In 1976, at the Paris Wine Tasting, a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France’s best. This legendary contest, conducted blind, put Napa on the wine map of the world. The tasting was organized by a Paris-based British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who wanted to honor the bicentennial of the American Revolution with California and French wines. Thirty years after the event, this seems very old news, but at the time it marked an absolute revolution in taste and in expectations. California’s wine industry took off, commanding ever-higher prices and attracting even more talent. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. The results proved that Chateau Montelena could produce some of the world’s finest wines, and that California’s wine industry had come of age.
Last weekend I paid a visit to Chateau Montelena in Calistoga for a wine tasting. The chateau was built in 1882 and sits on rugged land amounts to about 254 acres. Montelena did not take over until 1958, when the new owner excavated a lake, with landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland. I picked the book, George Taber’s Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, which chronicles events leading up this celebrated event with a readable, concise history of wine making in America.
The wine country is literally my backyard. I’m so grateful to be living in the Bay Area where nature is just a stone’s throw away. Imagine getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city to embrace the manicured vineyards on rolling hills. If you’re visiting San Francisco, you must take a trip to the wine country and visit Château Montelena.