When David Rojas told me he’d inherited a bottle of 1937 Chateau Montelena Cabernet from a friend, I was skeptical.
I was under the impression that the Napa Valley winery, founded in 1882, hadn’t made wines after Prohibition (1920-1933) and didn't resume production until 1972, when the Barrett family rejuvenated the facility.
But he proved otherwise, bringing that bottle, and a few others from yesteryear, to my office the other day for a nervous show-and-tell session. Rojas was visibly anxious that he might drop the bottle.
Rojas, who grew up in St. Helena and works for Napa County, had come into the wines from a deceased friend who didn't drink. Of the bottles he showed me – a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet (which I once rated a perfect 100 points in a non-blind, unofficial tasting), a 1941 Inglenook Pinot, a 1939 or 1940 Inglenook and a 1949 Beaulieu Pinot Noir – only the '37 Montelena had a label which was in good physical condition. The others had lost their labels over time and had been identified by his friend with hand notes. But even Rojas wasn't entirely sure of the vintage on one wine.
The fill levels on all of the bottles was low, as you can see in video. But the Montelena label is in fine condition and it is, according to Rojas, one vintage that is missing from the collection at the winery. The winery's former winemaker, Bo Barrett, had offered to exchange a collection of Montelena wines for that bottle, Rojas said.
What to do with the bottle? It might still be drinkable, but I doubt it. The low fill level shows the wine has been exposed to air for some time. You could open it as a curiosity – and I've had some 1937s from Napa wineries that were well stored yet also long gone. But I wouldn't expect much satisfaction.
A rare bottle like this belongs with the Montelena collection. It's a contribution to history and besides, an offer for some great Montelena wines, is far more appealing.
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — May 1, 2009 5:28pm ET
Jim Gallagher — Jim Gallagher — May 1, 2009 5:42pm ET
Jim Mcclure — DFW, Texas — May 1, 2009 6:58pm ET
Eugene Kim — Houston, TX — May 3, 2009 9:10am ET
Ron Zimmerman — May 4, 2009 3:37pm ET
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