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Monticello Cellars - Napa Valley


Corley Reserve Cab Hits Home Run for Monticello Cellars

Those of you who are familiar with today’s outstanding Napa Valley wine producers will perhaps recognize the Monticello Cellars label. They are a small, family owned and operated enterprise but have managed to make a big impact in the ever-crowded Napa Valley wine scene. They are well known in wine circles for their big, rich, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignons and their lush and elegant Chardonnays.

Gold Medal Wine Club has been working with Monticello Cellars for several years to bring to our members a wine that owner Jay Corley calls “perhaps the finest Cabernet we’ve made to date.” Originally planned to be a part of our upper level, Platinum Series, we are extremely fortunate to have secured enough quantity to share with all members.

Monticello (mont eh ché low) Cellars owner, Jay Corley, comes from a long line of ancestors involved in agriculture. The Corley family has traced their ancestry back to the mid 1600s in Virginia, where the family owned a plantation. In the mid-1700s a neighboring plantation was established by a popular, young statesman named, Thomas Jefferson. Many are aware that Jefferson was an avid wine enthusiast and culinary expert. Throughout his life and even during his Presidency, Jefferson experimented in growing dozens of varieties of domestic and imported grapes. He was particularly keen on Italian varietals and spearheaded efforts to start an “Italian Vineyard Society," bringing in Italian vines and even hiring Italian vineyard workers to tend the crops.

The agrarian way of life for the Corleys continued generation after generation. Jay Corley brought that heritage to Napa Valley in 1970. Upon purchasing the property Jay made a major career and lifestyle change from his financial and venture capital dealings in southern California. “I felt it was an opportune time to act on a latent desire to farm grapes and make wine. “My goal at the time was to create an estate-type setting and implement the newest agricultural and winemaking innovations possible,” he recalls.

The 90-acre property he bought consisted mostly of prune trees that he quickly cleared. He first planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and at the suggestion of André Tchelistcheff, also planted Gewurztraminer. “I had lots of help starting out,” Jay remembers. “Napa back then was basically a farming community, very fraternal and very eager to help the neighbors. There were consultants, agricultural services, and information from University programs available too—you just had to know how to tap it.”

The first harvest from the property was in 1975. For years he sold 100% of his crop to wineries such as Mondavi, Christian Brothers, Domaine Chandon and Schramsberg. In 1980 Jay made his first wines under the Monticello label–Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Until his own winery was built in 1982, he used the facilities of Rutherford Hill to make his wines. The Jefferson/Monticello theme tie-in was completed with the construction two years later of a 6,000 square foot administration building closely resembling the Thomas Jefferson estate.

Over the next decade the Monticello vineyards increased in size by the acquisition of several other nearby parcels. With the financial help of friends and acquaintances eager take part in this promising venture, today Monticello farms over 200 acres of vineyards. Although a small portion of grapes are purchased from other Napa growers, most of the Monticello wines are made from estate grown fruit.

Today’s wine offerings include Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and two different bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon. A “Jefferson Cuveé” Cabernet is made from a blend of Cabernet grapes from several select vineyards in the area. It is made in a lighter style and released earlier than the fuller, richer and bolder “Corley Reserve” Cabernet. The Corley Reserve is made only in years producing exceptional quality fruit, producing wine with lots of intensity and ageability.

Annual production at Monticello hovers between 15,000 to 20,000 cases. The operation also houses a side venture of Jay’s that he started in the mid-1980s. He saw how the well the famous sparkling wine producers like Domain Chandon and Schramsberg were doing with his crops of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So he started experimenting with his own sparkling wine that he put under the Domaine Montreaux label. A few thousand cases of this elegant, and full-bodied champagne are produced each year. Although the winery capacity is around 40,000 cases, Jay prefers to remain at current levels. “Bigger is not better, better is better,” he says resolutely.

The Monticello team includes Jay’s son, Kevin, who is General Manager and Christopher who is presently learning the ropes as an assistant in the wine cellar. John McKay has been the winemaker for several years, bringing over 20 years experience to the winery. Since 1972 John has held key winemaking positions and has consulted for numerous wineries including, Charles Krug, Vichon, Swanson, Pahlmeyer and Shadow Brook. “I have enormous respect for the vineyards and facilities here at Monticello,” says John.

We are very pleased to bring you one of Napa’s best. The 1989 Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon joins the legacy as one of the great Monticello wines. “In Napa the 1989 vintage in general was not as highly regarded as other years,” Jay Corley acknowledges. “But in our particular micro-climate the crop was exceptional. The 1989 Corley Reserve is extraordinarily good, maybe our best.”



Jay Corley - winemaker

‘I used to spend summers at my grandfather’s farm in southern Illinois,” Jay Corley recalls. ‘He was also the county doctor and let me make the rounds with him whenever I was visiting,” he recalls fondly. Jay’s grandfather was doing what the Corley family had done for centuries before him—farm. It was those memorable summers on the farm that instilled in Jay a love and appreciation of the land.
Born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, a community outside of Chicago, Jay’s folks ran a successful company that manufactured food processing equipment. Jay’s thought when he entered Stanford University that he would enter the family business after graduating. Instead he joined the National Security Agency, the hush-hush arm of the U.S. Intelligence service. While working there he became an Italian linguist for the agency, living in Virginia. It was during this period of time in Virginia that Jay became an avid fan of Thomas Jefferson and his life as a viticulturist. Sometimes he would hike the Virginia countryside and feel a desire to someday follow his family’s farming heritage.
After several years in the N.S.A., Jay moved to southern California to pursue other career interests. He started his own company that dealt in a variety of financial and venture capital projects. While in California he became involved in several food & wine appreciation groups. This active interest served to further fuel Jay’s desire to be a part of agriculture and envelope his appreciation for food and wine.
Jay began to put those thoughts into action by obtaining an MBA at Pepperdine University. His thesis, by no accident, was a study in starting up a small winery. Shortly after finishing his graduate work he discovered and purchased the 90-acre property that launched Monticello Cellars.
While he prepared his vineyards in Napa, Jay continued to work in southern California, commuting back and forth. An investment he had made in the National Education Corporation turned into a leadership role as their CEO until 1977. It was then he moved his family permanently to Napa to run his winery full-time.

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