A classic nose of butter, spice, ripe Chardonnay fruit and pain grille caress the nose. Medium to full-flavored without any heaviness, all the pretty components of the elegant, pure 1997 Mont St. John Madonna Vineyard Chardonnay meld in the mouth to form one fashionable statement. Neither light nor ponderous, too dry or too sweet, this Carneros Chardonnay seems to be in perfect harmony with itself, an impression this wine so astutely presents to a myriad of palates. Only in the long spicy, vanilla finish does one perceive the Mont St. John’s nine month gestation in French oak, a sojourn that perfectly complements the wine rather than overpowers it. How we wish more California Chardonnay producers would use new oak in this fashion, rather than overpower, mediocre wines with nothing but the taste of oak barrel. Enjoy this lovely Carneros Chardonnay over the next several years.
Salmon, cracked crab, loin of pork, roasted poultry and cream based pasta dishes are some of the Bartolucci family’s favorite dishes with their 1997 Madonna Vineyard Chardonnay. Another winning combination is a baguette with a lavish slice of ripe brie, topped with fresh apple slices. With that having been said, we at Clubs also voted unanimously for the Mont St. John Chardonnay with the traditional Thanksgiving turkey feast, replete with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, ad infinitum. We felt that of all the Chardonnays we considered for this month, the Mont St. John was the best balanced, exhibiting enough flavor to hold up to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, without overpowering the more savory scents and flavors of our annual feast. Nonetheless, we trust you’ll enjoy this wine as much as we do, no matter what you choose to serve it with.
Mont St. John Cellars: Four Generations of Innovative Winemaking Mont St. John is a family owned and operated winery that traces its roots back to 1922 when Andrea (Andy) Bartolucci purchased his first vineyard property, and named it Madonna Winery. In 1946, Andy’s son Louis took control of the winery and renamed it Mont St. John after the mountain peak in Oakville (southern Napa Valley) that shaded the winery. Under Louis’ tutelage, the winery grew and prospered, until it had become the 12th largest winery in California. In 1970, the winery was sold - but the story doesn’t end here, it begins again in typical pioneer fashion. At the same time that the Bartolucci’s were divesting themselves of the Oakville winery, they were purchasing land in the then unknown region of Carneros in southern Napa Valley, just north of San Pablo Bay. In 1977, construction of a new winery was begun and Mont St. John was reborn. Today, the vineyards of Mont St. John are all certified organic, specializing in premium Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Joined by a fourth generation of innovative and talented winemakers, the Bartolucci’s have helped to make the Carneros region of Napa Valley the single most important AVA (American Viticultural Area) for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California. Mont St. John produces only top-notch estate bottled Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir under their own label, the very finest of which bear the famous "Madonna Vineyard" designation. All other wines made by the Bartolucci family, from purchased fruit or those lots not deemed worthy of the Mont St. John label, are sold off or bottled under the negotiant label, Poppy Hill.
The "Madonna Vineyard" Designation When the designation "Madonna Vineyard" appears on a Mont St. John wine label, it indicates that the wine contained in that bottle is something very special. Not only have the grapes used in making the wine come from the famous Madonna vineyard, but the wines bearing this designation represent what the French refer to as the "tete de cuvee", or very best wine made from those grapes. The process of assembling Madonna Vineyard blends is complex and demanding. Insuring that the wine is truly exceptional, one of the criteria that sets these wines apart from "reserve" wines that represent the best efforts of other wineries is that Madonna Vineyard wines are produced only in exceptional years. A great deal of effort goes into producing Madonna Vineyard wines. The process begins in the vineyard before the grapes are crushed and fermentation begins. The grapes are picked early in the day, while temperatures are cool, to ensure that they arrive at the winery in optimum condition. A variety of fermentation techniques are employed, all with the goal of capturing the inherent fruit in the vineyard, achieving optimum complexity, and smoothly integrating the character of the barrel into the wine. After the primary fermentation is complete, the process of determining which components will become the Madonna blend starts with frequent tastings and analysis. Each lot of wine is tasted on a recurring basis in order to assess the progress of the vintage, as well as that of the individual lot. If the vintage warrants it, the best lot or lots of wine will become candidates for the Madonna bend. Once these lots have been selected, each barrel is tasted again individually to identify those which optimize the delicate balancing act between oak and grape. Ultimately, the final act of blending is based on experience and a great deal of trial and error. How much of each barrel to add to the blend is determined by trial blendings and evaluation. Trial blends are assembled, fine-tuned, and then re-assembled. This process is repeated many times, with changes as small as a few percent, until the blend is perfected. Once the blend is assembled, the wine will typically receive little or no fining or filtering prior to bottling. The wine will then spend an extended period of time aging in the bottle prior to release. (In the case of the 1997 Madonna Vineyard Chardonnay, it spent nine months aging in bottle before release). Only then, after painstaking work and much patience, can a wine earn the designation Madonna Vineyard on the label.
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