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Chris Corley
December 23, 2012 | Chris Corley

Napa Valley's 'Super Seconds'

"Posted By : Chris Corley

There are lots of ways for a winery to measure its success. High ratings and positive reviews provide feedback on wine quality. Sales of individual wines and customer comments also create a dialogue between the producer and the consumer. Gross revenue, profit margins, case sales by geographical region and percentage of sales direct from winery are some of the many metrics that we track to measure how we are doing.

Some other important measures that we keep track of may be somewhat unique to a winery of our small size. Employee retention, for instance, is very important to us. We have a few staff members that have been with Monticello for over 30 years, several for over 20 years, and a large number of staff that has been with us longer than 10 years. Our newest member on the production staff has been with us for 7 vintages. These are important numbers to us. Employee retention extends our family at the winery. Along that line, family involvement is another measure. We currently have five family members working full time at the winery, covering the four main areas of grapegrowing, winemaking, sales and administration.  This is also very important to us as a family-owned estate winery.

All that said, we sometimes can condense our goals into somewhat more simple terms. We strive to make great wine and sell it at a fair price.

Recently, we were happy to see our efforts recognized in Steve Heimoff's recent blogpost naming Monticello as one of Napa Valleys 'Super Seconds', a reference to our winery being an elite producer of great wines selling for a fair price. Please follow the link to read Steve's full post at his blog ...

Cheers, Chris"

Time Posted: Dec 23, 2012 at 8:25 AM Permalink to Napa Valley's 'Super Seconds' Permalink Comments for Napa Valley's 'Super Seconds' Comments (170)
Chris Corley
January 1, 2012 | Chris Corley

My First Brazilian

"Posted By : Chris Corley

We've spent the last ten days in Brazil enjoying the holidays. This is our first time in Brazil. We've really enjoyed the people, the food and the warm December weather. We've also found Portuguese to be one of the more difficult languages to grasp. Despite having reasonable Spanish skills which serve me well in Mexico, I found myself often staring blankly when spoken to in native Portuguese, even when conducting simple transactions. The language sounds to my ears like an indecipherable mix of Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. We didn't pack a Babel Fish either. Very few people that we have encountered speak English, and most of them were a younger generation that no doubt are taking English classes.

We've enjoyed trying the local foods and wines. One of our favorite dishes has been Baiao de Dois, which is kind of like a paella dish. Lots of rice, beans, sausage, linguica, cheese and mandioca (cassava), which is fibrous potato-like vegetable that was really good and added a nice texture to the plate.


The local fruit juices have been a real treat as well. I particularly enjoyed the juices of the Umbu and Graviola, both native fruits to Brazil, which to the best of my understanding don't grow anywhere else. Both juices were white and milky in texture. The Umbu was more tart and the Graviola had a creamy tone to it. Both were very good on their own, and I imagine would be great mixers for your favorite rum.


We have also enjoyed trying out some of the local wines. There are some local wines known as 'country wines' that are primarily poured by the glass. these wines are generally lower quality and I didn't care for them. I'm also not a critic, and not interested in disparaging my fellow winemakers, so I'll just comment on a few wines that I found of interest during our visit. On the map below, you can see the major wine regions of Brazil. The lower regions roughly line up horizontally with some of the winegrowing regions in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Interestingly, we had a tough time finding many Brazilian wines in stores. Most the wines we've seen on the shelves in South America, and perhaps not surprisingly, have been from Chile and Argentina.

MIOLO 'Reserva' 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Camphana) - This wine had dark berry flavors and well extracted tannins. Full bodied and plenty of lively acidity, this wine was best enjoyed with a meal (Baiao de Dois?) rather than on its own.

DUETTO 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot (Vale dos Vinhedos) - This wine had a little reduced (stinky) tone when we popped the cork, but it quickly opened up with some air. It had a softer texture and a fuller body than the Miolo. The fruit and acidity were a little muted but this was the best wine for just having a glass on its own.

CASA VALDUGA 'Premium' Chardonnay (Vale dos Vinhedos) - This Chardonnay had very bright acidity and the green apple flavors made it taste more like a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay. Crisp and refreshing, this half-bottle disappeared pretty quickly.

We've enjoyed are our visit to Brazil and have been introduced to many new tastes, textures, sights and sounds. I hope you've enjoyed reading about a few of the highlights."

