Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Montesquieu

December 24, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

All of us at Montesquieu wish everyone wonderful holiday celebrations, and hope all of  your holidays are great, filled with warmth as you enjoy favorite food and wines with loved ones.  May you have some magic and wonder dashed in with new experiences, be they surprising new wines and finds, or anything that brings a smile and a twinkle to your eye!  Cheers!

San Francisco Office with Macy's Santa Dec 2010

San Franciso Office With Macy's Santa

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Le Salon de Musiques: New Concert Series Redefines Classical Music, with a Little Help from Montesquieu Wines

December 21, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Le Salon de Musique
Been to the symphony lately? Lots of white heads, right?

How about the local orchestra? Average age around eighty?

Well not at Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the third Sunday of each month.  The founders of Le Salon de Musiques, a new concept in live music, are trying to make their classical music concerts the hottest tickets in town, and to attract a dynamic new demographic in the process.  And they seem to be succeeding.

And we at Montesquieu Winery are doing all we can to help. It’s such a pleasure to encounter others in our communities that are like-minded in their embodiment of the “art of living” – a value that animates all we do, from our relationships with our clients to the wines we choose to source. It’s in this spirit that we chose to sponsor Le Salon de Musiques, this innovative chamber music series.

The monthly concerts take place in an intimate setting with no stage, and the artists and audience meet after each performance to enjoy a light meal, Champagne and conversation. To enhance appreciation for the works being performed, the artists provide insightful introductions, speaking about the various movements being played, the composers’ history and other information designed to give the audience a deeper understanding of the musical program. The creators of the series aim to breathe new life into their passion, chamber music, by breaking down the traditional barriers that exist in standard concert venues to achieve a shared experience, a meaningful exchange, beyond the performance.

I attended the second concert on November 21, a performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major a work completed just two months before the composer’s early death, at age 31. View Full Post

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Montesquieu Winery Partners with Heidi Barrett, Napa Valley’s First Lady of Wine

December 16, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

As many of you know, we at Montesquieu Winery have had the good fortune of working with some of the top vintners around the globe.  Our network of winemakers here on the home front isn’t bad either, especially when you consider the woman who highlights that group — none other than the legendary Mrs. Heidi Peterson Barrett.

Over the past two years, we’ve been able to secure for our clients a prime selection of highly coveted wines made by Heidi, the once and future “Queen of Napa Valley.”  Through venerable wines such as Amuse Bouche, Revana and several vintages of Vin Perdu 5-liter Jeroboams, our clients seem to have fallen head-over-heels for Heidi and her ability to create wines with power and expression, while at the same time managing seamless balance and elegance no matter the varietal.  Without a doubt Heidi Barrett is one of the most gifted vintners of her generation.

Au Sommet Atlas Peak Winemakers Dinner

If you love California wine, you know that Heidi Barrett’s reputation precedes her — to put it mildly.  Robert Parker has called her the “First Lady of Wine”, and it’s no wonder, as the “Cult Cab” revolution will be forever tied to Heidi and her ultra-rare wines from the early 1990s.  She’s responsible for the success of some of California’s most notable labels, including Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle “Maya”, and Grace Family Vineyards, among others.

Talent aside, perhaps Heidi’s best trait is her passion as a winemaker.  It’s infectious, and when we met her at a wine auction in Napa, there was instant synergy — we share her appreciation of the artistic nature of grape-growing and winemaking, as well as her commitment to bringing wine lovers the very best from the vine.

Those shared values led us to a private al fresco dinner hosted by Heidi atop Atlas Peak, where we dined among the vines of Au Sommet Vineyard and tasted several of her upcoming releases.  The conversation around the table forged a deeper bond between us, bringing with it the prospects of collaborating on something special.

We’re thrilled to announce that that vision has now become a reality with our release of the 2007 Montesquieu Dynamene Syrah, a wine crafted by Heidi exclusively for our clients. View Full Post

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Montesquieu Winery Reflects on Thanksgiving and Looks Toward Christmas —The Joys of Food and Wine Over the Holidays

December 13, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday—it encompasses tradition, gratitude, family, friends, quality time with people that matter.  But what would Thanksgiving be without that seemingly endless meal, paired with a collection of your favorite wines?

We at Montesquieu Winery are reflecting back on this year’s Thanksgiving feasts, reliving our favorite wines and some of our more successful pairings as we prepare for the next round of holiday parties and dinners.  Although certain wines have developed a reputation for pairing particularly well with a Thanksgiving meal — Riesling, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, just to name a few — the truth is that any wine that was a hit at Thanksgiving will likely play beautifully through the rest of the holiday season and beyond!

Montesquieu Winery Thanksgiving 2010

Helpful Hints

But before remembering some of our Thanksgiving favorites, let’s highlight a few tips we’ve learned over the years that apply to serving wine at any festive occasion.

