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Chris Corley
June 18, 2008 | Chris Corley

Get Lost !

I taste wine nearly every day. My typical regime is to have our lab tech, Mark, pull and prepare the samples in the morning and I'll taste through various wines each morning between about 10:00-12:00. In terms of winemaking, it is one of my most cherished rituals and pleasurable responsibilities.

It's not unusual for me to get lost in glasses of wine during these tastings. It's that moment when you close your eyes, the world goes silent and you take in the full experience of the wine as a canvas drenched in vibrant colors and musical notes raining down from the heavens. It's that moment when the wine sings to you in a voice so beautiful that the lyrics don't matter. It's that moment when a wine is a field of wildflowers, or a dusty box of fresh cherries, or a sweet fragrant kiss from your true love.

I love getting lost in wines. It's the indescribable thrill and ultimately the reason we work so hard in the field and cellar to craft the wines we do. It's the climax.

While allowing yourself the luxury of getting lost in a wine is perhaps the purest route to enjoyment, it doesn't ultimately lend itself to responsible cellar management. As a counterbalance, I also keep extremely detailed tasting notes and rankings of all my tastings - lot by lot - and diligently have these entered into the computer for future reference, both long and short term. In my humble opinion, a winemaker must simultaneously be his own most enthusiastic supporter and also his own bluntest critic. The former trait will encourage and compel him to try new paths in seeking his ideal wine - the latter trait will keep him true to his vision and let him know when he's drifted down the wrong path.

And so my tastings go each morning, oscillating back and forward from beautiful lost wanderings in glasses of wine as vast as seas and skies to scribbling down its essence in a handful of sentences when I open my eyes again.

What a beautiful journey ...

Time Posted: Jun 18, 2008 at 3:39 AM Permalink to Get Lost ! Permalink Comments for Get Lost ! Comments (581)
Chris Corley
May 24, 2008 | Chris Corley


This dramatic book tells the story of those who marched with George Washington in 1776, the year that the Declaration of Independence was written. The whole of America's future lay in the hands of General George Washington and his "rabble" army - composed of soldiers of all ages, most with no military experience whatsoever.

It is an inspiring story, witten in a fluidly narrative style that includes excerpts of field notes of officers, soldiers, and other people of the time whose journals have survived the ages. It tells of a loosely assembled army of American rebels that fought against a highly organized British army that outfunded, outmanned and outgunned the Americans at nearly every confrontation. The dramatic battles in Boston and New York are particularly compelling, as well as the build up to General George Washington's heroic crossing of the Delaware and the ensuing battles in Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey.

"It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world." - Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in his classic study of the American Revolution.

The aformentioned quote from Sir George Otto sums up the feeling you have while reading this book. Namely, how could such a small ill-equipped and inexperienced group of men accomplish so much under such difficult conditions and in the face of such a powerful foe ?

The perseverance of George Washington and his ability to keep his troops composed had much to do with it. These brave men fought and died for the freedoms which we enjoy to this day. We owe them much.

David McCullough has received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award twice each. His biography "John Adams" was recently aired as a 7 part original mini-series on HBO, which was excellent. Mr. McCullough has also been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and the National Humanities Medal.

Time Posted: May 24, 2008 at 8:48 AM Permalink to RECOMMENDED READING - Permalink Comments for RECOMMENDED READING - Comments (107)
Jay Corley
May 20, 2008 | Jay Corley

Farewell, Mr. Mondavi

Bob Mondavi will no doubt be recognized as the most influential wine personality in Napa Valley wine history. He had a vision and recognized the full potential of what could be done by our collective winegrowing and winemaking talents.

Forty years ago, when I first came to Napa, he was one of the most important figures in the industry that I met. He was encouraging, sharing and forthright in his vision for his wines and for the future of Napa wines. In many ways we all rode his coattails to the lofty position that Napa has attained in the Wine World.

He was a friend, mentor and visionary that inspired all of us to strive to be the very best winegrowers and winemakers possible. He also understood that it was necessary to reach out and market aggressively the quality of our wines and the virtues of Napa Valley.

We owe Bob a great debt of thanks for his leadership and life long dedication to the wines of Napa Valley.

Time Posted: May 20, 2008 at 8:39 PM Permalink to Farewell, Mr. Mondavi Permalink Comments for Farewell, Mr. Mondavi Comments (3024)
Chris Corley
May 17, 2008 | Chris Corley

An Eastern Migration

Posted by : Chris Corley

In the (bizarro) spirit of those great Jeffersonian explorers, Lewis and Clark, my wife and I loaded up our stagecoach full of wine and blazed back east to visit a couple of our distributors recently. We made good time as our 'coach' was a newer model built by the team over at Virgin America.

Julianna's sister lives in Brooklyn, so we got a great feel for the local mojo in her neighborhood. There are some very nice restaurants and hangouts within blocks of her house, and a subway stop within a block, which was nice for our daily migrations to Manhattan and New Jersey ...

We spent a day in Manahattan and a few days in New Jersey, and the reception to the wines was excellent. It was also fun to visit with some of the retailers and restarauteurs who remember our Monticello wines from the late 1900s.

