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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
January 4, 2010 | Chris Corley

Robert Parker - The Wine Advocate

During his recent visit to Napa Valley, Robert Parker tasted through some of our current releases of what we call our ‘Big Reds’. Here are some of his notes from the tasting …

2006 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon (92) Napa Valley

2006 CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine (89) Oak Knoll District

2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon – Yewell Vineyard (90+) Saint Helena

2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon – State Lane Vineyard (89+) Yountville

2006 MONTICELLO Cabernet Sauvignon – Tietjen Vineyard (88+) Rutherford

One of the finest offerings in this portfolio is the 2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon Yewell Vineyard (90+) from St. Helena. It offers plenty of spice box, chocolate, new saddle leather, cassis, and black cherry aromas and flavors as well as some serious tannins buried beneath all the fruit. However, this is a deep, rich, convincing wine that will benefit from 3-4 years of cellaring, and last for 15+20 years.

Even better is the 2006 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon (92), probably the best wine I have tasted from Monticello in many years. Its opaque purple hue is accompanied by abundant aromas of charcoal, licorice, black currants, graphite, and a hint of new oak. Full-bodied, layered, expressive, and pure, the copious tannins are well balanced by the richness of the fruit and level of concentration. It needs 2-4 years of cellaring, and should keep for two decades.

I liked the potential of the deep ruby/purple-tinged 2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard (89+). Lots of spicy oak, blue and black fruits, camphor, licorice, and underbrush characteristics emerge from this medium-bodied, more elegant, graceful, less concentrated effort. It should drink well for 12-15 years.

I had some reservations about the 2006 MONTICELLO Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyard (88+). The fruit intermixed with earth and lead pencil notes, but the wine reveals aggressive, rustic tannins, and the narrow, rugged finish could turn out to be problematic.

The 2006 CORLEY Proprietary Red (89) has sweet fruit, some charcoal, toast, cassis notes, medium to full body, and silky tannins. Drink it over the next 12-15 years.

Time Posted: Jan 4, 2010 at 4:18 PM
Chris Corley
January 1, 2010 | Chris Corley

Zine Wine : Wines and Vines Magazine at Monticello

Posted By : Chris Corley

This past harvest, we had an opportunity to host some of the editorial staff at Monticello as they harvested their own grapes of our vineyard and crushed the fruit at Monticello. We all had a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to tasting the finished wine. Following is the recent article in Wines and Vines written by the editor Jim Gordon. You can link directly to the article at




by Jim Gordon

San Rafael, Calif. -- Wines & Vines staff members had a chance to put themselves in their readers' boots during the harvest of 2009, thanks to a generous Napa Valley vineyard family, a patient Marin County winemaker and a barrel-refurbisher. A small crew of people normally more comfortable with computer mouses than grape knives harvested half a ton of Merlot to make a 60-gallon barrel of wine.

Along the way we experienced the same anxiety and excitement that most Northern California winemakers felt during a harvest rudely interrupted by cold, torrential rains Oct. 13 just as the grapes were nearing peak ripeness.

The Knollwood vineyard from which we harvested the Merlot is a 31-acre property on Big Ranch Road about two miles north of the city of Napa, the same parcel where Lewis Cellars sits. The Corley Family, who operate Monticello winery nearby, own the Knollwood property. The Corleys bought the first 19 acres of what is now Knollwood in 1984, said Kevin Corley, and later purchased another 12 acres.

The vineyard was in its second year of organic farming. The location is in the Oak Knoll District, with Coombs gravelly loam soil and the AVA's typically cool microclimate on nearly flat terrain. Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines grow on a few different trellis setups here. The row of 9-year-old Merlot that we picked from was clone 181 planted on 3309 rootstock and trained on a lyre system with vines spaced 10 feet by 4 feet, trained onto wires held by 36-inch cross-arms at the bottom and 52-inch cross-arms at the top. Kevin Corley said the yield is typically 4 tons per acre.

We harvested on Oct. 23, having waited about as long as possible for the vineyard to dry out and hoping for the fruit to increase in sugar after the rain. Some evidence of white mold was beginning to show here and there, and berries were beginning to fall off the clusters when a vine was shaken. But the skins were intact and the flavors tasted fresh, so when Kevin Corley advised that waiting any longer would not help we harvested.

Under the watchful eye of the Corleys' long-time vineyard manager, Angel Avina, we picked into lug boxes and dumped the grapes into a macro bin on a flatbed truck at the end of the row. It was a quick trip to the Monticello winery across the road, where we processed the fruit on a new, efficient sorting setup that winemaker Chris Corley was trying out.

We pitch-forked the fruit onto a conveyor, which then released it into a gentle destemmer and sorting operation that enabled five people at a time to sort out all jacks and material other than grapes. The final sugar reading was 22.9 degrees Brix, and the fruit was very clean, smelled fresh and didn't appear to have suffered from the wet spell and late harvest. With the help of ropes, a tarp and plenty of duct tape, we secured our must in a macro bin in the back of a pickup, and drove it to about 35 miles to San Anselmo in Marin County, where the owner and winemaker of Ross Valley Winery, Paul Kreider, accepted it for fermentation. About two weeks later the wine had gone dry and was successfully pressed into a small tank to let the gross lees settle before racking into a five-year French barrel refurbished by Cryo Clean Barrel Blasting and outfitted with a stave insert array designed to give the effect of 40% new oak. Wines & Vines thanks our partners in this winemaking venture. We hope to provide readers an update on the quality of the wine later as it ages.

