Posted By : Chris Corley
A few of the wines that we pulled for tasting and analysis today are destined for our Domaine Montreaux sparkling wine program. In 2008, we crushed small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be used for bubbly. We're considering doing a rose this year. Our sister Carolyn is no doubt already getting her popcorn maker dusted off as she hears that good news!
Making sparkling wines can be a little tricky. Beginning the secondary 'methode champenoise' fermentation in the bottle is one of the more helpless feelings I've had as a winemaker. With still wine fermentations, you can sniff and taste, and plunge your hands into the juice and, for lack of a better term, really get intimate with your fermentations. With secondary sparkler ferments, it's different. Once the re-fermenting wine is bottled and the crown cap gets secured, you're on the outside looking in. The bottles are stacked away neatly in the old wooden bins that Uncle Brian built in the late 1900s, and you dust them off and crack one open every so often to see how they're coming along. The fermentations usually go along just fine, but it's a winemaker's responsibility to avoid issues, not just identify them, so we're always trying to remain vigilante with our sparkling wines (like a mix of Charles Bronson and Don Ho). Sorry, I take that back, I meant 'vigilant'.
Sparkling wines are fun for everyone. In the picture to the right, Brother Kevin reacts to a taste of young brut. Young sparklers can be fun to drink, with their apply, pear bright fruit aromas and flavors and crisp, refreshing acidity. Older sparkling wines can be a real treat as well. We've recently opened up some of our Domaine Montreaux from 1983, which was an amazing bottling of wine. Most people don't think of sparkling wines in terms of aging, but well made bubblies have all the right components for aging well - high acid, low alcohol, low pH, CO2, and pressure in the bottle to keep air from getting in and oxidizing the wine. That being said, they've got to have great fruit in the first place if they're going to go the distance.
This year, we'll make just a small amount of Domaine Montreaux, and we'll likely start preparing the secondary fermentation in the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to bursting some bubbles !
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 ...
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 !
Posted By : Chris Corley
This week we’ve started pruning. Pruning is much more than just hacking back last years growth, it’s a critical step in setting the vine up for the growing season. Pruning can affect the training of the vine, suggest a general cropload for the season, and perhaps even influence the timing of budbreak. It is the most immediately visually altering step that we take in the vineyard, and the dramatic shift in the panorama from the 4-6 foot canes to 2-3 inch spurs really reminds you that we’re shifting gears in the field. Once pruned and perhaps disced or mowed, the vineyard is about as bare as you will see it all year. But there is a kind of simple beauty in that naked vineyard. It allows you to see the gentle undulations and soil variations that may be difficult to perceive through a growing canopy.
A lot of the time, we speak of pruning as being the beginning of the growing season for the vines. In reality, this growing season began as soon as we harvested last years grapes (2008). When the vines are relieved of their crop and sometimes still have some green leaves, the chlorophyll in those leaves are still actively doing photosynthesis. Not much (because its late fall) but this photosynthesis is important. Because there is no more fruit to ripen, this post-harvest energy is stored, and this is what can help the vine to get started back up again in the spring at budbreak. Many growers will even be sure to give their vines a post-harvest “feed”, while the vines are still somewhat active in feeding and transpiration.
Chlorophyll and compost aside, pruning is an exciting time. To watch a 2-inch spur develop throughout the year into a lengthy elegant shoot with wispy tendrils and and beautiful clusters is a joy I look forward to each year. For now it is a pleasure to watch the vineyard be slowly transformed into its most basic and pure state …
"Posted By : Chris Corley
BARREL TASTING : Tasting through the new vintage in barrel is always a treat. The wines are typically bursting with juicy fruit and have a youthful vibrancy that is, more often than not, replaced by deeper layers of complexity by the time the wine is bottled, perhaps 1-2 years down the road, depending on the varietal. Tasting wines just after harvest is a great portal into that raw and exuberant youth of the wine ...
BLOCK 1, HEIRLOOM CLONE, ROWS 1-23 : The Heirloom Clone in Block 1 is an isolation of selected vines out of Block 4. These wines from these plants have a very distinctive melon and tropical fruit characteristic that is almost Muscat-like in its personality. In 2008, these aromas are very intense with papaya, mango, and other tropical fruits. The texture of the wine is ripe and rich yet maintains a very nice balance of vibrant acidity. Barrel-Fermented with Native Yeasts. 50% New Oak.
BLOCK 1, 'DIJON' CLONE 96, ROWS 24-28 : These rows are short, so this section has typically produced just a small amount of barrels. Although its not a large quantitative contributor to the blends, I've always enjoyed the purity of the fruit from this section. In 2008, the wine has a nice honey and floral aspect to the aromas and very well balanced richness and acidity. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain D254. 0% New Oak. Malo-Lactic Lot.
BLOCK 4, OLD MONTICELLO CLONE, ROWS 21-27 : We isolated these rows this year to experiment a bit with pre-fermentation skin contact. These grapes were crushed together with their skins and cold-soaked like red grapes for 30 hours prior to pressing. This is a bit of a return to an old-school style of California Chardonnay, skin contact for whites being popular when our dad built the winery in 1981. My initial observations are that the aromas are intensified and the wine has a heavier weight in the mouthfeel. I like it so far, and am inclined to pursue this line a little further next vintage. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079. 0% New Oak.
BLOCK 4, OLD MONTICELLO CLONE, ROWS 28-46 : This section has consistently produced crisp, vibrant wines with hints of pear and citrus that have contributed structure and vibrancy to our MONTICELLO ESTATE Chardonnays. This year, these flavors are very intense. The mouthfeel has a slight grip on the finish, but this will pass after a few months of lees stirring. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079. 35% New Oak.
