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Chateau Montelena Winery

At a Glance

Chateau Montelena Winery

1429 Tubbs Lane

Calistoga, Calif. 94515

(707) 942-5105

Hours: 9:30-4 p.m. Daily

Tasting Fees: $30/per person

Wines Offered: 2016 Potter Valley Riesling; 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay; 2014 Calistoga Zinfandel; 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; and 2013 Montelena Estate Cabernet.

Reservations: Not necessary, though upgrade experiences are available by appointment

Picnics: Only for club members

Pets: No

Did You Know?

Chateau Montelena has 10 remaining bottles of their 1973 Chardonnay that won the Judgment of Paris of 1976, and became one of the most iconic wines of the world. The remaining bottles have only been offered at auction to benefit charity. The last bottle sold at Auction Napa Valley 2016, as part of a joint lot with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, and sold for $110,000.


Located along Tubbs Lane in Calistoga, Chateau Montelena Winery is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. Now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, it was established in 1882 by Alfred Tubbs, a man who made his fortune in the rope business during the Gold Rush. The Chateau is made of stone and was initially designed as a barrel-aging facility. Tubbs eventually planted vines, and by 1896 it became the seventh largest winery in Napa Valley.

During Prohibition, winemaking ceased and Tubbs sold grapes. In 1958, the Tubb family sold the Chateau to Yort Wing Frank, a Chinese electrical engineer and his wife, Jeanie, who were looking for a retirement home. The Franks created a garden and excavated Jade Lake on the property. The winery and estate were reunited in 1968, shortly before the Barrett family purchased the property in 1972, and resumed making wine under the Chateau Montelena name. Despite the changes in ownership, the winery operated a relatively quiet, unheralded existence. Nestled in a beautiful landscape among towering trees, and sun-dappled pathways and views of the vineyards, Chateau Montelena was mostly known for its beauty and rich history.

On May 24, 1976, the winery helped catapult California to the forefront of the wine world and started making headlines. A wine tasting competition was held in Paris, an event organized by Steven Spurrier. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. Though the French were convinced the top-ranking wine would be one of their own, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay that won the white wine competition, taking the world by surprise.

The historical significance of that one event is still a major draw for those visiting the tasting room at Chateau Montelena, and they come from as far away as Brazil, Canada, England, Germany and Mexico. “Chardonnay made us famous, be we’re known for our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Sheri Bowen, hospitality and retail manager.

Today, Bo Barrett is the chief executive officer. The tasting room is open daily, and though reservations aren’t required, expect a wait on the weekends. Jose Vasquez, assistant tasting room manager, graciously led our tasting experience. We begin with a 2013 Riesling, which is light, crisp and refreshing with fruit-driven flavors of citrus. Next we try the 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay, which is fruit forward with ripe peach and pear with floral honeysuckle notes and offers a creamy lushness.

“The secret to good wine is equal parts art and science,” says Winemaker Matthew Crafton. Montelena wines are well balanced and food friendly with a strong focus on age-ability. “Bo [Barrett] encourages us to use what the land gives us. We’re not trying to produce the same wine year after year.”

Shifting to the reds, we try the 2014 Napa Valley Zinfandel, which is lighter in style and offers a silky smooth blend of ripe blackberry, fig and mint and an earthy finish. “When it comes to pairing this wine with food, this Zinfandel is like a Swiss Army knife. Chefs love working with it because it can pair with any part of the menu,” says Crafton, who’s been with Montelena for nine years.

Finally, we finish with two Cabernet Sauvignons. The 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet is classic Napa Valley with a blend of blackberries, rich cocoa and cassis, with a touch of tobacco and notes of violets. “This is a subtle nod to the more modern style—a little softer and fruit forward,” says Crafton. “This wine holds its own among higher-priced rivals, and it’s ready to drink earlier than our Estate Cabernet.” The 2013 Montelena Estaste Cabernet is made from the varietals grown on 110 acres planted on the estate and features rustic notes of raspberry jam, mocha, and a seamless, lengthy finish.  “This wine will only improve with age,” says Crafton.

Chateau Montelena has a reputation for producing balanced wines that age well in the bottle, and a rich history that still draws visitors from around the globe. But despite their notable wines and global fame, the winemakers don’t rely on tradition or recipes. Says Crafton, “We make the kind of wines we like to drink. Every year they’re a little different in terms of texture and flavor, and we embrace that variance in each vintage. What you taste is a year in the glass.”

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