THE ART OF THE BLEND | WINEMAKER CHRIS CORLEY
The Relationship. My relationship with our estate grown wines at the blending table really begins in the vineyard, when the vines are planted. We nurture them, we develop them, we guide them to grow to their best potential. The growing season is a dialogue between the winemaker and the vines, a silent and thoughtful communication from budbreak to harvest. We celebrate together, and work through issues together. We work through the rigors of fermentation together, and enjoy the bliss of aging together. It's a dynamic relationship like no other. By the time the wines are on the blending table, I know them intimately. We've spent years together already. Working with the wines to help them find their best expressions of themselves, and of our vineyards and terroir is wonderfully enjoyable.
Synesthesia. The magic of blending is when we can distort the laws of mathematics, and make 1 + 1 = 3. This is satisfying on a tangible level, when I can taste the beautiful textural dance on the palate between the tannins, mouthfeel, and acidity ... or the ethereal interplay of flavors and aromas swirling in the blend. It's also intellectually compelling, as numbers like TA, pH, Oak %, and Tannin whirl around in my mind's palate. The emotional interaction with the wine is most intriguing to me, when I close my eyes, and I can hear the wine like music in my mind ... with subtle pianissimo notes on the front of the palate, building crescendos and a fortissimo finale!
The Wine. One of the best represenatations of 'The Art of the Blend' at MONTICELLO is our 'Corley' Proprietary Red Wine. We made the first vintage of this wine with the 1999 vintage, and over the last 24 vintages the wine has been an absolute joy for me to blend. I love the freedom of working with the different varietals, and the ability to create a wine that has a distinct and diverse personality of its own, that doesn't really fit into a specific varietal characteristic. Our current vintage is 2018, it's an expressive blend of Estate Grown grapes from our southern Oak Knoll District vineyards. 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc. It's displays a wonderful juxtaposition of dark berry aromas and lighter fragrant spice tones on the nose. On the palate, the wine has spicy attack from the Cabernet Franc, a round midpalate mouthfeel from the Merlot, and a long, robust finish from the Cabernet Sauvignon. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy this wine as much as I enjoyed making it!
Chris Corley | Monticello
Assistant Winemaker 1997-1999
Cellar Master 1994-1996
Cellar Journeyman 1992-1993
Cellar Apprentice 1990-1991
Cellar Rat 1987-1989
S54 E9 | Harvest 2023
We're very excited for Harvest 2023! We can feel the energy in the air! Most of our grapes are through veraison ... when the grapes begin to soften, change colors and make the transition from berry growth to berry ripening. We typically begin our field-sampling of the grapesonce veraison is complete.
The first of our still wine grapes to come in is almost always Pinot Noir, and it looks like 2023 will not be an exception. Our Pinot Noir is currently sampling around 23 brix ... even more importantly, the grapes are still plump with softening skins, nice fresh bright berry flavors, and are displaying a great balance of acidity and sweetness when I'm chewing on them. The seeds are all brown, and we've got nicely liginified canes. These are all tangible indicators of ripeness which I pay close attention to.
In the last few years, we've been intentionally leaving a little more fruit on the vines in order to delay the sugar accumulation, and allow for more time for ripening. When it comes to managing sugar accumulation and ripening on a grapevine, you can imagine the leaves as the gas pedal and the grape clusters as brakes. More leaves, less grapes can result in faster sugar accumulation, and less time for true ripening. Increasing the crop load on the vine, makes more work and can slow down the sugar acuumulation in the grape, allowing more time for ripening, and hopefully picking more fully ripened grapes at a lower brix, which will in turn result in lower alcohol. Winegrape ripening is an extraordinarily complex process, and this description greatly oversimplifies it, but I hope it helps to provide a glimpse of some of the considerations that I think through leading up to harvest. The 2023 winemaking program started with the first pruning cut back in March, and we're very excited to start making the transition from the field to the winery with these first upcoming picks of Pinot Noir!
The drought in California over the last few years was not just limited to water, we felt it socially as well. With the rains this winter, and our resuming of group events, it sure feels nice to be getting together again! We've had a wonderful Presidents' Day Weekend at MONTICELLO. A highlight was our Ambassador Club Spring Release Pickup Party on Sunday!
Our local Ambassadors joined us for the afternoon, to taste new and inaugural releases, and specially bottled club exclusive wines. Many of our club members have been loyal fans of MONTICELLO for years, and we were pleased to welcome them back to the winery!
We also enjoyed inviting potential new club members into the cellar for a taste of the new wines, and were pleased to have these new members join the club on Sunday as our newest MONTICELLO Ambassadors!
We enjoyed wonderful live music from Megan Schoenboem, whose beautiful singing and gentle guitar playing filled the winery cellar with cheer. We also enjoyed Brazilian-inspired chocolate truffles courtesy of Fabi Hayes and her Brigachero trailer. Both Megan and Fabi enhanced our afternoon, we we'll be sure to have them both back again!
MONTICELLO Founder and our Dear Ol' Dad, Jay Corley, passed away peacefully on January 11, 2016. We miss him, and remember him with admiration and love. We choose to celebrate his life rather than remain sad. He loved the wines of Burgundy, and that passion led him to the southern end of Napa Valley, where he founded MONTICELLO with original plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 2023, we'll be honoring our Founder and Dear Ol' Dad with very special limited-edition bottlings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The following piece is from Jay's memorial, and helps share a little about our Dear Ol' Dad.