Time Posted: Jan 1, 2012 at 4:36 AM Permalink to My First Brazilian Permalink Comments for My First Brazilian Comments (1011)
Chris Corley
April 4, 2011 | Chris Corley

In Memoriam : Edgar D. Beard

I walked into Ed Beards St. Helena Insurance office in 1987, the day I turned 16. Fresh from the DMV, and with a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon awaiting, I needed to sign up with Ed for my auto insurance. All went well and my adventures in driving were underway that afternoon. Ed was a friend of my dad's, and as I recall there was really no question where I would go to get insured. My dad sent me down to talk to Ed.

Twenty four years later, I still have my family car insured with Ed's office. And my house, my wife's business, and my life. I grew up with Monica, who has worked in Ed's office for as long as I can remember. That tells you something. People can make choices about where they work, and when someone works at the same place for the better part of their adult lives, it tells you a lot about the people there.

We do some custom winemaking at Monticello, and Ed would send over a few tons of Chardonnay each year that we make for him and bottle under his family's Beard Vineyard label. Ed liked a clean, crisp style of Chardonnay and his vineyard suits that style. The wines were fermented in stainless steel, and aged in neutral barrels. Ed would call to check in on the wines from time to time. His deep, somber voice on the phone was always comforting. "Chris, it's Ed Beard ..." he would say, and I can hear him saying it now as I write this. It was always a pleasure to talk with him. Always even, consistent, ever present. I miss talking to Ed on the phone. I wish I would have saved one of his voice messages.

Ed Beard was a kind man that touched many lives. The world is a better place for having Ed in it. I'm a better person for having known him, and I'll miss him. Rest In Peace Ed.

Time Posted: Apr 4, 2011 at 8:39 PM Permalink to In Memoriam : Edgar D. Beard Permalink Comments for In Memoriam : Edgar D. Beard Comments (109)
Chris Corley
December 5, 2010 | Chris Corley


This past week I had a chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was a highlight of our family trip back to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with family. My 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter were enthralled with the 3D Imax movie of the International Space Station, the simulation of the launch in the control room, and the opportunity to walk underneath the massive Saturn V rocket mounted overhead. The experience was a lot of fun for all of us, and educational as well. After spending the day at the Space Center, the kids had been introduced to a whole new world in a very meaningful way, and my wife and I had a deeper understanding and appreciation for what theses brave and creative men and women did back in these early days of the US space program.


Most all of us are familiar with the widespread images of the first lunar landing of Apollo 11 and the famous words of Neil Armstrong upon placing mans first foot on the moon. What I have a much better appreciation for now is the unbelievable efforts of all the men and women that led up to that historic moment. There were many flights to test systems and equipment, some more successful than others, some resulting in fatality.

My immediate reaction to seeing the actual capsules and the massive Saturn V rocket (longer than a football field) used to launch them into orbit was that these guys were absolutely out of their minds to strap themselves into these things and blast themselves out of our atmosphere. I still think they were out of their minds. But they were also courageous and honorable men and women, striving to learn more about a new frontier. What a fantastic opportunity and honor for a talented and curious pilot to be accepted into the space exploration program. And it is not just a self-serving motivation of adventure. These brave men and women paved the way for the future International Space Station and Space Shuttle missions that advance science by means of the experiments that can be conducted out of our atmosphere.

In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were shot into space on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It must have been an extraordinary event to observe and follow at the time. My dad, Jay Corley, was 38 at the time, a year younger than I am now. What a thrill for him to follow this adventure. These brave men representing a curious mankind leaving their home planet to travel to the moon. They were to investigate the surface of the new region and collect soil and rock samples for further study.

That same summer of 1969, Jay Corley was readying for a launch of his own. Driven by a similar curiosity, he was preparing to launch from his home to the north. He also intended to investigate the surface of a re-emerging region called Napa Valley and to collect rock and soil samples for further study. As did Apollo 11, my dad had a safe mission, was encouraged by the results of his rock and soil samples and planted his flag in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. My brothers and I are proud to carry on his tradition and fly the flag that he planted on our property over 40 years ago. The result of those early missions and subsequent efforts is Monticello Vineyards.


In the same way that the early astronauts, engineeers and technicians paved the way for future generations to appreciate and strive to learn, so has my dad and all the other vintners that were planting vines in Napa Valley 40-50 years ago. As young vintners, we owe a lot to this previous generation, and I try to say thank you at every opportunity. When you're a kid, you believe that your dad is a superhero, he may as well wear a cape. I've got my own kids now and would be humbled and honored if they felt the same way ... but I still kind of feel that way about my dad, especially when I indulge myself with the time to reflect on his accomplishments. I hope that my generation can contribute as much to the generational dialogue as those before us. They were pioneers in their own right."