Feel free  to take some license to experiment and enjoy.  We believe there are no strict hard-and-fast rules.   After all, everyone is different, with different tastes.  Pairing food and wine should not require a PhD or cause anxiety.  Here are some basic guidelines that are helpful, but more importantly, drink what you enjoy, and serve a variety that you think others will enjoy too!

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Montesquieu Winery Reviews the Roller Coaster 2010 Harvest

December 6, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

The dramatic grand finale of harvest in Napa and Sonoma culminated with Mother Nature delivering a few more curveballs before completing one of the most challenging and unique seasons in history.  Here at Montesquieu Winery, we’re pleased to report that our parcels fared extremely well under the vigilant care of our team.  Their focused coordination and execution – from canopy and irrigation management to the puzzle of when to harvest, and every variable in between – showed that when push comes to shove, care and experience in the vineyard make all the difference.  Aided by the ideal locations of our parcels, we were able to bring in a pristine and healthy harvest – which we’re thankful for after such a roller coaster season.

Hélène Mingot Samples Montesquieu Grapes, Tasting for Optimal Ripeness

Montesquieu Winemaker Hélène Mingot Tastes for Optimal Ripeness in October

One of the more difficult aspects of this growing season to manage was the unusually low and variable temperatures — and October was no exception.  September closed as the first month during the entire growing season with above average temperatures, and the first half of October was dry and warm, with daily highs in the mid- 90’s.  But the weather flipped the second half of the month, resulting in below-average temperatures for the month as a whole.

But October brought with it new dramatic challenges: rain during harvest!  Heavy precipitation threatened to invade the vineyards near the end of October, causing many growers to panic and pick early.  But Stéphane and Hélène exercised patience. Having experienced more than two decades of harvests in rain-prone Bordeaux, Stéphane knows how to navigate wet Octobers without sacrificing grape quality. View Full Post

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Location, Location, Location: A Tour of Montesquieu Winery’s Vines in Napa and Sonoma

December 1, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

It’s no secret that for the past five vintages, Montesquieu Winery has been blessed with access to some of the greatest vineyards in Napa and Sonoma.  We’re constantly scouring Napa and Sonoma for terroir to die for, adding a few blocks of vines to our portfolio each year.  That ongoing search is led by winemaker-consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, our winemaker Hélène Mingot, and our Founder/President Fonda Hopkins, who together possess over a half-century of experience in growing, making, tasting and selling wine.  It’s a formidable team, and one that seeks always to evaluate vineyards by listening to the land with an ear tuned to the melody of great terroir.   

What qualities characterize a site with the potential to breed the kind of singular, transcendent quality we try to craft in our Montesquieu wines?  Let’s begin to answer that question by reviewing the line-up of vineyard blocks that we chose to work with in 2010.

Our Cabernet Sauvignon up high at Ink Grade Napa Valley

Ink Grade (Napa AVA)

Where Angwin, Howell Mountain and Pope Valley meet is a beautiful 1400-ft elevation parcel that produces some of the most distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon our team has found to date.   This plot has some of the first vines planted in Napa after the phylloxera devastation of the early 1990’s.  With vines now reaching 20 years of maturity, our fruit is gorgeous and well-developed.  Iron rich red clay and volcanic ash soil lacks nutrients and has difficulty retaining water which stress the vines to produce small berries with deep structure.   Struggling builds character!
Howell Mountain AVA

This unique parcel is planted at an unusually high vine density, similar to top vineyards in Bordeaux and rare in Napa Valley. View Full Post

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Montesquieu Winery’s Hélène Mingot: Talent and Experience Drive Montesquieu Winemaking

November 29, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

It’s hard to identify the single most important feature of a great winery.  But there’s no question that having a really talented winemaker makes the short list.

At Montesquieu Winery, we’re fortunate that our winemaker, Hélène Mingot, not only can navigate California’s wine-growing regions with aplomb, but also possesses a wealth of experience in winemaking in Europe — which is essential to Montesquieu’s global approach to wine appreciation.

Hélène Mingot

Montesquieu Winemaker Hélène Mingot

Raised in the idyllic Loire Valley, a center of fine wine production in France, Hélène seemed destined from the beginning to excel in the world of wine.

She earned a Master of Science degree at the School of Agriculture in Angers, with a Vine and Wine major. Following these studies, Hélène spent a year in Bordeaux working in a lab, testing new strains of yeast for wines and conducting research.   Although she found the scientific aspect “educational,” and she proved skilled in her endeavors, Hélène realized that she preferred actual winemaking over research. So she set her sights on winemaking and soon became one of only two people selected from the science arena to attend the Agronomy National School of Toulouse, where she received the French National Diploma of Oenology.