BLOCK 4, 'DIJON' CLONE 96, ROWS 47-55 : This section has been a favorite of ours for many years, and typically contributes to the CORLEY RESERVE Chardonnay. This year it is showing it's classic fruit qualities - fig, pear along with some beautiful early oak influence from the new barrels in the lot. Very well balanced with vibrant acidity, this wine should develop very nicely. Barrel-Fermented with Native Yeasts. 21% New Oak.
BLOCK 6, 'DIJON' CLONES 76/95/96, ROWS 15-85 : This is a fairly large section of fruit. It is a core contributor, like Block 4, to our MONTICELLO ESTATE Chardonnay. These sub-sections of different clones are co-fermented and provide a nice complexity to the finished wine. It is a field blend in some senses. The 2008 wine from this block is very expressive, showing banana, fig, and pear aromas. The wine is very well balanced ans will maintain a nice acidity. We won't pursue malo-lactic fermentation with this lot in order to favor the expression of its fruit. Stainless Steel Tank-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079."
"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 !
Posted By : Chris Corley
Anticipation is defined by Merriam-Webster as the "act of looking forward; a pleasurable expectation". Anticipation is an important aspect of our lives. We all have moments of anticipation. These moments excite us and send thrills down our spines. They make us feel alive. For me, anticipation is the thrilling blend of love and excitement that I felt standing at the altar in my clan kilt, watching my future wife walk up the aisle. For me, anticipation is the exhiliration of joy and nervousness as you await the birth of your children, holding tightly your wife's hand and sharing tears of happiness and disbelief of this magical journey of life and this beautiful little person that you're about to meet for the first time. Anticipation can be intoxicating, and always enhances the following act.
Growing grapes and making wine is full of anticipation. We get very excited at certain times of the year. Pruning in January and February inevitably leads to all sorts of wonderment of how the growing season will shape up. As the vines flower, and the berries are pollinated and develop throughout the season, we are constantly abuzz thinking about how the vintage will turn out. When the grapes are harvested, the bins are not just full of sticky grapes - they're filled with hope and future memories and celebratory occasions. When I taste wines from the barrel, which I do nearly every day, I'm not tasting today's wine. I'm tasting tomorrow's wine. I'm reveling not just in the wine as it comes out of the barrel, but also in its beauty that will be realized in time, perhaps years away.
Anticipation is what makes it exciting to hold on to a bottle for 10 years and then open it on a special occasion. Anticipation makes the wine taste just that much better ...
Posted By : Chris Corley
As I mentioned in my last post, it's people that make the difference. There are many ways to measure success in any business. This also holds true in the business of wine and grapes. In our family business, we pay close attention to the quality of our wines, the health of our vineyards and our financial statements, as any responsible business owner would. We have another important guage that we pay very close attention to that may set us apart from other wineries. We also measure our success in our people - our extended family. Happy employees that stay with us for a long time are indeed a major satisfaction and an important metric for us to guage how we are conducting ourselves as managers of our company. For this post, as we are just on the tail end of harvest, I'm going to focus on the Cellar Crew. Future posts will be dedicated to our other teams.
""UNCLE"" BRIAN CRAWFORD ... Uncle Brian (my mom's brother) really has no title. Over the last 25 years at Monticello, Brian has done just about everything. He has run the frost in the winter, driven the tractor up and down every vineyard row on the property countless times, and literally supervised tens of thousands of tons of our grapes going through the receiving hopper. He built most of the inside of the winery including all of our catwalks and barrel racks. Brian has lived on the property at Monticello - a stone's throw from the winery for almost 25 years. Brian is known to everyone around Monticello as ""Uncle Brian"".
RODOLFO CUEVAS - ASSISTANT WINEMAKER ... Rodolfo has worked with Monticello for nearly 18 years. He started in the field, working with the grapes, and moved full time into the cellar about 14 years ago. Rodolfo and I have worked side by side for all of those 14 years. Rodolfo has diligently worked hard over the years, and has performed just about every task imaginable in our cellar. He is currently our assistant winemaker and is also responsible for running our botling line.
ISAC AVILA - CELLARMASTER ... Isac has been with Monticello for about 9 years. He manages the daily operations in the cellar, and tracks all the work tags. During harvest, Isac is our PressMaster and supervises all of the grapes that go through the press. This is an important step in the winemaking process, and we're very happy to have Isac monitoring the pressing of our fruit.
MARK SULLIVAN - ENOLOGIST ... Mark joined us as a harvest intern in 2006 and again in 2007. Leading into the 2008 harvest, we hired Mark on full time. Mark tends to all of the fermentation tracking during harvest and performs all of our in-house analysis and prepares our trials tastings. Mark has a degree in Organic Chemistry from UC Davis.
RAFAEL CORTEZ-PEREZ - CELLARMAN ... Rafael has worked with Monticello for about 13 years. Most of those years he worked the vineyards as our main tractor driver. He joined our cellar crew a few years ago and has been a great contribution to the cellar. Rafael works diligently at the task at hand. During bottling season, Rafael assists Rodolfo in running and supervising the bottling line.
FEDERICO GUITERREZ - CELLARMAN ... Federico has been with Monticello for about 3 years. Federico joined us with little experience but a desire to work hard and learn. He has blended in with the team and has proven to be a very productive and welcome member of our cellar staff.
HEATHER FOSTER - ADMINISTRATIVE ... Although Heather isn't out on the cellar floor, she's an important part of our Production Team. For the last 2 years, Heather has organized all of our winemaking and packaging compliance, and kept our winemaking records organized and accessible. Her efforts in keeping us organized have been an enormous help.
Here's to our Cellar Crew! On behalf of my family, I want to say Thank You. We appreciate all that you do, and sincerely hope that we'll spend many more vintages together. You've become part of our extended family ..."