones has subtle differences in aroma, flavor, and texture which we take into consideration in making and blending these wines. The two different blocks have soil and slight slope differences which ultimately impact the nuances of the final wines.
In our recent Winemaker’s Workshop, we tasted through about 8 different barrel samples of 2018 Pinot Noir which represented different combinations of blocks and clones. For example, the ‘Block 2, Clone 777’ tends towards a fuller-bodied style, with notes of strawberry, blackberry and cola. The ‘Block 3, Clone 113’ is a little more elegant in style, with notes of raspberry and blueberry. These nuances are fascinating to explore, and make the barrel selection and blending process so enjoyable. The 2018 Pinot Noir samples are so vibrant right now, so full of life, vim and vigor! The color of the wines is electric, and they have an energy that is just bursting from the glass. The wines are like genies released from the barrels. I’m very excited about Vintage 2018 Pinot Noir, and I anticipate that these wines will age gracefully for 10-12 years after bottling.
‘Wait! Did he just say that their Napa Valley Pinot Noir will age gracefully for 10-12 years?’ Absolutely! It has a lot do with our location, and being able to maintain the acidity in the grapes. We also tend towards a little more extraction with our Pinot Noir, so the wines have a slightly fuller character in their youth, but with this comes the substance to age long enough to develop those wonderful tertiary characteristics that only be created with time.
After our Winemaker’s Workshop, we opened a bottle of our Monticello Vineyards ‘Estate Grown’ 2009 Pinot Noir. This single vineyard wine is a blend of two blocks and four clones. (In 2009, we were growing four clones … 777, 667, 113, 115). The color of the wine was excellent, with hues of light purple, magenta, just lightly fading on the edges, but still fresh and robust. The wine had primary notes of slightly fresh, slightly dried berries, strawberries, raspberry. Secondary notes of clove, cola, nutmeg, cinnamon. As the wine opened up in the glass with some airtime, we found underlying tertiary notes of mushroom and earth. On the palate the wine is smooth as silk, and still has several years of life left.
If you’re interested to taste our Monticello Vineyards ‘Estate Grown’ 2009 Pinot Noir, or any of our extensive collection of library wines … please come visit us at the winery, or visit us at www.CorleyFamilyNapaValley.com/Wine-Shop/Library-Wines. You can also call us at (707) 253-2802.
Chris Corley, Winemaker
Joining a winery's wine club can sometimes take some thought. Other times, not so much. You might want to evaluate the different options the winery has provided to you. If the winery makes a lot of different wines, they might be able to provide you a lot of different club options. Depending on your perspective, lots of options will either strike you as thrilling or overwhelming.
Here are four top reasons you can keep in mind when deciding if you want to join a winery's wine club ...
This seems so obvious, but it has to be at the top of the list Of course, you must like the winery's wines because you're going to be drinking a fair bit of them. You should consider whether the winery provides a wide range of styles that will keep you engaged over time. Do they make both reds and whites? Multiple varietals? Do they have big, ageworthy reds, but also more moderate fruit-forward offerings? Perhaps they make a crisp rose that you can enjoy in the summertime? Sparkling wine for the holidays? Full Disclosure : Monticello makes all these types of wines.
Many wineries encourage their club members to come to the winery, to enjoy everything that the winery has to offer, in addition to the wines. This means you might be spending time with many of the hospitality staff, production staff, or perhaps the family. If you're first visit was to the winery, you likely knew right away how the people made you feel. If you're considering signing up from a distance, you might want to spend some time on their website, or call in and have a conversation with a hospitality team member to get a feel for the tone of the winery. Full Disclosure : Monticello's got a great team with many years of collective experience and warm smiles.
Joining a wine club can also give you access to great library and small-production wines that the general public doesn't even know about. These wines are usually very high quality, and because of their small production size, can sometimes give unique insights into the winemaking, farming and history of the winery. Estate-grown, single-block, or single-clone bottlings of different varietals would be an example of these types of limited access wines. Full Disclosure : Monticello enthusiastically produces small-batch wines like this for club members.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of being part of the wine club, is actually being part of a club! Typically this means having a special place, or room, at the winery that you and your guests can access. Or being able to attend the club events, which are generally lots of fun. These could include lobster boils, paella, themed dinners, croquet tournaments, etc ... You'll want to determine if the club events appeal to you. Full Disclosure : Monticello loves throwing a Spring and Harvest event for our members each year!
Hopefully you find wine clubs that appeal to you. For more information about our Monticello Wine Clubs, please visit our website at www.corleyfamilynapavalley.com/wine-club
All of our enthusiastic fans and supporters of our MONTICELLO and CORLEY wines intuitively understand the single most important thing about tasting and enjoying wine.
