Posted By : Chris Corley
Note : As a small family owned and operated business, we hold our staff in very high regard. They are our extended family. We have several staff members that have been with us for 25 years, and many that have been with us more than 10 years. This current series of blogs will introduce our staff members, from all different departments, whom we are so proud to have working with us.
Rodolfo has worked with Monticello for nearly 20 years. He began with us working in the field around 1990. Rodolfo spoke little English when he started at Monticello. After four seasons in the field, Rodolfo expressed an interest in shifting over to the cellar. Our winemaker at the time, John McKay, provided Rodolfo with the opportunity to work in the cellar, and Rodolfo has been working in the winery every day since.
Over the last 16 years in the cellar, Rodolfo has consistently improved his cellar and winemaking skills. Rodolfo has gone from working in the field and speaking little English to managing our cellar and production staff, overseeing the bottling line, interacting with custom clientele, running lab analysis and generally helping out wherever necessary. There was a stretch of a few years in the mid 1990s when Rodolfo was responsible for our gardens at Monticello, and would spend one day a week tending to the garden. We were all impressed with his abilities and care in the garden as well. A natural green thumb. And always with a smile.
From time to time, we'll have a carne asada cookout on the crush pad. Rodolfo makes some great salsas and is very talented in the kitchen as well. Away from work, he enjoys dancing, fishing and spending time with his family.
I remember when Rodolfo first started working in the cellar in 1993. We have worked together up through the ranks of the cellar, from the bottom to the top, literally shoulder to shoulder, and will share our 16th harvest together at Monticello in 2009. In all the time I have worked with Rodolfo, I have never seen him lose his temper, nor even raise his voice. He rarely misses a day of work, and is the most dependable person I have ever worked with. I'm immensely proud to work with Rodolfo, and hope that we can continue working side by side for many more years!
Posted By : Chris Corley
We're pretty excited about our little hopyard this year. We planted the rhizomes on April 9, just about 6 weeks ago, and they're growing like crazy. The organic rhizomes we planted were purchased from a farm up in Oregon. The rhizomes are basically just cuttings, and look like dormant roots when you stick them in the ground. A couple of the varietals had us wondering which end was up, and I was actually worried that we stuck a couple of them in the ground upside down. In the end, we got 'em all right, and they are very happy plants.
FUGGLES HOPS - MAY 26, 2009
We're growing our hops in barrels alongside the west end of the winery building. It's a lot easier to train the hops up a string trellis from the roof than to construct a proper hopyard with poles, which may need to be 15-20 feet tall. The growth below is all in the last 6 weeks (from dormancy), so we expect that the hops will work their way up near the roof by the end of the growing season.
We've got 2 barrels each of 5 different 'varietals' growing. Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Cascade, Willamette, and Perle. We're really looking roward to watching them grow this season, and learning about incorporating our own homegrown hops into our homebrews.
RODOLFO CUEVAS - ASSISTANT WINEMAKER, HOPMEISTER
All the guys in the cellar have taken a real ownership of the project and it's been a fun team-builder in the ""offseason"". Each of us planted two hop plants, so we've all got a horse in the race. It's kind of like the game at the carnival, where you shoot water in the clowns mouth to see who can get the whatever up to the top of the line first. In this game, we all win because we'll get to brew some tasty batches at the end of the season!
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.
"I was born in Napa. My Dad was one of the original believers of Napa Valley wine superiority. Tonight we were out to dinner celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary. We were at Esin in Danville and I picked your wine - 2006 Cabernet. It was wonderful. I just got home and read of your family's venture in the valley. Great story. We commend you and your spirit. And, I picked the right wine for a very special occasion. My father was born on Big Ranch Road. Keep going.
"Today we planted hops at the winery. The cellar crew and I are going to grow 10 hop plants this year in old wine barrels along the side of the winery building. Last November, we ordered 10 organic hop rhizomes from a grower up in Oregon. They arrived at the winery a couple of weeks ago. We're growing 5 different varieties - Fuggle, Northern Brewer, Willamette, Perle and Cascade. Below is a picture of the rhizomes as they arrived from the supplier. They're basically cuttings from established plants.
We pounded out the heads of 10 old barrels and lined them up along the west end of the winery building. The barrels were filled with some of our rockin' Oak Knoll District dirt from the back of the vineyard mixed in with a little potting soil to help them get started. They'll get plenty of sun on the west end of the building, and once they're established should provide some shade and pleasant aromas at that end of the building. Best of all, when they start producing hops, we'll be able to use these for home-brewing! Isac, our cellarmaster (hopmeister?) tends to the newly planted hops in the picture below.
It will probably take a couple of years for the hops to get established, but we've been growing grapes for a long time, so we've learned to be patient when starting out new plants. Mature hops can grow very tall, perhaps 15-20 feet in a season, so they need tall wires to be trained up. Growing them next to the building meant that we didn't have to erect hop poles, which likely would have been a lot of work for this first go-around. We'll just drop training wires from the roof, which is about 25 feet tall. If all goes well with this batch, maybe we'll consider putting up some hop pole or tee-pees in the back of the property ... we'll see.
There are a lot of parallels between wine and beer, and I imagine everyone is the familiar with the old catch phrase 'It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine!'. We're firm believers. We've been having fun learning about the brewing process, and learning how to grow hops just further enhances our enjoyment of drinking good beers. Hopefully, the fresh hops we grow will enhance our ability to make good beers, and those good beers will lead to great wines!"
I'm pretty good at getting carried away. When I was younger, it got me into a lot of trouble, but I sure had a lot of fun. Over the years, I'm figuring out how to ride that drift to a positive endpoint. During blending trials, my favorite place to be is in the dark - that is, with my eyes closed and both my thoughts and the wine swirling in my head. It's the most imaginative place to be and the best place for me to find both the good and bad in a given wine.
Blending is one of the more magical aspects of making wine. It is one of the moments in the winemaking process that you can let your thoughts soar and experience the wine on a truly hedonistic level. For a brief time, you can see the wine as brilliant portrait in your mind's eye or listen to it as a symphony in your mind's ear. You can feel the wine as a silken flower on the fingertips of your imagination and dance with it on the winged heels of your dreams. If the canvas is a bit frayed, the orchestra is a little out of tune, or the flower slightly wilted, this inner sanctum is usually where the answer can be found.
I don't allow myself to go off the edge, though. When tasting, I like to drift as far as I can, but still be able to find my way back. For me, it's important to keep lots of tasting notes, so you need to be able to translate these visceral and ethereal thoughts into language that will make sense, at least to your self, if not others. Tasting notes for me are like a anchored tether tied around my waist as I venture deep into a dark cave.
Tasting wines throughout an aging process is also a journey through time, a conversation with your future self. As I taste a wine in the first month of aging, the notes I make are a communication to my self to be responded to, perhaps 18 months later. It's interesting having this kind of dialogue with yourself. The response from the future self to the past self is in some ways simply the act of learning - a way of communicating a current experience for the benefit of a positive future action. The inner dialogue amongst the selves is the nip of a creative soul, and also the dynamo that propels us toward more answers and their subsequent questions ...
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 ...