Thursday, May 9, 2013

Monticello Vineyards – The Oak Knoll District in Napa, California

After visiting Andretti Estate Winery I visited one of their neighbors, Monticello Vineyards. In 1969 Jay Corley founded this family owned and managed winery in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley. Today Chris Corley, son of Jay Corley, who grew up working in the vineyard and the winery, serves as the winemaker. However, after high school Chris took a brief break from the wine business to study Marine Biology at Humboldt State University. Afterwards he returned to the family business and began working as an apprentice. From 1990-1998 he worked as a cellar rat learning every aspect of the trade and then in 1998 he transitioned from Master Cellar to Assistant Winemaker. Since then Chris has worked under three winemakers who taught him the keys to becoming a craftsman of premium wines.

Chris works along with his brothers who manage the winery and his assistant winemaker, Rodolfo Cuevas, who has been a professional winemaker for over 30 years. Together, they make Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Their annual production is about 15,000 cases under the Oak Knoll, Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena appellations which are then bottled under one of three designations: Monticello Vineyards, Corley, and Corley Reserve

The winery is constructed with a Palladian-style architecture which also houses the barrel room and a rustic tasting room. Across the way is the “Jefferson House” which is modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia with identical white pillars, windows and balcony. The estate is used to host the winery’s tasting programs including wine seminars, component tastings, blending seminars, and reserve tastings.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2011 Estate Grown Chardonnay - Oak Knoll District. This wine has subtle aromas of apples, canned pears and citrus. On the palate it is medium bodied with crisp acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The second wine was the 2010 Estate Grown Pinot Noir - Oak Knoll District. Most Pinot Noirs from the Napa Valley come from the Carneros AVA which is further south and closer to the San Pablo Bay. However, the Oak Knoll District is south enough to receive some morning fog making it possible to grow this cool climate grape, but there are few wineries that make the attempt. This wine displays aromas of raspberries, strawberry preserves. On the palate it is somewhat light with medium- body yet crisp with medium+ acidity and it has a medium length finish. This wine sells for $38 a bottle.
The third sample was the Estate Grown Merlot - Oak Knoll District. This wine is a blend of 75% Merlot and $25% Cab Franc. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of cherry crème, black and blue berries and a hint of oak. On the palate it is medium bodied with supple tannins, ample acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2010 Jefferson Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of four vineyards in St. Helena, Rutherford, Yountville and the Oak Knoll District. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of black currants, black berries, dark chocolate and a hint of smoke. On the palate it is medium+ bodied with refined supple tannins and has a medium length finish. This wine is the most value priced in the line-up at $38 a bottle and there are wines like it in the valley that sell for $45+, so I brought one home.

The final pour was the 2009 “Yewell” Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is deep, dark, and purple-black. On the nose it has explosive aromas of cassis, blackberries, French roast coffee, and vanilla. On the palate it has refined velvety tannins, it is full bodied (medium ++) with mouth-watering acidity (medium+) and a very prolonged finish. It is an absolutely phenomenal wine with a price tag to match at $72 a bottle. This was my favorite wine in the line-up but at that price point there are comparable Cabs in the Napa Valley that go for $20 less.
To see more pictures of the Monticello Vineyards, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Monticello Vineyards
4242 Big Ranch Road
Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 1-707-253-2802