Expanding the Horizons with Napa Valley Chardonnay
It was like a shot heard around the world when the 1973 Chardonnay crafted at Chateau Montelena Winery in Calistoga received the top score over top White Burgundy selections from France at the famed Judgment of Paris tasting held on May 24, 1976. On this day, the path of the California wine industry changed for good.
Decades before this iconic wine was created, a unique series of cuttings from France were planted at the
Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley in 1912. The Wente family’s ongoing dedica- tion to meticulous growing methods and breakthrough vine treatments elevated their Chardonnay clones to become the industry standard. Today, they represent over 75 percent of the Chardonnay grown in all of California.
Inspired by their love for Burgundy’s cherished white wines, Fred and Eleanor McCrea were among the early pioneers to plant the Wente clone of Chardonnay on the hillside property they purchased on Spring Mountain west of Saint Helena in 1948. In 1952, they began bottling the varietal under the Stony Hill label. In doing so, they joined Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, Ridge Vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains, and a handful of other early producers focused on making world-class wines with Chardonnay grapes planted at high-elevation sites in the 1950s and 60s.
Before the Paris tasting happened in 1976, the white grapes grown on the valley floor were primarily Chenin Blanc and Riesling. For that reason, Chateau Montelena founder James Barrett and winemaker Mike Grgich made the famous 1973 vintage with Chardonnay grapes purchased from the Bacigalupi Vineyard in the Russian River Valley region of Sonoma County and local vineyard sites located in Calistoga and the Oak Knoll area near Napa. Modeled after the sophisticated Meursault wines of Burgundy, the grapes were harvested when the ripe flavors were balanced. The minimalist, “hands-off”