Jay was born on July 30, 1931 in Chicago, to John and Helen Corley. After graduating from Cranbrook high school in Detroit, Jay moved west to attend Arizona State and Stanford University. He later attended Pepperdine, where he received his MBA. His thesis was based on how to start a vineyard and winery business in the Napa Valley. Jay's interest in culture and languages also led him to serve as an Italian linguist with the NSA.
An entrepreneur at his core, Jay founded and managed a number of successful business ventures in Southern California in the 1960s. His family's long history of farming was always on his mind, and he felt himself drawn towards the reemerging wine regions in Northern California. When the post-prohibition reincarnation of Napa Valley's winegrowing industry began to germinate in the 1960s, Jay was quick to recognize the region's potential for growing world-class wine, and he made the decision to move north and follow his dream.
He established his vineyard in 1969 in the cooler southern end of the Napa Valley, now known as the Oak Knoll District. When he first surveyed his land, he stood in a tired and gnarly prune orchard peppered with black walnut trees, but what he saw was a world-class vineyard with the potential to make classic wines. In 1981, after more than a decade of growing and selling his grapes to other wineries, he built the winery at Monticello Vineyards and began to produce his own estate-grown wines. Jay took great pride that the winery he founded has entered into its second generation, with its third generation showing early interest in the family wine business.
Jay with daughter Carolyn Corley on her wedding day.
Jay nurtured a strong sense of civic duty, and served on several boards and foundations, including Queen of the Valley Hospital and Napa Valley Planning Commission. He served twice as Chairman of the Napa Valley Wine Auction, served on the Napa Valley Grand Jury, and was longtime and active member of Napa Rotary. He enjoyed his affiliations with the Chevalier du Tastevin, and with his fellow GONADS (The Gastronomical Order for Nonsensical and Dissipatory Society), a group of fun-loving yet dedicated friends and fellow Napa Valley wine industry pioneers.
Jay was a life-long and devoted Chicago Cubs fan, rooting for his beloved Cubbies since he was a kid at Wrigley Field in the 1930s. Jay also cheered for the Stanford Cardinal, and loved to spend weekends tailgating at the eucalyptus grove at Stanford stadium, and cheering on his alma mater from the old wooden benches.
He had a wonderful sense of humor, and would light up a room with his smile and wit. His love of swing music lifted the spirits, and was frequently playing in the background. He was a well-traveled man, familiar with international cultures, yet was most comfortable at home with family.
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
- Calvin Coolidge
A great pleasure of estate winegrowing is to see how our wines develop over time, sometimes very long periods of time. We’ve been farming our estate vineyards for more than 50 years … in fact we’re one of the few fifty plus year old, family owned, estate grown wineries remaining in Napa Valley. We tend to develop personal relationships with our wines and vineyard blocks.
One of my favorite wines to blend is our MONTICELLO ‘Corley Reserve’ Proprietary Red Wine. I love the freedom this wine allows me during the creative flow of the blending process. Since this wine is labeled simply as red wine, I’m free to follow my palate through all of the barrels in our cellar when assembling this blend each year. Ever since the first vintage in 1999, this wine has typically been composed of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, although there have been a few vintages over the last 24 years, that I’ve unconventionally blended in some Syrah.
Most of the blends have been led by Cabernet Franc, which is such a magnificent grape when grown with love. We grow four different selections of Cabernet Franc on two estate ranches in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Each selection has a different nuance of the varietal, and all of them represent it wonderfully.
In general, these bold red blends hit a wonderful sweet spot on the palate at 10-15 years. With about an hour of decanting, the tannins are as smooth as silk, the fruit is awakened from its bottled slumber, and the finish just keeps going and going. I’ve been enjoying our MONTICELLO 'Corley Reserve' Proprietary Red Wine 2006 and Proprietary Red Wine 2007 over the last couple of years, and as we enter 2023, I’m looking forward to enjoying and featuring our 2008 as a fifteen year library selection!
The 2008 growing season was a little bit of a roller coaster, but It ended up being an exceptional year for quality. Drought preceded a hard frost, which led to an uneven set and a small crop. Then heat spikes hit as harvest began. But after that it was smooth sailing, resulting in wines of very good to exceptional quality. Given all the climatic challenges, our only disappointed was the low tonnage in several vineyards.
Our MONTICELLO ‘Corley Reserve’ Proprietary Red Wine 2008 is a blend of 44% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. I just enjoyed a bottle of this with Christmas Dinner and it was absolutely terrific. Smooth supple tannins, beautiful aromas of plum, black cherry and tertiary aromas of cinnamon, potpourri and chocolate. The transitions across the palate are seamless, and the finish just sails on and on. The light beam of acidity on the midpalate (a telltale from our cooler southern Oak Knoll District vineyards) has kept the wine vibrant and alive at fifteen years, especially with the softer tannins.
We’ll be celebrating this wine all through 2023 as a fifteen year library selection. As we close out 2022, I’m excited to offer it together in a three-bottle bundle with our 2006 & 2007, so you can experience and enjoy the same multi-vintage transitions that I have for the last few years. And we’ll send it to you in a sharp three-bottle gift box!
If you’re intrigued, please CLICK HERE … enter coupon code BOXDAY, and you’ll receive 20.22% savings and we’ll ship the order to you for a MONTICELLO Nickel ($0.05 flat rate special).