I'd give this 3-1/2 stars if I could... we had a nice tour, but I didn't like the way our day started and I'm not sure the wines were worth the $25 tour and tasting fee. My husband knew of this winery from many years ago and decided to treat us to the comprehensive tour and wine tasting – we made reservations on line weeks before our trip.
We got picnic provisions at Oakville Grocery (what a mob scene that was!) and expected to be able to find somewhere to picnic on the grounds before our tour. We were rather brusquely turned away and was told there was nowhere to do that (we saw plenty of spots that would have worked later). We traveled down the road a bit to the Summers Winery that welcomed us warmly and we enjoyed a bottle of great chardonnay. We were in a better mood when we returned for our tour.
The table in the main hall was set for our tour group, but we were delayed for around 20 minutes waiting for a limo full of bachelorettes to arrive (they never did). Other members of the group were mistakenly told to arrive earlier for another tour, so they tagged along for just the first part. A group of twenty eventually whittled down to four, so we did get a very personal tour from a very vivacious and entertaining guide named Ann. She was a hoot and had a lot of knowledge of the industry and the history of the chateau.
We saw a little video, then got an explanation of the soils and the areas where the grapes are planted. We then spent about 30 minutes touring the grounds, but in the oppressive heat of the afternoon, we were glad to return inside. The faux castle is a little kitschy, but it kind of works in the milieu. The estate shows Asian influences from the owners in the 60s with its oriental pavilion in the middle of the lake, graced by a swan and other birds. It’s a pleasant enough spot, with lovely views of the surrounding hills and vineyards.
We returned to the hall for our tasting. Chateau Montelena helped put California wine on the map in a big way, and reds are their claim to fame. We tasted mostly zins and cabs, including one that retails for over $100 a bottle. I expected to be blown away by a wine like that, but I found it to be not much different than the lesser priced cabs we were served, all very nice but nothing I found compelling enough to spend the money on. Maybe my palate isn't refined enough, ruined by all those years of $10 wines!
It was an OK experience for the money, something that first time visitors might enjoy more than we did having visited many wineries over the years. I think they could have been more welcoming to visitors paying for the tour. The wines were fine, but the bottom line is we didn't buy any.