Time Posted: Jan 1, 2010 at 8:25 PM
Chris Corley
December 28, 2009 | Chris Corley

Local Locos!

We've been spending the holidays in New Mexico, enjoying a fresh fall of powdery snow just a couple of days before Christmas. Santa Fe is a wonderful place to be for the holidays. We've enjoyed spending time in the plaza and seeing all the beautiful luminarias that are put out on the sidewalks and rooftops for the holidays. These are small brown paper bags by the thousands with candles that are traditionally put out all over the city for Christmas Eve. What a great Christmas spirit this old and historic city has within its thick adobe walls.


We've also enjoyed having local beers in the local watering holes downtown and drinking Chilean Carmenere and Brazilian Pinot Noir at the oldest restaurant in the city, El Farol, on Canyon Road. I think a couple of glasses of Carmenere even enhanced my appreciation of the beautiful and eclectic artwork that fills the galleries of Canyon Road. El Farol is a very popular place with live entertainment, great tapas, and an interesting South American based wine list. It can be a tough place to get into for dinner, so much so that it even prompted a problem in Game Theory called the El Farol Bar Problem. Game Theory apparently is popular among professional poker players and people who want to have dinner at El Farol during the holidays.


So far, I've really enjoyed the beers from Santa Fe Brewing Company, delving into their Pale Ale and ""State Pen Porter"". From a little further north, in Fort Collins CO, I had a nice ""Cutthroat Porter"" from the Odell Brewing Company and ""Seco Stout"" from Eske's Brewery in Taos. I've really been enjoying porters this winter with their thick texture and dark smoky, chocolaty malty flavors. I have a 5 gallon batch of porter brewing at home that I hope will be okay until I get back, so have been keen to try as many porters as I can find. I'm going to crack open a bottle of local bubbly this afternoon from the Gruet family winery, and have even seen some locally produced and bottled mimosas and kir imperial, which are variations on the theme of sparkling wines, and something that I've thought would be fun to tinker with in our cellar back at Monticello someday.

In life as in wine, I love to expand my palate and relish every opportunity to engage in new experiences, whether edible, potable, tactile, intellectual or emotional. New experiences are one of the ways to make your dynamo hum, as Frank Zappa would have said. Sometimes you can just make that dynamo hum with a little Brazilian Pinot Noir! Yesterday we visited the Vivac Winery tasting room on Highway 68 on our way back to Santa Fe from Taos. They had a nice big line-up of wines to taste from many different varietals - Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon to name a few. They had some nice blends as well - Divino and Diavolo. The winery is run by two brothers, who grew up in Dixon, NM and they built the tasting room themselves, which is pretty cool in and of itself. The lady in the tasting room (unfortunately I can't recall her name) was an excellent hostess and even gave me a couple of homemade sugar cookies for the kids. Great little winery to check out. .

I'm looking forward to visiting some more of the local wineries here in New Mexico while we're out here. I'm interested not just in the technical aspects of the local grapegrowing and winemaking techniques but also to get a glimpse of the people behind the barrels, which is sometimes as much fun as the wines themselves."

Time Posted: Dec 28, 2009 at 9:28 AM
Chris Corley
December 23, 2009 | Chris Corley

Holiday Mojo in a Bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee

     Our family spends a lot of time thinking about what goes into our wines. From the planting of the vines all the way through to bottling, theres no end of decisions to be made which will ultimately result in the quality of the final product. Varietal and clonal selection, trellising technique, viticultural practices, fermentation vessel, yeast, skin contact time, barrel selection and aging regime, and on and on. Thats just the tip of the enological iceberg when it comes to putting wines together from a patch of dirt.

   Spending all this time thinking about what goes into each wine requires us to spend time thinking about what comes out of each wine as well. After all, we're making wines that will be enjoyed by families around dinner tables, by couples under candlelight, and by someone who just wants to throw their feet up and wind down (wine down?) after a long day. To this end, we do our best to describe what we get out of the wines by writing tasting notes - including descriptions of textures, flavors, aromas, ageability predictions, and suggested food pairings. Winemakers tasting notes can't always sum up or predict what will come out of each bottle. I can tell you what went into each bottle, and what I get out of it. What you get out of your wine experience is all you, and there are no wrong answers.

     Tonight we had a bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the first blends I put together as head winemaker at Monticello. The 2000 Jefferson Cuvee was a special wine for me, being one of my first blends as the main dude in the cellar. In addition to having a great texture, deep berry flavors, nice tannin structure and just the right balance of oak - this wine had mojo. I made sure it was in there. We got a lot of snow today in Santa Fe, big fluffy flakes floating down from the sky like miniature parasols. With the snow falling outside, the fire crackling in the fireplace and a big pot of homemade chili on the stove, we had mojo in spades.

     It got me thinking about how external factors can shape our internal experiences and vice versa. The wine tasted great tonight but I've been emotionally invested in it for nearly ten years. Plus, I'm sitting with my wife by the fireplace in the middle of a snowy evening, and the kids are behaving themselves. How could life and taste anything less than perfect right then?  I've revisited this same wine recently at my tasting table in my office and it tasted great there as well, but I think it had a little extra mojo this evening. And the more I think about mojo, the more I think its in each of us. We just need to find that place within to let it free. And when we bottle up that mojo at the winery, you can be sure to find it when you pull that cork!

    As the holiday season is here, I hope we can all find our place within and let our bottled up mojo fly free. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Time Posted: Dec 23, 2009 at 10:41 PM
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
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