A visit to Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

American Flag at Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Chateau Montelena Gardens, Napa Valley

Chinese Pavillion at Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Chinese Pavillion at Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Inside Chinese Pavilion Chateau Montelena

Kitchen at Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Mindy Joyce, WineryCritic, Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Mindy Joyce outside Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Private lounge at Chateau Montelena

Vats at Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley

Best known for winning the Paris Tasting in 1976, and later for playing a starring role in the movie, “Bottle Shock”, Chateau Montelena is a favorite amongst visitors to the valley.   The historic, moss-covered stone castle stands today as a reminder of what put California wine on the world’s stage.  For me, a little history was a welcome sight, after seeing so many modern tasting rooms.

After a few minutes among the crowds in the cozy tasting room, my guide, Kali walked me through the history of the owners and into some of the private parts of the chateau, usually reserved for groups or prearranged private tastings.  From its beginnings with original owner Alfred Tubbs in the late 1800s, to the prohibition years, to owners Yort and Jeanie Frank, and finally Jim Barrett, and his son Bo, the story of the chateau is fascinating.

“The movie is loosely based on the real story, but they have definitely changed some things for the movie” she said.  I had wondered how closely Bottle Shock portrayed the winery, and in this case, Napa Valley Chardonnay, when it was finally recognized as a world-class wine.  So get the full story I did.

As Kali walked me out to the vineyard she pointed out the Barrett family homes embedded in the hillsides around the property.  With views of Mount Helena in the background the name of the winery now makes sense. “Chateau Montelena is a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena,” she explained.

Like many of the top wineries I’ve visited, Chateau Montelena Winery has a focus on sustainability.  It is solar powered, features a charging station for electric-powered vehicles and is a Napa Green Certified Winery.  Montelena also has an eco-friendly barrel cave that covers 25,000 square feet of area and provides plenty of room for their 4,000 barrels.

The best thing about Chateau Montelena is not the tasting room, or the wines, it is the gardens.  What is unusual here is the Chinese Pavilion and Asian themed garden. Modeled after the Summer Palace in Beijing, the garden was originally designed in the 1950s by Frank Yort who wanted the property to reflect his Chinese heritage.  Centered around Jade Lake, the gardens provided a peaceful pause in my hectic tasting schedule.  I could sit and relax all day here, and I certainly could imagine myself having a nice picnic here some day.

With around 200 people a day on weekends and 150 a day during the week in the tasting room you’ll have plenty of company when you visit Chateau Montelena.  For something extra special, and depending on the day of the week you visit, join one of their tours for an insider’s look into the winery.

While Chateau Montelena may not wow you in terms of a tasting room experience, the gardens are a beautiful place to spend some time in, and just by seeing the chateau itself, it is a nice reminder of the story behind Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Expert tip:

Chateau Montelena is located in Calistoga, at the top of the Napa Valley.  Instead of making your way up the valley like most people, you may want to start here and make your way down to avoid traffic, and of course lines in the tasting room.

WineryCritic Ratings

7/10 Overall visitor experience

8/10 Knowledge of guide

8/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

8/10 Other experiences: Tours & tasting

8/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

7/10 Friendliness of staff

8/10 Signage & ease of access

8/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required:  No appointments required for tasting.  Reservations are required for the tours.

Address:  1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515


Tasting room hours:  9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily

Tasting fees and Experiences:

  • $20 per person – Current Tasting: Includes current release wines and may also include a library or a special winery-only wine.
  • $50 per person – Library Room Tasting: Tasting of wines not commonly available in the marketplace. Limited to 8 people. Pre-paid advance reservations are essential.
  • $40 per person – Beyond Paris & Hollywood: Untold Stories and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.  An insider’s peek at what really happened before, during, and after the actual Paris Tasting and the early days of Chateau Montelena; Limited to 12 people.  Pre-paid advance reservations are essential.  Thursdays at 9:45am.
  • $30 per person – Vineyard Tour: Your guide will explain the many viticulture decisions we’ve made and how those decisions impact the wine that you drink. (45 minutes) Limited to 7 people. Mondays and Wednesdays at 10:30am.  No advance reservations needed.
  • $40 per person – Estate Tour: Walking tour through the grounds of Montelena Estate (1.5 hours).  Includes a tasting of four wines.  Limited to 8 guests.  Pre-paid reservations are required.

Good for:  Gardening enthusiasts, fans of Bottleshock, Chardonnay lovers

Wines produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Riesling.

What’s nearby:  Bennett Lane Winery, Old Faithful Geyser, Envy Wines, Sterling Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa.

District/Appellation: Calistoga, Napa Valley

Contact for appointments:  (707) 942-5105

Date of visit: July 18, 2013

E-mail:  mindy@winerycritic.com