Montagu Wines. Founder and winemaker Weston Eidson is a graduate of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Chicago-Kent College of Law where he earned his law degree followed by time overseas studying international relations at the University of Warwick in England where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree. Ten years ago, the concept of making wine in Napa Valley was probably the furthest idea from his mind. But during a visit with friends to Napa, Weston was introduced to winemaker Jason Moore, a long time Napa Valley based consulting winemaker originally from Texas who has operated his own wine label, Modus Operandi since 2004. After hanging out with Jason for a bit, Jason asked Weston if he would be interested in helping him with harvest in 2012. Taking the steps towards what would eventually be a markedly different career path compared to law, Weston decided to accept Jason’s offer.
Some people quickly discover that all the necessary details, nuances and long house of harvest are not for them; Weston was not one of these people. Intrigued by the challenges of his first harvest he was quickly offered an opportunity to purchase grapes; the advantages of a ‘big’ vintage certainly helped with timing. The Bagcigalupi Vineyard in neighboring Sonoma County is famous because Chateau Montelena in part sourced some of their Chardonnay from this site to create their award winning 1973 Chardonnay in the ‘Judgment of Paris’ tasting in 1976. Weston recalls Charles and Helen Bacigalupi toured him around during his first visit to the property, and Charles (now deceased) showed up carrying a shotgun across his lap.
Through Jason’s contacts, Weston was offered some fruit from this coveted vineyard. Later, also through Jason’s connections, winemaker Steve Matthiasson mentioned one of his clients decided not to purchase fruit from Steve’s Linda Vista Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. Taking advantage of great timing, Weston soon purchased grapes from both vineyards. Jason was under the impression Weston was going to start small (especially since this was his first harvest), perhaps with 1/2 ton of fruit but ultimately Weston acquired 6 tons of grapes for his first vintage (approximately 360 cases).
Over the years Weston has perfected his wine making skills while continuing to learn the craft. However, as he says, “if you start with the right fruit inherently the grapes want to make good wine”. He strives to showcase the personality of each specific vineyard site. His wine making philosophy is one of taking a more hands off approach in the winery. He is careful with tannin management – preferring integrated tannins upon the wine’s release. As a result, he does not do any extended maceration post fermentation. Along with Jason Moore, Weston credits winemaker and friend Russell Bevan for being his mentors in the industry.
What is probably one of the longer winemaker commutes – Weston travels from his home near Dallas several times a month to Napa Valley with additional trips made during harvest.
The 2019 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color; the bouquet is immediately meaty, savory and brooding with dark fruit and darker spices showing. Give it time or decant or swirl in the glass numerous times and this wine will open and evolve, and when it does so it reveals more of its inner fruit core including scents of bramble, blackberry, dark plum and notes of violets. But it never completely loses its savory character including of old cedar box and crushed peppercorn. Very approachable in its youth, this medium to full bodied bottling offers flavors of dark plum and blackberry. It finishes savory, framed with both cedar plank, dark pepper and earthy, dark and medium grained/gravelly textured tannins. Drinking this made us want to smell something grilling on the BBQ, preferable a thin cut of juicy flank steak.
The 2015 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon is dark in color; it shows an opulent and ripe bouquet featuring an intriguing blend of both fruit including prune and blackberry aromas. Deeper into the bouquet are notes of baking spices including cinnamon, a toasted oak nuance and cedar plank. This bottling reveals darker fruit flavors on the palate; it is juicy with ripe blackberry and plum. Very well integrated tannins show along with lingering notes of cedar. During its aging, this wine sees about 50% new French oak. And of note – this is one of the better value price to quality ratio Cabernet Sauvignons of the literally thousands of Cabernet Sauvignon wines we have tried in Napa Valley.
While Silver Ghost currently produces the one wine (5,000 cases with select distribution across 30 states), the Montagu wines are much more limited production offerings – usually 100 to 150 cases per wine with a total production of under 1000 cases. These wines are from premiere vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma including acclaimed sites in Sonoma County such as Bacigalupi, Durell and Ritchie Vineyards and from Napa’s Carneros based Hyde Vineyards.
The 2015 Montague Cabernet Sauvignon, The Baron is produced from a premium single vineyard site in the heart of Rutherford. It reveals a depth of aroma on the bouquet showing primarily dark fruit including boysenberry with notes of black olive, vanilla, brown chocolate and cedar box. Full bodied yet still very approachable in its youth, this wine shows a noticeable density especially on the mid palate. Texturally the wine has a noticeable grip but from tannins which are more fine-grained in texture rather than coarse. This wine is aged in 100% new French oak.
