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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
December 9, 2009 | Chris Corley

Tasting Highlights : 2006 Big Reds


Posted By : Chris Corley

It's nice being on the backside of harvest. After more than my share of burritos, beer, sticky grapes, and long nights, I welcome being able to get home in time to start a fire, have dinner with the family and catch the Monday night game. Our post-crush workdays are a little more manageable as well, and I've settled back into my daily tasting routine. Mostly, I've been working through the vast amount of lots we've generated from 2009, but recently I tasted through our current releases of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignons and Proprietary Red Wine.

In addition to our CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon and CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine, we make 3 different vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignons each year. These 3 small bottlings are from the State Lane Vineyard on State Lane in Yountville, the Tietjen Vineyard on Niebaum Lane in Rutherford, and the Yewell Vineyard on Ehlers Lane in St. Helena. Throw in the fruit from our Home Ramch and Knollwood Vineyards in Oak Knoll District, and we've got the valley pretty well covered!

The 2006 wines are all tasting great. These wines were all released over the last few months. All of the wines in this flight are aged in barrel for about 22-24 months, and then aged in bottle for another 12-15 months prior to release. If drinking now, I recommend decanting all of these wines about 30 minutes prior to maximum pleasure.

The 2006 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab blended from our 3 vineyards throughout the valley. It's a big rich dark wine that has nice chewy tannins for decanting now or 15 years from now. This wine reflects the best barrel selections of our combined Cab vineyards each vintage.

State Lane Vineyard (43%) “ Yountville Yewell Vineyard (19%) “ St Helena Tietjen Vineyard (38%) “ Rutherford

Our 2006 CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine is one of my favorite wines to blend each year. Because it is not varietally labeled, we let our imaginations guide us when assembling blends. More often than not, it is a Cabernet Franc and Merlot dominated wine, although we blend in Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah if it tastes right. The 2006 is 39% Cab Franc, 34% Merlot, 18% Cab Sauv and 9% Syrah. This wine is really tasting nice right now. Dark, spicy berry aromas, with well integrated oak. Dark chocolate and spice flavors are jammin' in a nice long finish.

Our three Single Vineyard cabs are all about barrel selection. Because they are bottled as 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from their respective vineyards, the blending trials revolve around barrel selection and seeing how the different cooperages, grains, and toast levels jive with each other. The 2006 Single Vineyard series was released this fall and all three wines are showing great depth of fruit, nice tannin structure and good aging potential, maybe 10-12 years.

MONTICELLO Tietjen Vineyard, CORLEY Yewell Vineyard, CORLEY State Lane Vineyard


Time Posted: Dec 9, 2009 at 12:35 PM
Chris Corley
August 2, 2009 | Chris Corley

Rafael Cortez, Cellarman (13 years)

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.


Rafael joined our team by working in the vineyard and over the course of about 10 years, he worked his way up through the ranks to be our lead tractor driver and the right hand man to our Vineyard Manager. For his last couple of seasons in the vineyard, Rafael would come to me towards the end of each harvest and ask if we had any work in the cellar. Each year, I unfortunately said that we didn't have a full time slot. His perserverance paid off in 2005, when we were inundated with a flood of fruit, and we had a full time position open up for him in the cellar. He has worked in the cellar for the last 4 years, and has been a great team member. Rafael does just about anything needed in the cellar, but his primary responsibility during bottling season is assisting Rodolfo in preparing and running the bottling line. Rafael is a great team player and we are all happy to have him as part of the team. Rafael wrote a short piece that he wanted to share ...

""I've been married to my wife Gaby for 7 years. We have two daughters, Isabel and Lesley, and we're looking to have a third. I dedicate my weekends to my family, and the week to my job. I consider myself a happy, humble, and lucky person. When I wake up in the morning, I feel ready for another day at the winery! My job keeps me active and it's very important to me and my family. I want to thank the Corley family for allowing me to be a part of their team.""

Thanks Rafa! We're happy to have you on the team as well!

Time Posted: Aug 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM
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

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, 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 ..."

Time Posted: Jun 15, 2009 at 8:04 AM
Chris Corley
June 9, 2009 | Chris Corley

Isac Avila, Cellarmaster (11 years)

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.


Isac joined our team by working in the vineyard for a season in 1998. He quickly established himself as a smart and motivated team contributor. We were happy to have him join us in the cellar the following year in 1999. As our Cellarmaster, Isac is responsible for many of the details of the daily work we perform in the winery. Among other things, he supervises rackings, oversees wine movements, and ensures that our cooperage is maintained in a healthy manner. He also writes many of the work tags that we use in the cellar that help us track our work with the wines. Keeping track of the wines in the computer is a large task, and Isac's efforts of documenting everything on work tags is essential for later data entry. When our enologist is occupied, Isac can run several of the tests in the lab to keep things running smoothly in the cellar.

During harvest, Isac keeps things flowing on the crush pad, helping to keep the incoming grapes organized and making sure that the pumpovers and punchdowns are all getting done. When we purchased a new press in 2006, Isac has taken to supervising most of the loads that go through the press, keeping track of the different press cycles and programs that we use for different varietals and styles of wine that we may be making.

Isac devotes most of his time away from work to his family. He and his wife, Yese, have a vibrant and energetic young boy, Leo, and are happily expecting another baby this year. We just had a nice visit from Yese and a happy Leo at the winery yesterday afternoon, both of whom put a smile on everyone's face. We wish them the best this year as they welcome another addition to their family!"

Time Posted: Jun 9, 2009 at 4:59 AM
Chris Corley
June 3, 2009 | Chris Corley

Rodolfo Cuevas, Assistant Winemaker (20 years)

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!

Time Posted: Jun 3, 2009 at 3:32 AM
Chris Corley
May 26, 2009 | Chris Corley


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.


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.


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!

Time Posted: May 26, 2009 at 1:51 PM
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.

Time Posted: May 21, 2009 at 7:47 PM
Chris Corley
April 14, 2009 | Chris Corley

A Comment from a Fan of Monticello Vineyards

"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.

Kathie Hart"

Time Posted: Apr 14, 2009 at 9:57 PM
Chris Corley
April 9, 2009 | Chris Corley


"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!"

Time Posted: Apr 9, 2009 at 4:16 AM
Chris Corley
March 11, 2009 | Chris Corley

Drifting Into the Ether ...

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 ...

Time Posted: Mar 11, 2009 at 9:55 PM
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