Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Harvest Preparations at Chateau Montelena

Well, it’s that time of year again…the decking has come off the crush pit, and we’ve dusted off the destemmers. The presses have rolled out of the warehouse and the shaker table is all bolted in place. The new barrels have all arrived and the grapes are getting sweeter by the day. Now how do all these puzzle pieces fit again? We’ll figure it out - not without a few surprises along the way I’m sure, but it’s the challenges that keep it interesting, right?

The crush season is upon us and the interns are in full force (see testimonial below) cleaning everything and anything they can get their scrubbies on – we wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything’s got to be bright an clean before the first grape hits the scale. Speaking of the grapes, they’re looking great! We’re expecting another excellent vintage and with more tonnage than last year. The Chardonnay crop should be about 115% of normal and the guestimates from the Estate suggest that we’ll have about 180 tons of Napa’s finest to work with this season, including the much anticipated first crop off of the replanted J-block. While we're on replants, we’ve got about 13 acres off-line this year that are in various stages of replant, and the second half of C-block is slated to come out after this harvest. What’s it all mean you say, well, it is all part of our master plan to produce the best possible grapes from this extraordinary vineyard, so as the production from the older plantings (1973 and 1974) declines we are gradually replanting those blocks to ensure that we have sufficient grape tonnage to ensure consistent production levels. But remember folks, this is farming, so check back to see what we actually get…

We expect to receive our first grapes – Chardonnay – in about 7 days, but that all depends on mother nature and what she has in store for the next week or so – any prognostications? The conditions down in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley where we grow most of our Chardonnay have been very good this season – a bit cooler than normal, but that’s good for Chard. No new growers this year, but we will have a few new (to us) clones to play with courtesy of an existing grower that T-budded over some Merlot to Chardonnay Dijon clones last year.

Aside from new Chardonnay clones, there is actually quite a bit of “new” here at the old Chateau. We have 9 new tanks in the cellar this year, a new basket press, and a few more new pieces of grape handling equipment. What’s with all the new you ask, well, what it boils down to is that all this new stuff is designed to do one or both of these two things: either make the wine better or make the job easier. This simple philosophy has deep roots here at Montelena and is in line with our growing philosophy as well: the right grape in the right place. All that to say that we are continuing to tweak and improve all aspects of what we do here in order to not just maintain, but improve upon the excellence expected from Chateau Montelena.

Check back in to see how everything plays out here at the top of the Napa Valley! One of our interns and I will be posting updates once a week (maybe more) as we progress through this harvest.


Cameron Parry


Chateau Montelena Winery

1429 Tubbs Lane

Calistoga, CA


Now here's an entry from Daniel Orrison - one of this year's interns here at Chateau Montelena:

Summer Harvest: Entry 1 9/1/2009

Montelena Monday:

My name is Daniel Orrison, though these days I more appropriately go by Intern, or Harvest Intern, Intern who almost flips the forklift four days into the job, etc. Yes, that is correct, I am one of the harvest interns at Chateau Montelena (or how I refer when meeting a young lady in the small city of Calistoga… “I am an apprentice to the winemaker at Montelena”). Jokes aside, this is a dream position. There is not a winery in the world I would rather work and a staff I would prefer to learn from.

In the following weeks you are going to hear MY story behind the 2009 Montelena harvest. Not your everyday recap, that I can promise, but the REAL side of a Napa wine harvest, from the eyes of 22-year-old kid who is crazy about wine and obsessed with new experience (a little too much some may say). I plan to document the ups and downs, highs and lows, and ins and outs of the entire adventure. Wherever that may take me…

But a little bit more about myself before we get started: I love wine – the style, art, culture, science, and tradition all sown into the subject. This love has taken me across the globe. Tasting in the south of France, sipping in South America, touring in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and has now landed me in the epicenter of the American Wine Trade – the Napa Valley. Which, appropriately, seems to be then most beautiful of all the regions in the world I have had the privilege to visit.

How I wish I could put the beauty of this area into words – the beauty of Napa Valley – the beauty of Calistoga. A place such as this remind you how pure and clean the world can be – how extraordinarily far the pleasures of thought and imagination can take you if you are only willing to dream! It really does seem quite perfect… I’d be willing to argue the only discomfort one experiences when visiting is in the realization of how tragic it is the likes of Van Gough or Monet will never get to the stories of these hills with their brush. That may be the tragic romantic in me… but who’s counting. We’re in wine country, right?

Now onto Chateau Montelena… From the instant you step foot on the property, winding your way down a charming path lined with Eucalyptus (and stumble upon the castle I now call home), a feeling of excitement surrounds you – a feeling of passion – a feeling of care, pride, and tradition. It’s amazing to see the level of excellence that radiates throughout the building. From top to bottom there is not a detail missed and it is because of this that the winery has remained among the World’s elite for so many years. If you could only see how excited I am sitting down to write this post, for it is a reminder of how special I foresee this harvest. Chills are running through me as we speak. Away from myself, though, and back to the quality that is Montelena… an area I feel has a great deal to do with then quality of young staff they employ (the Interns).

I live with two others in an amazing old farmhouse (hidden between rows of vines on Old Toll Road), owned by our boss, Bo Barrett. One is a Portuguese lad by the name of Ricardo. He has worked seven harvests in different places around the world. Him and I are becoming good friends. He has such a passion for wine. It is inspiring to watch him work are care for the grapes for his attention to detail is like nothing I haven ever seen. The other intern is a lovely young girl by the name of Janice. She has recently graduated from Cornell University, where she studied Viticulture and Enology. Another amazing young mind who knows farrrr too much about wine (compliment in these parts). But both are incredible people I look forward to taking this ride with.

So far life as an intern has been easy. Harvest is still a few weeks out as the summer’s temperature has been a bit cooler than usual and the grapes still need a few more weeks to ripen. The quality of fruit though looks to be outstanding. We can’t wait to get started! Until then… I hope this introduction treats you well. Much more to come. Much more to come.

Wine tasting this weekend? See you around the valley.

Cheers most sincerely,


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