Our MONTICELLO Cabernet Franc and our CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine were big hits, and I was very happy with how the wines were showing throughout the week. People were really excited about our use of Cabernet Franc in our blends and in the 100% varietal bottlings.

On our last evening there, we had dinner with our NJ distributor, Jeff, and his lovely wife Sandy. They've been enjoying wine together since they got married nearly 27 years ago. The restaurant was a BYO (Bring Your Own, because they don't sell wine at the restaurant). Among others, Jeff brought two bottles to dinner, a 1986 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1986 CHATEAU MEYNEY St. Estephe. What a treat to taste the two bottles side by side! Both had aged gracefully and we easily segued into a conversation about what makes the great wines age well. Jeff is a nut about wine, and he also brought a very nice German Pinot Blanc and a beautifully complex Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) for the evening. What a great dinner with great friends !

We're already looking forward to our next market visit back east !

Time Posted: May 17, 2008 at 5:00 AM Permalink to An Eastern Migration Permalink Comments for An Eastern Migration Comments (57)
Chris Corley
May 9, 2008 | Chris Corley

Bowlcut or Mohawk ?

Posted by : Chris Corley

My wife, Julianna, and I have two wonderful kids - Jackson (4) and Ruby (3). Over the years, I've performed my share of haircuts. I'm not always so hip on current trends, so when it comes to decision making at the shearing table, my internal compass seems to quiver between bowlcuts and mohawks.

These same decisions apply when its time to groom our vineyards. How we tend to the rows between the vines can be as important as how we tend to the vines themselves. In general, there a few different techniques for tending to the rows, most everything else is a variation on a theme ...

1. Leave the soil as is and mow down the natural cover crop - the natural grasses and weeds.
2. Disk the soil, turning it over to break up the dirt.
3. Plant a specific cover crop (specific grasses or legumes) to accomplish a specific objective - i.e. to "drink" excess groundwater, or to replenish the soil with nitrogen, etc.

Sometimes the rows are treated uniformly, meaning that we would till every row in a given block of grapes, or we would grow a cover crop in every row.

In other blocks, we alternate cover-cropped rows with disked rows. It depends on the soil in the block, the vigor of the vines, the amount of rainfall through the winter, and which direction their internal compasses swing when Kevin and Angel are in the field.

By the way, I've never actually pulled out the salad bowl for the kids, but I'm reserving the right to scalp them with a mohican if there's any funny business !

Time Posted: May 9, 2008 at 6:57 AM Permalink to Bowlcut or Mohawk ? Permalink Comments for Bowlcut or Mohawk ? Comments (3750)
Chris Corley
May 7, 2008 | Chris Corley


I love tasting young Syrah out of the barrel! It's such an expressive grape in its youth, just exploding with spicy, peppery, deep dark berry fruit and sweet juicy tannins.

We've got 2 different clones of Syrah planted - Clones 470 and 174. Over the years, I've gone back and forth on my preferences between the two, spending equal time favoring each and have come to the conclusion that, at least for us, the Syrah clones are like your kids - you enjoy their individual traits, but don't really pick a favorite.

The 2007 vintage of Syrah is fantastic, with some barrel lots showing intensely dark, almost electric color and beautifully rich textures framed by moderate tannins which give the wine just the appropriate grip on the finish at this young age. I'm very excited to see how this vintage of Syrah develops over the next 12 months ...

This past weekend marked the release of our 2006 Monticello Syrah, which is tasting great as well. With each passing vintage, we grow increasingly excited about this varieatl and its flexibility in the cellar, both as a stand alone wine and also as blending wine ...

Time Posted: May 7, 2008 at 3:01 AM Permalink to BARREL TASTING - 2007 Syrah Permalink Comments for BARREL TASTING - 2007 Syrah Comments (31)
Chris Corley
May 3, 2008 | Chris Corley

RECOMMENDED READING - 'American Sphinx' by Joseph J. Ellis

I just finished a pretty fascinating book about Thomas Jefferson called American Sphinx. It was written in 1996 by Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and a National Book Award Winner.

The book takes us through 5 distinct intellectual segments of Jefferson's life, through both his public and private moments and correspondences ...

Philadelphia : 1775-1776

Paris : 1784-1789

Monticello : 1794-1797

Washington, DC : 1801-1804

Monticello : 1816-1826

The thrust of the book is to delve into Jefferson's mind to attempt to understand how he developed his fascinating views on individual freedoms and governance of men. The author also speculates how Jefferson reconciled some seemingly contradictory viewpoints that he held. For instance - how Jefferson reconciled his views of individual freedoms with his ownership of slaves and how he reconciled his essentially unilateral actions in the procuring of the Louisiana Purchase while at the same time opposing that kind of unilateral power for a government official.

The book is extremely well written, fluidly and intelligently, and portrays Jefferson as an extremely complex, erudite and somewhat solitary man. It is a somewhat provocative book that any American history buff will be sure to enjoy.

