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Monticello Cellars - Napa Valley


The winery produces a fabulous Brut champagne only in years when the fruit quality is exceptional.

Featuring the 1989 Jefferson Cellar's, Brut is the type of opportunity that presents itself on very rare occasions. Here is an outstanding Napa Valley sparkling wine that no one else beyond the membership of Gold Medal Wine Club will have an opportunity to taste. That's right. An exclusive offering from one of Napa's established and respected wineries, Monticello Cellars. This unique opportunity is brought about through years of rapport and good relations between our two companies. And today, Gold Medal Wine Club members are the fortunate beneficiaries of that relationship fostered over the last decade.

Those of you who are familiar with today's outstanding Napa Valley wine producers have perhaps heard of or even visited the highly regarded Monticello Cellars. They are a small, family owned and operated winery that has very capably managed to carve out a respectable niche in the ever-crowded Napa Valley wine scene. They are well known for their big, rich, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignons and their lush and elegant Chardonnays. What many wine enthusiasts do not realize is that Monticello Cellars also produces one of the finest sparkling wines in California bottled under the names Jefferson Cellars and Domaine Montreaux. A minuscule 2,000 cases of vintage Brut are meticulously handcrafted under these labels, only in years when the fruit quality is truly exceptional. In fact, this month's featured 1989 Brut is just the sixth vintage released since Monticello began their sparkling wine program seventeen years ago.

Jefferson Cellars Brut is made entirely by hand, from the planting of the vines to the labeling of each bottle. Each bottle is handled at least seventeen times during the painstaking production process. The fruit comes entirely from their estate vineyard in Napa that was planted in 1971. Using production techniques unique to only a few of the world's top sparkling wine producers, the cuvee is barrel fermented and barrel aged for ten months. The wine is then en-tirage (aged in the bottle) for eight to twelve years prior to disgorging. The resulting style is elegantly rich, creamy and full-bodied.

Jefferson Cellars owners, Jay Corley and sons, 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. As you may know, Jefferson was an avid wine enthusiast and culinary expert. Throughout his life and even during his Presidency he experimented in growing dozens of varieties of domestic and imported grapes.

The agrarian way of life continued for the Corleys from generation to generation. Jay Corley brought that heritage to Napa Valley in 1970. Upon purchasing property in Napa, Jay had 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." he recalls. "My goal at the time was to create an estate-type setting and implement the newest agricultural and winemaking innovations possible."

The 90-acre property he bought consisted mostly of prune trees that he immediately cleared. He first planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and then added Gewurztraminer at the suggestion of pioneer winemaker André Tchelistcheff. "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 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 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.

In the early 1980s Jay began to see how well the famous sparkling wine producers like Domain Chandon and Schramsberg were doing with the Monticello estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit he had sold to them. So he started experimenting with his own sparkling wine that resulted in the Domaine Montreaux label and more recently, the Jefferson Cellars brand. Their principal label Monticello Cellars, produces Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and two different bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The amount made of Jefferson Cellars and Domaine Montreaux sparkling wine totals roughly 2,000 cases in the relatively few years it is produced. The Monticello Cellars brand hovers around 15,000 cases annually, with growth expectations of an additional 5,000 over the next three to five years. 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 winery team at Monticello includes Jay's son Kevin, who runs the day to day operations as President and General Manager; and two of Kevin's brothers are also deeply involved. Stephen Corley focuses on sales, traveling extensively, working with distributors and retailers throughout the country. Brother Chris Corley has worked at the winery since his teenage years and two years ago was appointed to the Assistant Winemaker position. Annie Trimpe who has been with the winery for nearly ten years, fills an important role too, as the winery's Sales, Marketing and Events Coordinator. Since 1996, Geoff Murray has been the Winemaker for Domaine Montreaux and Jefferson Cellars. Last year he was appointed to head the winemaking duties for the Monticello wines as well.



Jay Corley - Winery Owner

"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 delve further into 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 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 early 1977. Later that year he moved his family permanently to Napa to run Monticello Cellars full-time.

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