Celebrating 50 years under the creative stewardship of the Barrett Family

“When we first saw the ghost winery in 1972, the vineyards were neglected, the cellar floor was dirt, and there was no equipment to speak of. Nevertheless, we had a vision and recruited the right people throughout the years to build Montelena into what it is today,” Bo Barrett shares as he leads us through the wine caves he had built throughout the years.

We meander through over a kilometer of caves as Barrett shares the intrepid stories that make this winery and his life so unique. “When we ran out of money, the cave just stopped, so we had to deal with it until we had enough money to start digging again. When that happens, you get very creative.” Bo laughs as he takes a sip of the 50th Anniversary Chardonnay created especially for this year’s celebrations.

Three of the pours we enjoyed at Chateau Montelena

To truly appreciate the history of Chateau Montelena, let’s step back in time. The story begins in 1882, when San Francisco entrepreneur A.L. Tubbs bought 254 acres of rugged land to build a winery. He planted the first vineyards and built the famous château. By 1896, A.L. Tubbs Winery was one of the largest in Napa Valley and thrived before Prohibition. In 1933, Chapin Tubbs revived the winery and increased production over the next decade. Unfortunately, in 1945, Tubbs could not continue making wine, so he sold the vineyards and shut down operations.

In 1958, the property was sold to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a Chinese couple who immigrated to the U.S. before WWII and converted the defunct winery into their residence. Yort excavated a lake below the Chateau and landscaped the grounds to reflect his homeland. He named the area “Jade Lake,” a tribute to Jeanie’s nickname. Jade lake is still there, flourishing with wildlife and lush foliage.

Vineyard block at Chateau Montelena

In 1972, Jim Barrett, Bo’s father, purchased the estate. Jim recognized the potential in the exceptional property and replanted the vineyard. Four years later, Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world by winning the Judgment of Paris in 1976. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay was selected as the top-ranking wine in a blind tasting of four white Burgundies and six California Chardonnays at this pivotal event. The win was a coup for Napa Valley winemakers and a victory for Californian wines. The triumph inspired a movie titled Bottle Shock, based on the incredible events that led up to Chateau Montelena’s win.

Bottle Shock is not a documentary; it’s a fanciful embellishment upon the spirit of the times and the creativity of the times, and that, I think, was accurate,” shares Barrett.

Today, Chateau Montelena is honored on the National Register of Historic Places and stands as a quality icon, consistently producing some of California’s most refined and sought-after wines.

Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena’s winemaker, is a spry young man with a clear future vision. He is successfully merging Old World traditions with leading-edge innovations. “We aim to express a wine of place and vintage. The goal is to paint with all the colors of the year with the character of our vineyard as the common thread connecting past vintages. At the winery, we’ve invested in modern equipment that gives us the flexibility to adapt or change course at a moment’s notice. As we experience the expression of the fruit, we can fine-tune or even make radical changes in the cellar to showcase the vintage’s potential. Creativity and curiosity are encouraged and shared as we’re empowered to try new ideas.”

Old vine Zinfandel at Chateau Montelena

The past 50 years have been truly remarkable for Chateau Montelena. We look forward to the next 50 and the incredible wines that will be produced on this magical plot of land hidden in the grassy enclaves of Calistoga.

This year the winery celebrates 50 years of excellence in winemaking with a few opportunities for the public to experience this golden milestone.

Bo Barrett

50th Anniversary Chardonnay

Chateau Montelena’s 50th Anniversary Chardonnay is a limited-production release, previously available through pre-sale as a member exclusive. This special Chardonnay pays homage to their 1973 Chardonnay which won the Judgment of Paris, as it’s crafted as a blend of the three original vineyards from the legendary vintage.

This release is offered as a 3-pack set in 750-milliliter bottles, designed with special packaging as a tribute to the original label and hand-waxed finishing. There are also a few hidden details on the label, such as colorful fireworks that appear in the sky behind the Chateau once the bottle is chilled.

Although this wine quickly sold out in pre-sale, keep an eye out for limited-edition releases from Montelena in the future.

A Celebration of 50 Years

Guests can also take part in the golden anniversary celebration with a new tasting experience offered only in 2022. This unique experience will fully immerse you in the wines, history, and future of Chateau Montelena.

Your experience will include a private tour (luxury transportation included) hosted by a Montelena guide, showcasing handpicked Montelena wines and vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Tour and tasting will begin in the Oak Knoll District at the John Muir Hanna vineyard, one of the original vineyards composing the historic 1973 Chardonnay. The second stop will be a gourmet, curated lunch with wine pairings. Third stop will be at Montelena’s Davies vineyard in Calistoga for a tour and tasting of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines. The final stop will be at the Montelena Estate, where guests will experience a behind-the-scenes tour of the cellar, caves, grounds, and vineyard—the cellar and caves are usually not accessible to the public. A final tasting will be held inside the château, opening to a private balcony overlooking the estate and Jade Lake. Tasting will begin with a collection of library Chardonnay wines and will continue with select vintages of estate Cabernet Sauvignon across all five decades of Barrett ownership, hand-selected by CEO and owner Bo Barrett. Crafted bites from a local Calistoga partner will accompany each wine, and guests will each receive a keepsake, limited-edition Riedel glass etched exclusively to celebrate Chateau Montelena’s 50th anniversary and the opportunity to purchase rare library wines on the day of tasting. Price: $1,000 per person.

Photos by Robert B Richards