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"Bunny Foo Foo," created by artist Lawrence Argent, welcomes guests to Hall Wines in Napa Valley. Courtesy photo/Hall Wines
"Bunny Foo Foo," created by artist Lawrence Argent, welcomes guests to Hall Wines in Napa Valley. Courtesy photo/Hall Wines
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Ditching South Lake Tahoe to visit Napa Valley wineries

Despite living in California for over 30 years, my wife Mary and I have never visited Lake Tahoe. Upon arrival, we quickly learned that bustling South Lake Tahoe was not the vacation we envisioned.

So, we decided to drive to Napa Valley, where I could visit four wineries: Chateau Montelena, Hall, Antinoro Napa Valley, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. I promised Sheri Bowen, Chateau Montelena’s hospitality and retail manager, that on my next trip to Napa, I would stop by.

Hall follows up on our last column, and Antinori and Stag’s Leap will be featured in the next column.

Chateau Montelena is a magnificent, 100-plus-year-old structure. To its right is a sparkling turquoise lake adorned with Chinese pagodas and a garden brimming with flora and fauna. To the left is a curious “Parking for Irish Only” sign. At first, these elements seem disparate.

But together, they tell the history of Chateau Montelena’s three distinct owners over the past century. The story begins in 1882 when San Francisco entrepreneur A.L. Tubbs bought 254 acres of rugged land to build his winery. The winery thrived until Prohibition ceased operations.

In 1933, Tubbs’ son, Chapin, resurrected the winery and increased production over the next decade. By 1945, however, Chapin was unable to continue the winery. He sold the vineyards and shut down operations.

In 1958, the chateau was sold to Yort and Jeanie Frank, Chinese immigrants who had always dreamed of living in a castle. They converted the chateau into their residence, excavated a lake below it to serve as a moat, and landscaped the grounds to reflect their homeland. Yort named the area Jade Lake as a tribute to Jeanie’s nickname.

Photo of the iconic Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley. Courtesy photo/Chateau Montelena
Photo of the iconic Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley. Courtesy photo/Chateau Montelena

In 1972, the winery’s revival began with Jim Barrett, of Irish descent, purchasing and reunifying the estate. Shortly after, Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world by winning the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

Today, Chateau Montelena is honored on the National Register of Historic Places and stands as a quality icon. Under the helm of Bo Barrett, Jim’s son, it consistently produces some of the finest wines in the world.

Bowen took us on a tour, sharing the charm and magic of Montelena. Initially, she poured 2022 Riesling that was crisp with high acidity and low sugar. It had white peach and pear on the palate. Bowen suggested pairing it with Chinese dishes and curries. She also had a two-glass chardonnay (2015, 2021) and a three-glass cabernet sauvignon (2007, 2017, 2018) vertical for us.

Both chardonnays (100%) had 10 months of aging in 100% new French oak and were warm vintages. The warm vintages created good ripeness, letting the orange blossom nose and green apple palate flourish.

For the cabs, the 2018 was aged in 26% new European oak for 16 months and blended with 11% merlot and 1% cab franc. The estates in 2007 and 2017 had similar production. The 2017 saw 22 months of aging in 40% new French oak with 2% petit verdot and 1% cab franc blending. The 2007 was blended with 1% Cab Franc with 20 months of aging in 28% new French oak.

The 2007 had smooth-as-silk tannins and superb structure. Both estate wines had blueberry with hints of sage on the nose, with raspberry and strawberry, and a hint of clove on the palate. Hats off to Winemaker Matt Crafton. Thank you, Sherri, for a terrific tour. See more at

Hall Wines

To follow up on our last column, I contacted Lisa Covey, Director of Public Relations at Hall Wines, to set up a tour and interview Megan Gunderson, VP of Winemaking.

Gunderson began her career in Napa Valley in 2001, when she moved from Colorado and interned at Robert Mondavi Winery. Early on, she discovered a passion for wine and viticulture and became a laboratory manager for St. Supery Vineyards in Rutherford and then Dominus Estates in Oakville. In 2005, she joined Hall Wines as an enologist and took on increasingly central roles within the winemaking operation.

Megan Gunderson, vice president of winemaking at Hall Wines in Napa Valley. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Megan Gunderson, vice president of winemaking at Hall Wines in Napa Valley. Photo by Rico Cassoni

In 2018, Megan was promoted to Vice President of Winemaking, leading the wine program for the three family-owned luxury brands, Hall, Walt, and Baca Wines.

Hall Winery is both a stunning art gallery and a fantastic winery. When visitors enter the property from Highway 29, Bunny Foo Foo, a 35-foot-tall stainless steel leaping bunny, amusingly welcomes them. In total, there are 28 art pieces by various artists on the grounds.

Hall wines are made using batch processing in a combination of 240 fermentation tanks, mostly stainless steel. Gunderson and the Winemaking team also have access to concrete eggs and wooden tanks in various sizes, including 3-, 5-, 7-, and 10-ton tanks. This creates uber diversity, which was evident in the wines that we tasted.

I suspect this is why Hall Wines has received four 100-point scores from Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, for their 2010 Hall “Exzellenz” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Hall “Rainin Vineyard” Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Hall “Exzellenz” Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Rainin Vineyard.

JJ, our educator, greeted us with 2023 Walt Rose. We next tried the 2019 Ellie’s Cabernet Sauvignon with 17% Merlot blending, 2020 Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Merlot blending, and 2021 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (100%).  Thank you, Lisa, Megan and JJ, for an outstanding day of art and delicious wines at Hall. See more at

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Rico Cassoni is the executive producer for Taste of Wine and Food. Cassoni and founder/advisor Frank Mangio, a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator, are two of the leading reviewers on the web. View their columns at Reach them at [email protected]. 

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