Chateau St. Jean or Château Margo as the winery’s staff and the brand’s staunchest adherents are fond of calling it, has been one of California’s most heralded and consistent wineries over the last three decades. Not surprisingly, much of the winery’s success lies in the fact that Margo Van Staaveren has been making wine at Chateau St. Jean for the past 25 years.
Since graduating from UC Davis in 1979, Margo has never worked full time anywhere else. Like most California wineries, Chateau St. Jean has undergone several changes over the years in ownership as well as philosophy, but with Margo Van Staaveren always minding the vats, one bright, constant star has managed to guide Chateau St. Jean in the path of excellence.
When Margo first arrived at Chateau St. Jean, Dick Arrowood was the winery’s chief winemaker. Now legendary, Arrowood later began his own winery, producing wines of unabashed excellence and critical acclaim. Margo concedes a great debt of gratitude to Arrowood, whom she considers a crucial mentor. However, when Arrowood moved on, Margo’s husband, Don Van Staaveren took over as chief winemaker and he and Margo embarked on a new project that has since left an indelible stamp on the world of wine – the introduction of Cinq Cepages, one of California’s first great meritage wines.
In 1995, Margo was offered the top winemaking spot at Chateau St. Jean when husband Don Van Staaveren accepted an offer to spearhead the transformation of the great Artesa property in Napa from sparkling wines to still wines. After 16 successful years together making wine, no one was surprised when Margo was asked to assume the role of chief winemaker at Chateau St. Jean. However, what did surprise a lot of folks was that Margo turned down the position – one of the plumiest positions in all California – to continue raising her two children, a decision she doesn’t regret.
Nonetheless, what could have been a very frustrating and querulous situation for Margo and incoming winemaker Steve Reeder, turned out to be a great boon for consumers. In 1996, Chateau St. Jean had five of the six top rated wines on California’s Top Hundred List and together, Margo and Steve went on to produce the legendary 1996 Cinq Cepages, the wine that Wine Spectator named the Wine of the Year in 1999.
Today, Margo Van Staaveren reigns over Chateau St. Jean, not only as the unofficial queen of Chardonnay but also officially as chief winemaker. Last year, with her children more grown and independent, Margo finally accepted the much-heralded position of head winemaker at Chateau St. Jean. In fact, “when we announced that she was taking over as winemaker, they (winery employees) had a cape of her and a crown,” said Dan Leese, the winery’s president and managing director. I guess we are not the only ones who recognize royalty when we see it.
Chateau St. Jean remains most renowned for its litany of great Chardonnay wines as well as its legendary Cinq Cepages. However, this wonderful winery also fashions a host of other fine white wines along with excellent Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.