Time Posted: Dec 5, 2010 at 7:25 PM Permalink to Pioneers Permalink Comments for Pioneers Comments (174)
Chris Corley
November 27, 2010 | Chris Corley

Seasonal Clippings, Vintage Whiskers II

Sideburns & Goatee

Posted By : Chris Corley

In a previous post a few months ago, I wrote about the intentional shearing of my longbeard and how the timing of the annual shearing of the harvest beard is a lagging indicator of the how the growing season is developing. Yesterday, I made a rookie accident that resulted in a facial follicle tragedy, but also has a correlation to winemaking. Somehow, in the 20 years I've had a beard on my face, through many nights of travel and mornings of self-induced grogginess, I've managed to avoid this peril. The clippers were carefully set to 5, but the guard was not in place, resulting in a runway across my cheek that the Space Shuttle could land on upon its return to our atmosphere.

I was temporarily blinded by the bright virgin cheekskin that had not seen the light of day since 1991. Once I regained my vision and senses, it was clear that there were not many options. I had to go barecheeks for the first time in 20 years. Sideburns and Goatee, Moustache, or a complete face-razing. A moustache seemed completely out of the question considering I don't have a pair of reflective CHP sunglasses to go along with one. A face-razing was too much to consider under the circumstances. Sideburns and Goatee.

These kinds of things happen in winemaking as well. In spite of all the careful planning, written and signed work orders, data entry and double checking - every now and then shit happens. 10 barrels, instead of 9, get pumped into a blend. Maybe the correct lot was pumped into the blend but the wrong barrel was pumped, resulting in a different new oak composition than intended. Fortunately, I have a long time crew that really cares about the wines that we , as a team, are making. In those unfortunate and uncommon situations, they react the same way that I did when I sheared a runway across my face. They stop what they're doing, assess the situation, and then we can move forward with the best option given the circumstances.

Fortunately these types of situations are as infrequent in the cellar as they are in my home barbershop. If you ever see a new brand on the market called 'Goatee', maybe the loyal readers of our blog will know the story behind the blend ..."

Time Posted: Nov 27, 2010 at 4:02 PM Permalink to Seasonal Clippings, Vintage Whiskers II Permalink Comments for Seasonal Clippings, Vintage Whiskers II Comments (100)
Chris Corley
January 4, 2010 | Chris Corley

Robert Parker - The Wine Advocate

During his recent visit to Napa Valley, Robert Parker tasted through some of our current releases of what we call our ‘Big Reds’. Here are some of his notes from the tasting …

2006 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon (92) Napa Valley

2006 CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine (89) Oak Knoll District

2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon – Yewell Vineyard (90+) Saint Helena

2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon – State Lane Vineyard (89+) Yountville

2006 MONTICELLO Cabernet Sauvignon – Tietjen Vineyard (88+) Rutherford

One of the finest offerings in this portfolio is the 2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon Yewell Vineyard (90+) from St. Helena. It offers plenty of spice box, chocolate, new saddle leather, cassis, and black cherry aromas and flavors as well as some serious tannins buried beneath all the fruit. However, this is a deep, rich, convincing wine that will benefit from 3-4 years of cellaring, and last for 15+20 years.

Even better is the 2006 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon (92), probably the best wine I have tasted from Monticello in many years. Its opaque purple hue is accompanied by abundant aromas of charcoal, licorice, black currants, graphite, and a hint of new oak. Full-bodied, layered, expressive, and pure, the copious tannins are well balanced by the richness of the fruit and level of concentration. It needs 2-4 years of cellaring, and should keep for two decades.

I liked the potential of the deep ruby/purple-tinged 2006 CORLEY Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard (89+). Lots of spicy oak, blue and black fruits, camphor, licorice, and underbrush characteristics emerge from this medium-bodied, more elegant, graceful, less concentrated effort. It should drink well for 12-15 years.

I had some reservations about the 2006 MONTICELLO Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyard (88+). The fruit intermixed with earth and lead pencil notes, but the wine reveals aggressive, rustic tannins, and the narrow, rugged finish could turn out to be problematic.

The 2006 CORLEY Proprietary Red (89) has sweet fruit, some charcoal, toast, cassis notes, medium to full body, and silky tannins. Drink it over the next 12-15 years.

Time Posted: Jan 4, 2010 at 4:18 PM Permalink to Robert Parker - The Wine Advocate Permalink Comments for Robert Parker - The Wine Advocate Comments (91)
Chris Corley
December 28, 2009 | Chris Corley

Local Locos!

