Chateau Montelena and its Cast of Characters

One of Napa Valley’s most famous wineries, Chateau Montelena, has been owned by an intriguing cast of characters over its 135-odd years. This historic Calistoga winery was first founded by Alfred Tubbs, who made his fortune selling rope during the Gold Rush. Today, the winery is best known for having won the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, an international wine competition in which Montelena’s chardonnay bested its French counterpart in a blind tasting. At that time, the winery was owned by Jim Barrett, but throughout its history, the chateau has also crossed paths with a wealth of other interesting characters and historic moments.

The Tubbs family owned the winery for decades, through the debilitating years of Prohibition, and well into the post-war era. In 1958, they sold Chateau Montelena to Yort Wing Frank, a Chinese electrical engineer, and his wife, Jeanie, who transformed the former winery into a home. According to a tour guide at Chateau Montelena, Jeanie fell in love with the castle-like exterior of the main building and wanted to enhance the fairy-tale setting by adding a moat to the property.

Though a full moat proved impossible, Yort constructed a picturesque 11-acre lake along the northwest side of the chateau. As Jeanie’s nickname was “Jade”, he named the lake in honor of his wife. In the center of the lake are two red hexagonal pagodas in the Chinese style. Each pagoda is decorated with six mythical figures inspired by a design found in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Crooked bridges lead the way to the pagodas, as it is believed that evil spirits become confused when attempting to cross them.

Just ten years later, the couple sold the property to Lee and Helen Paschich. The Paschichs would then go on to partner with Jim Barrett, a lawyer and part-time winemaker whose Midas touch would turn Montelena’s chardonnay to gold in the Paris judging.

Every owner of Chateau Montelena has left their mark on the property, from Alfred Tubbs’ French-inspired façade to the Wing Franks’ Chinese Shangri-la to the late Jim Barrett’s tongue-in-cheek “Parking for Irish Only” sign which remains above his usual parking space beside the winery still owned by the Barrett family, with Bo Barrett at the helm.

Visitors travel from near and far to enjoy this multicultural landmark while sipping on delicious chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, Riesling and other varietals produced by the winery. The exclusive privileges of wine club membership include access to enjoy picnics in the private Chinese pagodas, surrounded by resident swans, fish, vineyards and some of the best wines in California.

– This blog post was penned by Tenae Stewart, Events & Membership Coordinator for Calistoga Chamber of Commerce. Tenae can be reached by email: tenae@calistogachamber.net

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