Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Tale Of Famous Firsts

On a lazy Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I found myself in Barnes And Noble, perusing books in their food and wine department. I ran across a beautiful book called "Napa Stories" written by famed Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello (now owner of Bottega Restaurant in Yountville). The book was spectacular--a large coffee table-style book with gorgeous photographs of different wineries and vineyards in Napa Valley, tales of winemakers, magical practices, lovely recipes and stories of food and wine get-togethers. Since I was having trouble putting it down, I purchased the book and took it home with me to continue reading it. There were many stories in this book, but the one that intrigued me the most was a tale of a magical, almost fairy tale-like medieval castle-winery and its owners: Chateau Montelena and the story of Jim and Bo Barrett. I received an important history lesson that day. Up until that point, I had never heard of the winery nor of the 1976 Paris Tasting, the wine contest that put Napa Valley on the map etcetera. I would never forget this history lesson as I forged through my fledgling wine experiences because each one of the "famous firsts" I will be discussing today has to do with the moment I became of aware of their story. For me, somehow it has all come full circle in a strange way. Please read on...

The more I read about this interesting winery and the tale of its 1973 vintage of Chardonnay, the more I couldn't wait to visit them! As luck would have it, I was invited to partake in a wine country trip with friends I had recently met and I jumped at the chance to go! This would be my first trip to Napa Valley. And-- as luck would take me further, our hotel just happened to be in Calistoga--just a few miles from Chateau Montelena. So on September 20, 2006, I set off to visit the winery and see if it was all I had imagined! We had an hour before we had to be at another appointment so I took advantage of the time and checked out everything I could. We tasted their current releases at the tasting bar--all very nice wines (I remember sampling a Potter Valley Riesling, which I loved and purchased.) The gardens were spectacular with a long bridge ending at a gazebo. (The gazebo was off limits.) Everyone was very nice. Inside, we took photos of the famed bottle of Chardonnay encased in glass and were given a copy of the infamous Time Magazine article to take with us! It was a great time. As we left, I said to everyone in our group, "They are making a movie about this story. We are fortunate to visit this winery beforehand." Fortunate indeed!

When I arrived back home, I went back to Barnes And Noble to purchase another book. This book, called "Judgment of Paris" by George M. Taber, told the story leading up to the 1976 Paris tasting and taught me so much more about the large cast of characters I would encounter in my near future! Shortly after I joined Facebook in 2008, the creators of the "Wine Beagles" application approached me about promoting the movie, "Bottle Shock". Filmed in and around Sonoma Country, "Bottle Shock" is the story of Chateau Montelena and the 1976 Paris Tasting. Without having seen the film yet, I began a grass roots campaign to bring the film to my home town of Des Moines, IA and promote it with a before and after premiere party at a wine bar and wine shop. (see photos below) I along with my friend Jennifer put up flyers and posters and spread the word about the premiere parties. All in all, we put together a very nice evening for wine lovers here in town. It was a huge success!

All our hard work seemed to pay off as it caught the attention of two of the film's producers, Marc Lhormer and his wife Brenda. I was planning another trip to wine country and Marc suggested meeting my group for drinks at El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma. It was great meeting them and getting the inside scoop on the film!! Afterwards, at Brenda's suggestion, we had dinner at Della Santina's, a restaurant featured in the movie. The more I walked around, the more I recognized different spots where the movie was shot. A neat way to experience it!

The next day, Brenda arranged a private tasting for us at Kunde Estates, a winery in Kenwood. Some of the films outdoor shots were filmed on this property and it was beautiful to visit with great wines! We ended up sampling pretty much everything they had to offer and had a wonderful time doing it! The infamous boxing ring scene was filmed atop a hill on their property and though I didn't actually go up there, I could see it from where I was standing!

Each evening when we were done, we'd come back to the town of Napa and walk around downtown. One of the things I had hoped to do was visit the Gustavo Thrace tasting room. Gustavo Brambila, one of the winemakers, had worked at Montelena during the time of the contest and now co-owned this quaint little tasting room with his partner, Thrace Bromberger. We never made it on time. It was always closed by the time we got back. So this part of the story is still open for the next time I visit! (We also visited Grgich Hills which I will talk about in part two of this story. Mike Grgich, the winemaker, was the person who made the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. I felt he deserved his own segment!)

So how does this all come full circle, you ask? Out of the blue one afternoon last Spring, I found out that Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena would be visiting my home town and doing a wine tasting at a local shop. I was able to meet him and sample several of Chateau Montelena's current vintages of Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. All exceeded my expectations for being great, solid examples of Napa Valley's finest wines. Bo was charming as can be and his stories about the filming of the movie were interesting. It was a great afternoon! I feel honored to have met him. I came home with his autograph on my "Bottle Shock" movie poster, which hangs proudly framed in my hallway to this day!

A couple months after the meeting, I attended the Wine Bloggers' Conference in wine country and met a couple ladies who had been contacts with me on Facebook--Katey and Nicole Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines in Healdsburg. Their family owns Bacigalupi Vineyards, and some of the Chardonnay grapes from their Alexander Valley vineyard were used in the infamous 1973 Chardonnay! I got to see some of the original paperwork and it was amazing!

I plan on revisiting Chateau Montelena sometime this year and start the process all over again! To this day, "Bottle Shock" remains one of my all-time favorite movies and I watch it frequently. I get goosebumps everytime I watch it! To purchase or learn more about the film, please scroll down to the very bottom of this page and click on the banner! Thank you to all involved for creating such a beautiful history lesson for us! Stay tuned for part two of this story...

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