We've been spending the holidays in New Mexico, enjoying a fresh fall of powdery snow just a couple of days before Christmas. Santa Fe is a wonderful place to be for the holidays. We've enjoyed spending time in the plaza and seeing all the beautiful luminarias that are put out on the sidewalks and rooftops for the holidays. These are small brown paper bags by the thousands with candles that are traditionally put out all over the city for Christmas Eve. What a great Christmas spirit this old and historic city has within its thick adobe walls.


We've also enjoyed having local beers in the local watering holes downtown and drinking Chilean Carmenere and Brazilian Pinot Noir at the oldest restaurant in the city, El Farol, on Canyon Road. I think a couple of glasses of Carmenere even enhanced my appreciation of the beautiful and eclectic artwork that fills the galleries of Canyon Road. El Farol is a very popular place with live entertainment, great tapas, and an interesting South American based wine list. It can be a tough place to get into for dinner, so much so that it even prompted a problem in Game Theory called the El Farol Bar Problem. Game Theory apparently is popular among professional poker players and people who want to have dinner at El Farol during the holidays.


So far, I've really enjoyed the beers from Santa Fe Brewing Company, delving into their Pale Ale and ""State Pen Porter"". From a little further north, in Fort Collins CO, I had a nice ""Cutthroat Porter"" from the Odell Brewing Company and ""Seco Stout"" from Eske's Brewery in Taos. I've really been enjoying porters this winter with their thick texture and dark smoky, chocolaty malty flavors. I have a 5 gallon batch of porter brewing at home that I hope will be okay until I get back, so have been keen to try as many porters as I can find. I'm going to crack open a bottle of local bubbly this afternoon from the Gruet family winery, and have even seen some locally produced and bottled mimosas and kir imperial, which are variations on the theme of sparkling wines, and something that I've thought would be fun to tinker with in our cellar back at Monticello someday.

In life as in wine, I love to expand my palate and relish every opportunity to engage in new experiences, whether edible, potable, tactile, intellectual or emotional. New experiences are one of the ways to make your dynamo hum, as Frank Zappa would have said. Sometimes you can just make that dynamo hum with a little Brazilian Pinot Noir! Yesterday we visited the Vivac Winery tasting room on Highway 68 on our way back to Santa Fe from Taos. They had a nice big line-up of wines to taste from many different varietals - Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon to name a few. They had some nice blends as well - Divino and Diavolo. The winery is run by two brothers, who grew up in Dixon, NM and they built the tasting room themselves, which is pretty cool in and of itself. The lady in the tasting room (unfortunately I can't recall her name) was an excellent hostess and even gave me a couple of homemade sugar cookies for the kids. Great little winery to check out. .

I'm looking forward to visiting some more of the local wineries here in New Mexico while we're out here. I'm interested not just in the technical aspects of the local grapegrowing and winemaking techniques but also to get a glimpse of the people behind the barrels, which is sometimes as much fun as the wines themselves."

Time Posted: Dec 28, 2009 at 9:28 AM Permalink to Local Locos! Permalink Comments for Local Locos! Comments (79)
Chris Corley
December 23, 2009 | Chris Corley

Holiday Mojo in a Bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee

     Our family spends a lot of time thinking about what goes into our wines. From the planting of the vines all the way through to bottling, theres no end of decisions to be made which will ultimately result in the quality of the final product. Varietal and clonal selection, trellising technique, viticultural practices, fermentation vessel, yeast, skin contact time, barrel selection and aging regime, and on and on. Thats just the tip of the enological iceberg when it comes to putting wines together from a patch of dirt.

   Spending all this time thinking about what goes into each wine requires us to spend time thinking about what comes out of each wine as well. After all, we're making wines that will be enjoyed by families around dinner tables, by couples under candlelight, and by someone who just wants to throw their feet up and wind down (wine down?) after a long day. To this end, we do our best to describe what we get out of the wines by writing tasting notes - including descriptions of textures, flavors, aromas, ageability predictions, and suggested food pairings. Winemakers tasting notes can't always sum up or predict what will come out of each bottle. I can tell you what went into each bottle, and what I get out of it. What you get out of your wine experience is all you, and there are no wrong answers.

     Tonight we had a bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the first blends I put together as head winemaker at Monticello. The 2000 Jefferson Cuvee was a special wine for me, being one of my first blends as the main dude in the cellar. In addition to having a great texture, deep berry flavors, nice tannin structure and just the right balance of oak - this wine had mojo. I made sure it was in there. We got a lot of snow today in Santa Fe, big fluffy flakes floating down from the sky like miniature parasols. With the snow falling outside, the fire crackling in the fireplace and a big pot of homemade chili on the stove, we had mojo in spades.

