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The Corley Family - Napa Valley


90 Points - Wine Enthusiasts - Just 201 cases produced

The Corley Family began making wine in the early 1980’s under the brand Monticello Cellars, an offshoot to a highly successful grape growing business located in the Oak Knoll District of southern Napa Valley. Some eleven years earlier, Jay Corley had planted some Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in a part of the famous valley that had heretofore been unplanted the vineyards were as far south as anyone in that era had dared to plant.

“My Dad had some keen insight as to what might work in Oak Knoll and he went ahead and planted a number of plots that proved to be highly successful,” explained Chris Corley, the Corley Family’s second generation winemaker. “He told all of us that we would continue to grow grapes until we learned all there was to know about them. Once we reached that point, then it would be time to think about a winery and making our own wines.” Eleven years later, Jay Corley figured it was the right time to begin preparations for a family winery. The Corley vineyards were highly regarded by local wineries and the great California wine explosion was also well on its way to providing a whole new legion of wine fanciers both here and abroad.

The Corley family winery was completed in 1980 and the first release of Monticello Cellars (some 3,000-4,000 cases) was warmly received in 1982 by both the wine media and a large section of consumers. From that time until the present, Monticello Cellars (now known as Monticello Vineyards) has expanded to include three additional labels: Corley, Corley Reserve, and Montreaux. The Corley and Corley Reserve wines represent the family’s finest expressions of Napa Valley wine, while the Montreaux branch offers three premium sparkling wines. The Corley family of wines have won numerous medals and awards of the highest caliber, but they persist as a relatively small, family-owned operation located on Big Ranch Road just outside Napa city.

“I believe this (being under the radar) is due to the fact that my family is fairly reserved about things,” Chris Corley added. “We aren’t nearly as aggressive as some other wineries and we rarely toot our own horn. Our family’s nature is to continue to provide great fruit that can be made into wines at reasonable prices. We consider ourselves as growers first and vintners second. Anyone in the wine business realizes that you must have great fruit in order to produce really exceptional wines.” Jay Corley will celebrate his 81st birthday at the end of July, and has placed the fate of his family’s business squarely in the hands of the next generation of Corleys. Kevin Corley serves as the winery’s president and another brother, Stephen, is the sales and marketing director.

Chris Corley has learned his winemaking trade the hard way. “I started working in the cellar at the age of fifteen, while I was still in high school. I truly believe I have worked each job in the cellar at least a thousand times, and done everything conceivable down there. I have taken just about every class imaginable from both Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley Junior College that pertains to chemistry and winemaking. I have also paid close attention to everyone who has ever set foot in our winery.”

Little has changed in the 30-plus years of Corley family winery’s lifespan, including the label that has seen its last minor change in the early 1990’s. Chris Corley admits the style of their wines have adapted to the modern market, dictated mostly by the tastes of the winery’s huge California following. Production has increased to about the 16,000 to 20,000 case level, a point that the Corley Family considers comfortable for them. “We have ripped out some vineyards that needed to be replanted, a fact that gives use an excellent opportunity to consider new rootstock. We have continued to sell about 30 percent of our production to other wineries, so this gives us some room to expand. When the new vines are producing usable fruit, we will take a look at the situation and see just how more volume might fit.”

Such is the easy going attitude that permeates the winery and the entire Corley Family. With great vineyard designated fruit to work with, the future seems quite assured both for the wines and the family. And there’s always the next generation of Corleys to fall back on. Most of these youngsters are just graduating from high school and have their college careers ahead. When their education is completed, the family will assess each one’s interest in the wine industry. It’s the Corley way of handling things.


  1. Corley
    2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Corley
    Yewell Vineyard
    Napa Valley

    $56.00

    $65.00
    93 - Connoisseurs' Guide
    id: 1093
    Special
    Platinum

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