Early in her career, Hélène met renowned winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt, whose
commitment to terroir expression and sensitive handling of vines and grapes has deeply influenced her own approach to vineyard-tending and winemaking. View Full Post

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Assessing Bordeaux’s 2009 Vintage, Part 2: A Tale of Two Styles

November 24, 2010, by: Stephen George

In Part 1 of this post, we argued that you can’t rely on scores to assessing individual wines or a vintage as a whole – instead, you should listen to the qualitative judgment of people whose palates you know and trust.

So what do we at Montesquieu think of 2009 Bordeaux?  Based on our tastings at Primeurs, here is a list of some of our favorites:

  • St. Emilion: Pavie-Macquin, Clos Fourtet, Figeac
  • St. Julien: Gruaud-Larose, Léoville-Barton
  • Pessac-Leognan: Smith-Haut-Lafitte
  • Margaux: Brane-Cantenac, Prieuré-Lichine
  • Pauillac: Pichon-Longueville, Lynch-Bages

But2010 Bordeaux Primeurs the 2009 Leoville-Barton St. Julien the far more interesting assessment, especially at this early stage, is of the vintage as a whole rather than individual wines.  Stated briefly, Bordeaux 2009 is a tale of two styles.  Both have richness and power, but the first style – which we prefer – remains fresh, vibrant, and elegant; the other is extracted, thick, and loaded with alcohol.  Thanks to plentiful sun, warm temperatures and a perfect harvest season, in 09 almost every producer was blessed with fully ripe grapes. And therefore, almost every wine is powerful and intense with ample tannins and sugars.

But as our team tasted through the wines of each appellation, it was clear again and again that those chateaux that managed to retain the acidity and freshness in their grapes by picking judiciously and handling them gently got balanced and lively wines.  Whereas those chateaux that picked late and/or over-extracted their grapes got cocktails of oak, tannin, and alcohol that were more obvious and brutish than delicate or refined.  Among this latter group are a number of very famous houses, including many in the commune of St. Estèphe. View Full Post

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Assessing Bordeaux’s 2009 Vintage, Part 1: Primeurs and the Problem with Points

November 22, 2010, by: Stephen George

As Bordeaux’s skilled marketing teams begin to praise the newest harvest, it’s worth spending a moment to look back at the early returns of the much-lauded 2009 vintage.

At Primeurs week every April, hundreds of Bordelais chateaux pour samples of their newest wines for the thousands of critics and merchants who gather in Bordeaux to check in on the latest vintage.  We at Montesquieu make sure to participate every year we can.  Attending Primeurs helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the wine industry, and especially Bordeaux (the epicenter of the international wine scene), by tasting first-hand the new vintage that everyone is wondering about.  As with the new 2010 vintage, the Bordeaux hype machine was in full swing well before Primeurs began this past April, with many proprietors declaring 2009 to be “The Vintage of the Century.”

But is it really? 2009 certainly offered favorable growing and harvest conditions that produced fruit with immense potential.  But recall that “once-in-a-lifetime vintage” fanfare was also showered on 2000 and 2005 – have there really been three “vintages of the century” in this century’s first decade? View Full Post

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Getting to Know the Northern Rhone With Montesquieu Winery: The Original Syrah

November 19, 2010, by: Stephen George

We at Montesquieu Winery believe in equal opportunity at the wine table. We’ll taste — and, if warranted, fall in love with — wine from any region, not just those with centuries of pedigree.  Even so, we do have a few favorites, regions that rarely fail  to thrill and intrigue, and keep you coming back again and again.  Near the top of that list? The Northern Rhone.

Why so? Putting aside the unusually high delicious factor of its wines, the Northern Rhone has a knack for romance, class and old-world luxury, all of which we’re suckers for.  The famed region is situated at the center of what is the most privileged swath of vineyards in the world.  At the north of this strip is Burgundy, home to the best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay on earth.   At the southernmost tip on the Mediterranean coast is Bandol, the international gold-standard for Mourvèdre, and then moving northward, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which produces unparalleled Grenache-based wines.  And nestled in between these prestigious bookends – some 30 miles south of Beaujolais and 35 miles north of the Southern Rhone – lie the legendary vineyards of the Northern Rhone.

Our favorite Northern Rhone winemaker, Greg Viennois, climbing up Hermitage hill

Our favorite Northern Rhone winemaker, Greg Viennois, climbing up Hermitage hill

The eight AOCs that make up the Northern Rhone – Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau Grillet, St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas and St. Péray (from north to south) – run along a 45-mile stretch of the Rhone River from Vienne to Valence, with most of the vineyards planted on the river’s stunningly steep western banks.  Many of the vineyards – especially those in the Cote Rotie, Hermitage, and Condrieu – are so treacherous that machine-harvesting is literally impossible, and even the most basic of viticultural tasks involve feats of acrobatics.  The views from these vineyards are dizzying, and some of the most beautiful one can find in the world of wine. View Full Post

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