Weston has a remarkable history of family involvement in the automobile industry. Both of his wines are named in tribute to his great-grandfather John Montagu 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866-1929), a Lord in the British Parliament. Montagu was an automotive pioneer who is well-known for a number of reasons: he was responsible for some of Britain’s early automotive legislation and was the first person to drive an automobile to Parliament.
Montagu was also friends with early car manufacturing icons including Henry Royce and Charles Rolls. In fact, Montagu’s secretary and actress, Eleanor Thornton was the model for the prominent Rolls-Royce hood ornament referred to as the Spirit of Ecstasy. Tragedy took her life on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia passenger liner was torpedoed off the coast of Crete by a German U boat. She drowned during the ships’ sinking, with 343 of the 519 aboard perishing, while Lord Montagu survived in one of only 4 lifeboats which were able to be launched in time before the ship quickly sank.
Lord Montagu was the founder and editor of The Car Illustrated, a weekly magazine and was one of four men responsible for building the Brooklands motor circuit near Surrey which operated from 1907 through 1939 (and is now home to the motor and aviation, Brooklands Museum). Those interested in more details about the man can read, Paul Tritton’s book, John Montagu of Beaulieu Motoring Pioneer and Prophet.
The 7,000 acre Beaulieu Estate (pronounced bewley) is located about a 2-hour drive southwest of London; this property is an integral part of the Montagu’s family heritage. It was originally purchased by Thomas Wriothesley, the 1st Earl of Southampton, an early descendent of the Montagu family. Much of the estate is open to the public. The property was handed down to Weston’s great Uncle Edward (1926- 2015) when his father John Montagu passed away in 1929. Edward (John’s only son) was merely 3 years old at the time, so the estate was controlled by his mother and trustees until he turned 25 years of age.
Edward was a prolific entrepreneur; he founded Britain’s National Motor Museum (over 280 vehicles in the collection) located at Beaulieu. The roots of this museum date back to 1952 when Edward opened up the impressive estate manor (the Palace House built in the 13th century) with some of his classic cars on display. In 1952 and 1953 Edward traveled to the U.S. to help publicize the opening of Beaulieu to the public; one of his stops was a visit to Beaulieu Vineyard in Napa Valley. Presumably he would have met with Madame Hélène de Pins and her husband, Marquis, and or winemaker André Tchelistcheff. Little did he know that his grand nephew Weston would begin producing wine in Napa Valley some approximately 60 years later.
After a few years the collection outgrew the space and he moved the cars into other spaces at Beaulieu. Today, admission to the National Motor Museum also includes admission to other parts of the Beaulieu Estate including the Palace House, the grounds and gardens, Beaulieu Abbey, the Clock House and Little Beaulieu, a space set aside for children to play. Every September the Beaulieu Autojumble is held outdoors, a huge sale of items related to automobiles.
In 1962 Edward co-founded Vintage Tyre (also located at Beaulieu); still in existence, this company provides tires for classic vehicles. A year later Edward founded the Maritime Museum located at the nearby Buckler’s Hard. And admission to Buckler’s Hard includes the maritime museum, the village, St. Mary’s Chapel and the shipwright’s cottage among other attractions.
Edward also oversaw a vineyard at Beaulieu, produced wine and was Chancellor of the Wine Guild of the UK and President of the UK Vineyards Association. During his career he authored several books including in 2000 his autobiography, Wheels within Wheels.
Silver Ghost is named after John Montagu’s 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (his favorite car).
And what has become an annual event held at Brasswood Winery in St. Helena, (where Weston makes the wines), the Vintner’s Vanguard is held annually in August and features the owners and winemakers who produce their wine here. It is a rare chance to taste coveted wines from some of Napa Valley’s most premium producers at one venue. Weston pours both wines from Silver Ghost and Montagu at the event.
If Weston’s schedule permits and he is in the valley – he will host tastings. If he is out of town, a colleague at Brasswood Winery will host the tastings.
Select vintages of both labels can sometimes be found locally at V Wine Cellar and Wine Country Connection in Yountville and Backroom Wines in the city of Napa. For more information about either of these brands, and or to join their respective wine clubs, visit: www.silverghostcellars.com and www.montaguwines.com