Chateau Montelena is one of the most prominent Napa Valley wineries and was directly associated with bringing international recognition to the California wine industry through the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Based in Calistoga, the winery is famous for its wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in particular.
Its history began in 1882, when the site of the modern winery was bought by Alfred L. Tubbs. Tubbs built the eponymous chateau and created the A.L. Tubbs Winery in 1888, and by 1896 it was the seventh-largest wine producer in California. Prohibition in the 1920s saw the end of the winery, although the Tubbs family continued to grow and sell grapes. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 winemaking resumed, A.L. Tubbs wines were unable to find their former success. Tubbs’ grandson changed the name to Chateau Montelena, after the nearby Mount Saint Helena, but the winery was sold shortly afterwards. In 1972, Jim Barrett took over ownership and released the first vintage.
Chateau Montelena’s real success came in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, where its 1973 Chardonnay was deemed the best of a lineup of top wines from California and France. The top red wine, the Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, was also from California. The victory upset the French dominance of the wine industry, catapulting California producers onto the international stage, and opening the door for New World producers. The tasting was covered in Time magazine by George Taber, who went on to write a book about it titled Judgment of Paris, which in turn inspired the 2008 movie Bottle Shock.
Since the tasting, a bottle of the winning vintage of Chardonnay has been put on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the chateau was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Chateau Montelena also successfully led a petition of growers to form the Calistoga AVA within Napa Valley in 2010.
Despite its claim to fame, the flagship wine of Chateau Montelena has actually been its Cabernet Sauvignon since the early 1980s, when the vines had matured enough to produce quality fruit.