Chateau Montelena's rich history began on a chilly fall morning when Alfred L. Tubbs spaded over and inspected the soil where he thought of planting estate vineyards. He'd heard the Napa Valley was the best place to grow grapes in California. A deal was struck and in January of 1882 the San Francisco entrepreneur owned 254 acres of rugged land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. The soils are well drained, stony and loose – perfect for the vine cuttings he would plant.
It took less than a decade to turn his dream into reality. First Tubbs planted his vineyards, then he built his Chateau, and in 1886 he imported a French-born winemaker. By 1896 his winery, christened Chateau Montelena (a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena), was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley.
Winemaking at the Chateau came to an end with prohibition. After prohibition was repealed, the Tubbs family continued to harvest the vineyard, making some wines and selling grapes to other wineries and home winemakers until they sold the winery in 1958.
The Chateau and its overgrown grounds passed into the hands of Chinese electrical engineer Yort Wing Frank and his wife Jeanie, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire. The Chateau inspired Frank to excavate a lake with grounds landscaped to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland. Today, Jade Lake is considered one of Napa Valley's most beautiful sanctuaries, home to a variety of fish and wildlife, and surrounded by weeping willows and native fauna.
In 1968, Lee and Helen Paschich bought the property, and brought Jim Barrett, then a lawyer in Southern California, in as a partner. Under Jim's leadership, the vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the Chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment. He assembled a team to oversee the vineyard and winemaking, and grew and contracted for the highest-quality grapes in the Napa Valley. In 1972 wines were made for the first time.
That same year, Jim bought the estate from Lee Paschich. The first few years he still lived and worked in Southern California, and so “commuted” to the winery on a regular basis in his own airplane.
In 1976 Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who's-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. This seminal event has been memorialized recently in the book "The Judgment of Paris," by George Taber, as well as in the 2008 feature film Bottle Shock.
Today Chateau Montelena continues to be the quality benchmark in Napa Valley, consistently producing some of the finest wines in California. Jim and his son, Master Winemaker Bo Barrett, continue to run the estate with the help of Winemaker Cameron Parry and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella.
"Modern-day society seems to always be in search of new stars, but this winery has been a Cabernet Sauvignon superhero for over 30 years! Chateau Montelena's Estate Cabernet Sauvignon remains one of California's most remarkable Cabernets. I have been following it since the early 1970s, and even the most difficult vintages are still drinking beautifully. The home vineyard is so consistent that even in difficult vintages this wine is far better than its competition." Robert Parker, The World's Greatest Wine Estates
May 14th, 2013
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The June 2013 issue of Wine & Spirits Magazines has a mention on Chateau Montelena’s recent historic recognition and the recent parting of founder James Barrett. See below for the clip and excerpt.
“Chateau Montelena continues to make wine 125 years later in Tubb’s stately stone building, and both the founding period and the later rebirth of the winery recently earned Montelena a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. While the latest recognition arrived, another chapter in Chateau Montelena’s story came to a close – founder James Barrett passed away on March 14, 2013. Barrett served in the Navy during World War II and spent over 20 years practicing law before purchasing and refurbishing Chateau Montelena in 1972. Barrett remained involved with the winery until his death, and his son Bo continues to manage Chateau Montelena and make the wine.”