Monticello Vineyards - Corley Family

Napa Valley AVA

U.S. Presidents, Queen Elizabeth, British Prime Ministers, the Russian President have all enjoyed the family wine.

When Jay Corley arrived in the Valley in 1969, he began searching for an appropriate site to grow wine grapes. He settled on a piece of land in what is now known as the Oak Knoll District – a part of the famous valley that had heretofore been un-planted. Jay chose to initially focused on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and immediately went to work on the property and planted his first vines. 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 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 new winery was completed in 1980 and the first release of Monticello Cellars (some 3,000 to 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, it is almost amazing that Monticello Cellars (now known as Monticello Vineyards) has remained under the proverbial radar for quality wineries. Monticello Vineyards’ wines have won numerous medals and awards of the highest caliber, but have persisted 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.”

Speaking of really exceptional wines, in the late 1990’s, the Corleys decided to add two new labels to their Monticello Vineyards entity: Corley Reserve and Corley. Corley Reseve wines are only produced in exceptional vintages and represent the family’s very finest expressions of Napa Valley wine. The Corely label was given to a Proprietary Red Wine that blends the best of the family’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, and is now one of winemaker Chris Corley’s favorite wines to craft each vintage.

Jay Corley has now placed the fate of his family’s business squarely in the hands of the next generation of Corleys. Kevin Corley serves as Monticello Vineyards’ 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 Rose 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 Monticello Vineyards’ lifespan, including the label that has seen its last minor change in the early 1990’s. Chris Corley admits the style of Monticello Vineyards’ wines has adapted to the modern market, dictated mostly by the tastes of the winery’s huge California following. With great vineyard designated fruit to work with, the future seems quite assured both for the Monticello Vineyards wines and the family.

And there’s always the next generation of Corleys to fall back on. Most of these youngsters are in the midst of their college careers. 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.

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Jay Corley - Founder & 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.

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

We are very pleased to make available our 2010 Corley Proprietary Red Wine for the May offering. Like all of our wines, this is from our Estate Vineyards in Napa Valley.

This wine features Cabernet Sauvignon from our State Lane Vineyard in Yountville; Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah from our Home Ranch Vineyard and Knollwood Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. With the iconic design of our Jefferson House, we pay homage to Thomas Jefferson. The Corley Family has taken his quotation “good wine is a necessity of life…” and fashioned a life and a business around it.

In addition to his numerous and well documented political accomplishments, we are most grateful for his role as the ‘Father of American Wine and Food.’ We think that he would be most proud to know that our wines have been served at special events for world leaders including U.S. Presidents, Queen Elizabeth, British Prime Ministers, the Russian President, and others.

Equally, we suspect that President Jefferson would be pleased to know that wine continues to be a growing part of the American lifestyle and that it continues to be shared in fellowship with friends and family at home.

Please enjoy this wine with friends and family as we so proudly do.

The Corley Family
Stephen, Chris, Kevin, and Jay