They know what they like, and what they don't like. Everything beyond that first intuitive questions is just a variation of 'Why?'
Most everyone can quickly and intuitively determine whether or not they like music when they hear it. Many of those same people don't have a deep understanding of musical theory, or whether the song is composed in 4/4 or 7/8 time, or if the primary chords are minor or major, or if it's being played in the key of E, A or C. They just feel, they know if they like it or not.
In an instant, you'll know whether the music of bagpipes is inspiring to you and makes you want to don a kilt, paint your face and charge down a mountainside into battle ... or its a wail that makes you want to run and hide in a highland cave. The first question is answered intuitively ... Do I like it or not? How does it make me feel? ... You don't need to understand how the bagpipes work, when or why they were invented or how they are used in battle or ceremony.
You'll know intuitively whether or not the sounds of distorted heavy metal guitar, conga drums, mandolins or pan flutes appeal to you without understanding anything about the instruments or how they are played. You'll know whether you prefer the rhythm of Metallica or Mozart, without needing to understand the technical complexities of the compositions.
It's the same with wine. You'll know intuitively whether or not you like a wine when you first taste it. You don't need to understand the dynamics of yeast fermentation, the soil composition of a vineyard block, or whether the wine was aged in French oak for 22 months or 28 months to determine if you like the wine. That information answers the questions 'why?'.
Do I like it? How does it make me feel? This is intuitive, primary, tangible and visceral. Deeper levels of understanding can generate deeper levels of enjoyment ... enhanced, enlightened and intellectual ... they come from all of the secondary and teritary 'whys?'.
On a primary level, every one of us is qualified to answer the visceral questions ... Do I like it? How does it make me feel?
We hope that you enjoy our MONTICELLO and CORLEY wines, and that we'll have opportunities to help you answer the 'Whys?'
There are fourteen rows of grapevines on the southernmost side of Block 3 in The Monticello Vineyard. Originally planted about 20 years ago, these Pinot Noir vines were a primary component in our Monticello ‘Estate Grown’ Pinot Noir bottlings for many years. Specifically, they were a sub-designation of Pinot Noir known as Clone 115. Over the years, we always enjoyed the slightly darker berry aromas and flavors and fuller body that the wines displayed from these grapes.
As these things tend to do over decades, our vineyard blocks have evolved. With additional Pinot Noir planted in another block, we set our eyes on the aforementioned fourteen rows as a nice location for a wonderful new source of Chardonnay. Rather than tear out our beloved Pinot Noir vines for replanting, we chose to keep them in service. We cut the trunks and grafted the new Chardonnay Clone 95 onto the Pinot Noir trunks.
Grafting is a fairly straightforward viticultural technique, employed when the grower is interested in a varietal shift with minimal downtime. It requires a skilled grafter, and good seasonal timing. When done properly there is a high percentage of success.
Perhaps straightforward, and with a high rate of success, it is nonetheless really amazing. I walk through these fourteen rows regularly. I spend enough time in these vines, I should be jaded to this kind of stuff, but I’m not. I still find it incredible.
In these fourteen rows, we have vines that are themselves a mélange of plant material. The rootstocks in the ground are of American origin, so that they can resist the natural soil pests. The trunks are French, Pinot Noir Clone 115. The top of the vine, bearing the fruit, is now Chardonnay Clone 95.
Over time, these three plants have coalesced, they are now one. It takes a seasoned eye to see the graft unions. While the graft unions may be difficult to see, the quality of the wine is easy to understand.
Chardonnay Clone 95 has long been one of our favorites. We grew this clone in Block 6 towards the back of the property for years. It was an easy choice for these fourteen rows in Block 3. We love the rich texture that is counterbalanced with fresh acidity. We love the tropical fruit character that is framed with nuances of citrus tones.
This month, we’re excited to be releasing our CORLEY 2017 Chardonnay ‘Block 3, Clone 95’. This wine is made entirely from these fourteen rows of vines. From this batch, we selected six specific barrels for the final bottling that we felt best represented this special section. The grapes were crushed and soaked on the skins for eight hours prior to pressing into barrels for fermentation. The skin soak is an old-school nod to our winemaking techniques that were in place in 1990 when I started working in the cellar. Soaking the skins helps us to extract more aromas, flavors and textures prior to pressing the juice for fermentation. Fermented and aged in barrels for 10 months prior to bottling, we’re very excited to be releasing and sharing this wine with you.
This wine has wonderful and expressive aromas of tropical fruits like mango, melon and fig. These are balanced with light citrus tones. There is a light creaminess and a hint of butterscotch from the French oak barrels and partial malolactic fermentation. On the palate the wine is rich, with a light beam of fesh acidity.
Chris Corley, Proprietor | Winemaker