Even if you’ve never set foot in Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena looms large in America’s wine community. It produced the winning white wine in the pivotal 1976 Judgment of Paris, earning its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. A bottle of the victorious 1973 Chardonnay is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian.
There’s far more to learn about this American icon, though. Here are seven things you should know about Chateau Montelena.
It took a lot of rope to make that Napa chateau.
While much of Napa Valley consists of beautifully landscaped grounds and impressive winery buildings, few can match Chateau Montelena’s 1880s stone chateau. Grandeur doesn’t come cheap, though: That structure was built with rope money. Founder and entrepreneur Alfred Tubbs bought his acres in Calistoga in 1882 after making his fortune selling rope to gold miners and sailors starting in the 1850s. That business, Tubbs Cordage Company, remained in operation in San Francisco until 1962.
It’s French-inspired and California-grown.
Tubbs was inspired by French wines he’d tasted while on a post-retirement tour. When he returned to California, he purchased land in Napa Valley, built the winery, and eventually hired a French winemaker to oversee what he called the A.L. Tubbs Winery. It seems fitting, then, that his winery would play a crucial role in the relationship between French and American winemaking.
There is no famille Montelena.
That romantic name? No, it’s not a family tradition. It’s actually a contraction of nearby Mount St. Helena, coined by Tubbs’s grandson, Chapin, who renamed the winery in 1940.
Retirees landscaped the gorgeous grounds.
In the years surrounding and following Prohibition, winemaking ceased at the winery for nearly two decades. In 1958, retirees Yort and Jeanie Frank purchased the property. The Franks didn’t make wine, but they did oversee much of the stunning landscaping, including digging Jade Lake.
It’s never too late to try again.
In 1968, new owners came on board and installed Mike Grgich as winemaker. The team replanted vineyards, renovated equipment, and, in 1972, started making wines again.
Sometimes the second time’s the charm.
The story of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact it had on Napa Valley, is widely told. What often goes unmentioned, however, is that the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was actually the second modern vintage at the winery. Not a bad effort for Grgich and his team.
The CEO used to clean the barrels.
CEO Bo Barrett’s history with Chateau Montelena stretches back nearly 50 years, and he’s been involved with every single vintage since 1972. Barrett has done everything from weeding and pruning to cleaning barrels to promoting the wine around the world.
It’s not just white wine, either.
While Chardonnay first brought the spotlight to Chateau Montelena, these days, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme, as it does through most of Napa Valley. The company’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, from vines situated on gentle slopes composed mostly of alluvial soils, produces wines prized for their balance and elegance.