The year was 1976, the bicentennial of American independence, when an Englishman named Steve Spurrier decided to pit wines he bought and shipped overseas from America against a powerful lineup of French First Growths. Despite the event taking place in Paris, with French judges no less, the American wines won. The winning red was a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet, and the winning white was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Covered by Time Magazine and the subject of the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, the event came to be known as the “Judgement of Paris.”
Nebraska has a local link to the famous winery. Jamie Eggerss, a graduate of the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, is Assistant Winemaker at the historic Napa Valley winery. “I spent my college years in Lincoln at UNL,” she said. “I moved to Minneapolis after college and the Twin Cities was my home base for almost five years thereafter, when I worked in a restaurant and travelled out here seasonally for harvests.” Five years ago, she moved to Santa Rosa to work full-time at Chateau Montelena. She started as an oenologist, and has since been promoted to assistant winemaker.
When asked what her favorite wine from Chateau Montelena was, she replied: “I’ll have to break the rule and pick two favorite wines. Our Estate Cabernet is consistently stunning and my favorite wine to bring to family meals or dinner parties with friends. It’s simultaneously classic and curiosity-inducing and always manages to start a conversation. On the other hand, the wine I drink most often and think is wildly under-appreciated is our Sauvignon Blanc. I could drink it every night.”
Chateau Montelena’s exceptional wines, including recent vintages of the Chardonnay that won the Judgement of Paris, are available locally at Old Vine Wine & Spirits, Corkscrew, Brother Sebastian’s, Flemings, J. Gilbert’s, V. Mertz, and Whole Foods. Seek them out and know that the wine you’re drinking not only comes from a Napa winery that helped put the American wine scene on the map, but it also has roots a little closer to home.