Time Posted: May 3, 2008 at 7:15 AM Permalink to RECOMMENDED READING - 'American Sphinx' by Joseph J. Ellis Permalink Comments for RECOMMENDED READING - 'American Sphinx' by Joseph J. Ellis Comments (212)
Chris Corley
April 30, 2008 | Chris Corley

The Frost of 2008

Posted By : Chris Corley

Every now and then, natural circumstances conspire to remind us of our place in the order of things. This year, Mother Nature has collaborated with Jack Frost to inflict upon us one of the harshest frost seasons in perhaps the last 30 years. Certainly the coldest I can recall, although our Dad will have 'fond' memories of farming challenges all the way back to 1970.

Frost season can be exhausting for the guys in the field who have to monitor the cold temperatures closely in order to protect the fragile young shoots. Our vineyard manager, Angel Avina, who has been with us better than 20 years has spent many a cold lonely night this season in the vineyard watching the mercury drop and determining just the right time to either fire up the wind machines or crank up the pumps in the pumphouse for the sprinklers.

In general, the sprinklers are a more effective method of combating the cold, as there is a constant supply of fresh water applied to the vines, which keeps the vines at a cool 32F or so as the water continually rotates through freeze/thaw cycles. Wind machines work by moving the air throughout the vineyard and pulling down the warmer air layer to keep the green shoots from freezing.

Thanks to Angel's valiant efforts, we've experienced little to no damage in our vineyards under sprinkler. We did suffer a little frost damage on the perimeters of our wind-machine protected vineyards. While this won't impact the quality of the fruit we bring in (we'll isolate any affected vines), it will decrease our crop a bit.

At the end of the day, another reminder of whose ultimately calling the shots and also that as winegrowers, we're essentially glorified farmers whose primary responsibility is to navigate the growing season and guide our crop into the barn as safely as we can ...

Time Posted: Apr 30, 2008 at 11:10 PM Permalink to The Frost of 2008 Permalink Comments for The Frost of 2008 Comments (2533)
Chris Corley
April 28, 2008 | Chris Corley

John Adams - The Series

Posted by : Chris Corley

My wife, Julianna, and I recently finished watching the 7 part series "John Adams", an original HBO film. The movie was based on the Pulitzer-prize winning biography written by David McCullough. It was a fascinating and seemingly authentic portrayal of one of the great leaders of The American Revolution.

What really struck me throughout the film was how the men leading the birth of our country were portrayed as real human beings. These guys were fighting for the independence of an entire country, and almost every step they took was uncharted territory. I found the relationship between John Adams and his wife, Abigail, incredibly fascinating. She was a major source of inspiration for him, both intellectually and emotionally.

The relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was only slightly less compelling. The dialogues and debates between the two were fascinating to see on screen, and there is something a little eerie to the fact that they both died on the same day - July 4, 1826 - exactly 50 years after the signing of The Declaration of Independence.

David McCullough has also written a more recent book "1776" which both my dad, Jay, and my brother, Stephen, have read and highly recommended. It's on my bookshelf, and I'm going to tackle it as soon as I finish my current book.

Did anyone else see the film "John Adams" ?

Time Posted: Apr 28, 2008 at 8:17 PM Permalink to John Adams - The Series Permalink Comments for John Adams - The Series Comments (2593)
Chris Corley
April 12, 2008 | Chris Corley

BARREL TASTING - 2007 Pinot Noir

Continuing our tastings through all of the 2007 lots in barrel, we recently tasted through our Pinot Noir.  We have two blocks of Pinot Noir planted with 4 individual 'Dijon' clones - 113, 115, 667 & 777. Clones are an additional level of distinction within a varietal family of grapes.

Over the years we've found enjoyable differences in aromas, flavors and the texture of the wines made from these different clones. We've broken out our Pinot Noir into as many as 13 different lots in the past in order to isolate the different flavors and aromas of each clone and section in the vineyard. in 2007, we made 8 different lots that have been belnded down to 6 at this stage.

All of the Pinot Noir from 2007 is showing very nicely at this stage - the wines have medium intensity tannins, nice berry and spice aromatics, and long finishes.

Some highlights from the recent tasting of each clone :

Clone 113 - Spicy aromatics, lighter tannins relative to the others. Nice redberry flavors and a little smokiness on the finish.

Clone 115 - Dark berry aromatics, dark cherries, blueberries. Medium to full tannins. Nice long finish with smoky sweet tannins on the end.

Clone 667 - Spicy and floral, showing cola, redberry and some ginger notes. Medium weight with sweet tannins on the finish.

Clone 777 - Cherry and strawberry aromas which follow through on the palate. Medium to full weight. Tannins are a little more firm than other lots but finishes long.

Typically, we don't distinguish our bottlings by clone on the label, but have toyed with the idea of doing a specialty bottling of individual clones in very small amounts.

Thoughts ?

Time Posted: Apr 12, 2008 at 5:52 AM Permalink to BARREL TASTING - 2007 Pinot Noir Permalink Comments for BARREL TASTING - 2007 Pinot Noir Comments (131)

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