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.