Happy St. Patty's Day! My Own Sort-of Irish Heritage in the World of Wine
This was news to me, too!
Ireland is not exactly reknowned for its wine (though this may be changing with climate change!) or even for its love of wine (though they were in fact a big part of the historical development of Bordeaux alongside the Brits!) When we thing of Ireland, we think of Guiness and Whiskey and not much else. But the Irish have had a bigger hand in the wine world than a casual observer might suspect.
Most importantly, at least for me, is the Irish heritage of the Barrett family, who owned and operated the Napa winery Chateau Montelena when the infamous Judgement of Paris tasting took place.
The event was chronicled and re-popularized for the new millennium with the 2009 film Bottle Shock, with Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett, Chris Pine as his son, and Alan Rickman as the British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, who organized the now legendary blind tasting to showcase how good Californnia wine had become. The short of it: Napa wines - which had zero respect in the international market at that time - went toe-to-toe with the most elite French wines; and a Napa Chardonnay and a Napa Cabernet beat everything else. The Chardonnay was a Chateau Montelena. (The Cab was a Stag’s Leap, which is why most Americans know that brand today, even if they don’t know why.)
This was the beginning of the New World wine revolution, possibly the biggest upset the wine world had (and still has) ever experienced. The French were not happy with the result - some judges demanded their score cards back so that how they, as an individual, judged the wines could never be verified to the public. But the results went very public. It was a David vs. Goliath tale the public lapped the **** up!
Turns out, my own family - on my mother’s side - were the original founders of Chateau Montelena! Alfred Tubbs is my maternal great-great-grandfather. My grandmother would then marry a Cromp and produce my own mother, who then married a Baxter, and now here my stupid self be.
I had zero knowledge of this until a couple of years ago, long after I’d become a complete wine dork. My mom dropped this tidbit in passing one evening and my brain honestly didn’t know what to do with this bit of super-cool trivia. Now, Tubbs had nothing to do with the winery that would go on to win the Judgment of Paris. He sold the Chateau decades before, to a man who sold it to another, who sold it to another, who then sold it to Jim Barrett.
Still, being a full-on wino, this was like (from a comics perspective) someone casually mentioning that your great-great-grandad founded Timely Comics before selling it someone who turned it into Magazine Management who then sold it to someone who turned it into Marvel Comics. It’s not that cool. But still pretty ****ing cool.
What Does This Have to Do With St. Patty’s Day?
Not too much, admittedly, but a little: Barrett came from Irish roots, his family still owns the winery today, so Chateau Montelena is considered somewhat of an Irish-legacy business. So I’m giving myself a pat on the back today as being an infintessimal part of this story. :)
And while it’s a stretch to drink any wine and call it a proper St. Patty’s Day drink, if you have about $120 laying around, see if you can get your hands on this pretty brilliant looking Green Spot Chateau Montelena Irish Whiskey.
This is a traditional Irish Whiskey (aged in Sherry and Bourbon casks) before then adiditonally aging in used oak Zinfandel wine Barrels from Chateau Montelena, infusing the whiskey with a bit o’ Napa red somethin’-somethin’. Color me intrigued!