     It got me thinking about how external factors can shape our internal experiences and vice versa. The wine tasted great tonight but I've been emotionally invested in it for nearly ten years. Plus, I'm sitting with my wife by the fireplace in the middle of a snowy evening, and the kids are behaving themselves. How could life and taste anything less than perfect right then?  I've revisited this same wine recently at my tasting table in my office and it tasted great there as well, but I think it had a little extra mojo this evening. And the more I think about mojo, the more I think its in each of us. We just need to find that place within to let it free. And when we bottle up that mojo at the winery, you can be sure to find it when you pull that cork!

    As the holiday season is here, I hope we can all find our place within and let our bottled up mojo fly free. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Time Posted: Dec 23, 2009 at 10:41 PM Permalink to Holiday Mojo in a Bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee Permalink Comments for Holiday Mojo in a Bottle of 2000 Jefferson Cuvee Comments (2082)
Chris Corley
June 9, 2009 | Chris Corley

Isac Avila, Cellarmaster (11 years)

Posted By : Chris Corley

Note : As a small family owned and operated business, we hold our staff in very high regard. They are our extended family. We have several staff members that have been with us for 25 years, and many that have been with us more than 10 years. This current series of blogs will introduce our staff members, from all different departments, whom we are so proud to have working with us.


Isac joined our team by working in the vineyard for a season in 1998. He quickly established himself as a smart and motivated team contributor. We were happy to have him join us in the cellar the following year in 1999. As our Cellarmaster, Isac is responsible for many of the details of the daily work we perform in the winery. Among other things, he supervises rackings, oversees wine movements, and ensures that our cooperage is maintained in a healthy manner. He also writes many of the work tags that we use in the cellar that help us track our work with the wines. Keeping track of the wines in the computer is a large task, and Isac's efforts of documenting everything on work tags is essential for later data entry. When our enologist is occupied, Isac can run several of the tests in the lab to keep things running smoothly in the cellar.

During harvest, Isac keeps things flowing on the crush pad, helping to keep the incoming grapes organized and making sure that the pumpovers and punchdowns are all getting done. When we purchased a new press in 2006, Isac has taken to supervising most of the loads that go through the press, keeping track of the different press cycles and programs that we use for different varietals and styles of wine that we may be making.

Isac devotes most of his time away from work to his family. He and his wife, Yese, have a vibrant and energetic young boy, Leo, and are happily expecting another baby this year. We just had a nice visit from Yese and a happy Leo at the winery yesterday afternoon, both of whom put a smile on everyone's face. We wish them the best this year as they welcome another addition to their family!"

Time Posted: Jun 9, 2009 at 4:59 AM Permalink to Isac Avila, Cellarmaster (11 years) Permalink Comments for Isac Avila, Cellarmaster (11 years) Comments (816)
Chris Corley
May 26, 2009 | Chris Corley


Posted By : Chris Corley

We're pretty excited about our little hopyard this year. We planted the rhizomes on April 9, just about 6 weeks ago, and they're growing like crazy. The organic rhizomes we planted were purchased from a farm up in Oregon. The rhizomes are basically just cuttings, and look like dormant roots when you stick them in the ground. A couple of the varietals had us wondering which end was up, and I was actually worried that we stuck a couple of them in the ground upside down. In the end, we got 'em all right, and they are very happy plants.


We're growing our hops in barrels alongside the west end of the winery building. It's a lot easier to train the hops up a string trellis from the roof than to construct a proper hopyard with poles, which may need to be 15-20 feet tall. The growth below is all in the last 6 weeks (from dormancy), so we expect that the hops will work their way up near the roof by the end of the growing season.


We've got 2 barrels each of 5 different 'varietals' growing. Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Cascade, Willamette, and Perle. We're really looking roward to watching them grow this season, and learning about incorporating our own homegrown hops into our homebrews.


All the guys in the cellar have taken a real ownership of the project and it's been a fun team-builder in the ""offseason"". Each of us planted two hop plants, so we've all got a horse in the race. It's kind of like the game at the carnival, where you shoot water in the clowns mouth to see who can get the whatever up to the top of the line first. In this game, we all win because we'll get to brew some tasty batches at the end of the season!

Time Posted: May 26, 2009 at 1:51 PM Permalink to Hops! Permalink Comments for Hops! Comments (245)

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