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Uncorked: Winemaker promoted at Chateau Montelena

Matthew Crafton was promoted from assistant winemaker to winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, California.
Matthew Crafton was promoted from assistant winemaker to winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, California.

Matthew Crafton knows he is part of history. 

In June, he was promoted from assistant winemaker to winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, California. Even though Crafton ran the white wine program at Chateau Montelena, he becomes just the fifth winemaker in the history of the iconic winery. 

His journey as winemaker begins with the 2014 harvest, which is challenged by the third straight year of severe drought in California. It gives him a chance to capture what Chateau Montelena does so well – tell the story of the vintage.

Winemaker spotlight

Crafton thinks in terms of evolution rather than revolution. 

“There’s no magical formula I received when I was promoted,” Crafton quipped. “There’s not a key to a locker with the 1973 formula. We look at every vintage as a challenge rather than a chance to replicate past success. We want to continually refine what we do and make more elegant and complex wines.”

That is exactly what Crafton plans to do with the 2014 vintage. Despite a three-year drought, the 2014 crop yields are only slightly lower than 2013. A rain storm arrived four weeks before bud break, but as winemakers around California have reported, the fruit is still of high quality. It just matured earlier this year. 

“2014 looks like another great vintage,” said Crawfton, who added this year is similar to 2004. “I’m excited to get to sink my teeth into the program on a bigger scale.”

“I didn’t expect a promotion. My first thought was ‘wow, this is awesome.’ For (Chateau Montelena CEO and Master Winemaker) Bo Barrett to have so much faith in me is humbling and exciting. It really got my blood flowing and reenergized me to think about the future.”

What to buy

Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 ($50): This is an elegant, balanced wine. Great acidity compliments blackberry, anise and cocoa powder notes. The tannins are beautiful and it can be enjoyed right now or a reward for those willing to cellar it for a few years. 

Where to go 

Fine food and wine are staples in Galena.

At the second annual Galena Food and Wine Festival on Sept. 5, area chefs and wine lovers will do something that fits their expertise – put on a gala event from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Galena Convention Center.

Tim Althaus, general manager at Family Beer and Liquor, has selected more than 200 varietals for the event.

“We had tremendous feedback to last year’s first annual event,” said Dave Decker, executive director of the Galena Art & Recreation Center, which will receive a portion of the event’s proceeds. “Guests loved the wine tasting paired with samples from our wonderful Galena restaurants and caterers. It was a fun evening.”

Tickets for the Galena Food and Wine Festival, which also features live music, a raffle and silent auction, cost $50 per person and available at

Look for a recap of the Galena Food and Wine Festival in my next column.

Napa Valley earthquake 

Pictures of shattered bottles and overturned barrels dominated my Twitter feed after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Napa Valley County early Sunday morning. Adam Lee had the best plan to help wineries.

The owner and talented winemaker at Siduri took to social media and used his Twitter handle, @SiduriWines, to encourage his followers to buy a bottle of Napa Valley wine. 

On Monday, I bought Titus, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 ($45), a wine with deep purple color, very focused with fruit notes of strawberry and blackberry. There’s cedar in the mid palate, loamy earth and some ripe plum and dried cherry notes on the finish. It was a big wine for a Monday night, but it was for a worthy cause. 

“Fortunately, the Chateau Montelena team is safe and we have not sustained any damages to our facility or inventory,” Montelena spokeswoman Sonia Meyer said via email. “Our deepest sympathy and prayers go out to those in the valley who experienced the worst of the earthquake.”

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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