In 2006 a wonderful book was written by James Gabler entitled “An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson: Dinner, Wine, and Conversation”. It was a work of speculative historical fiction in which a man travels into the past to spend an evening with the two great American founders and to quiz them on all things historic and wine-related.
One suspects that Jay Corley of Monticello Winery in Napa Valley would have like to have been a party to that time-traveling expedition and that the two founders would have been mightily pleased not only with his homage to Jefferson but with the wine that Jefferson’s famed interests inspired.
One suspects too that Jefferson would have liked the intense, rich Monticello Corley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The dark, blackberry palate on the Corley Reserve and its intense berry and vanilla aromas would have surely turned Jefferson into an aficionado of the wines from the future.
How Monticello Vineyards got its name is a good anecdote. As Jay Corley, the winery’s founder tells it, there is not at first a strong connection between the winery’s name and Jefferson’s famous home. Apparently near Napa Valley there was once a small community called Monticello that was destroyed in order to create a reservoir. While the town is gone, the damn that created the body of water is named Monticello Damn.
However, Corley goes on to explain that the Corley Family settled in Virginia, Jefferson’s home, in the 17th century. Add to this Corley's love of architecture and particularly the Italianate sort that describes the original Monticello, and the story all comes together nicely.
So do the wines of the Corley Family’s Monticello Vineyard.
Were Jefferson to travel forward in time to see the Napa Valley vineyard that takes his architecture and home as inspiration, he’d find that this homage is based on a series of vineyards beginning in the Oak Knoll District in southern Napa Valley and running northward into St. Helena. To find the grape sources for the justly famed Corley Reserve wines, he’d have to stroll the vineyards located to the north in Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena. The Corley family has amassed a set of vineyards that are perfectly placed for Cabernet production and result in wines that have been the source of collectors’ desires for years.
In “An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson,” the time-traveling dinner companion has to inform Jefferson that he himself predicted the high quality wines that would come from his country in the future. I’ve always thought the author should have had his protagonist inform Jefferson that one of California’s finest wineries was inspired by his own love and promotion of wine.