1996 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

At Chateau Montelena we have a long-established track record for our Estate Cabernet that is built on the concentrated style we get from our low yielding, dry farmed Cabernet vines. The great Montelena blocks average 2.25 to 2.5 tons per acre. However, in 1996 you need to cut that in half. It was sad; a 10-acre block that usually gives 25 tons gave 11 instead… ouch! But, and this is the good part for all of us, when we finally bring out the wine four years later the pain is gone and the wine remains. O-boy, its’ payback time!

One advantage we have here is remembering what we did with previous similar vintages! Not only do I remember what we did with the previous droughty vintages of 1987 & 1988, but I also worked on the 1976 & 1977. Those experiences, coupled with watching how these wines have aged, allows us to better craft the wine from a low crop, concentrated vintage. The 1996 will not start off as showy as the 1987, but I think we have crafted a more refined, yet still powerful wine.

June, July, and August all had periods of very hot weather with each month having at least 10 days of temperatures over 100o. The weather during Harvest became quite cool, allowing the very small crop to ripen slowly. This resulted in concentration but didn't dry the fruit out - ergo, we have fantastic balance. The grape flavor and terroir compounds become concentrated by patience and time, not by heat baking out the juice. The skin to juice ratio was very high so extraction was very good.

93Wine Advocate
95Wine Enthusiast
vintage weather

Hot. Average rainfall. Mild winter, untimely spring rains and intense summer heat resulted in low vineyard yields. Ripening weather in September-October was excellent. Lightest crop size since 1988, very high extraction and very concentrated juice.

tasting notes

In the glass the wine is a very richly colored, dark garnet. The aromas are super complex and very Montelena in nature, displaying intense cabernet varietal character of leather, briar, cassis, earth, and oak. In the mouth there is an initial sweetness in the entry as the fruit opens fully, lots of jam, ripe cassis, and classic Montelena cabernet flavors, with plenty of soft, nice tannin and tons of extract. This vintage is more smoky and layered than some other mid `90's Montelena cabernets. What I like about this one is we captured the extract and essence of a hot low crop year without roughness or the fruit being at all dried out. It has the concentration without any raisin character. It will definitely be long-lived but after this much bottle ageing it will taste nice out of the gate too. I would think a bit of air would be useful for the first couple years after release.

After a special July 2010 tasting, wine journalist Laurie Daniel published her notes on this vintage: "Dark and dense, with ripe black fruit and spice. Holding up well."

Harvest Date September 10 to October 10
Sugar At Harvest 24.2° brix
Barrel Aging 18 to 20 months
Bottling Date August 1998
Release Date March 2000
Cases Produced 10,500
Alcohol 13.5%