Montoliva Vineyards & Winery ~ Founded in 2000

Some of the original settlers of Chicago Park were first-generation Italian-Americans from Chicago, Illinois. The orchards and vineyards of Chicago Park bear witness to their quest to start a community in the untamed West that mirrored their homeland. Their spirit lives on at Montoliva Vineyard & Winery. Founded in 2000, Montoliva Vineyard & Winery creates Tuscan-inspired wines of uncommon depth and character.

Mark Henry is the owner, vineyardist and winemaker. Julianne Henry’s official title is “Wine Muse”, a designation that belies her efforts at keeping things under control. Together, they welcome the opportunity to walk you through the vineyards, fountains, “go-ahead, pick some” herb garden and, of course, the winery. 

​A true Garagiste, the estate home and winery are one-in-the-same. In the winery, Mark takes his cue from the esteemed wines of Montalcino, Tuscany. Long, slow fermentations using special Tuscan yeasts, extended macerations and barrel aging all play to the strengths of Sangiovese and Aglianico grapes.  

Besides Sangiovese and Aglianico, our current offerings include single varietal bottlings of Nebbiolo, Teroldego, Negroamaro, Falanghina, Primitivo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano, Vermentino and Canaiolo Nero.

​A combination of new and old French and Slovakian barrels allows us to blend to create wines that are dry, deep, complex and yet still soft to the touch. Most of our wines are kept in 225 liter barrels for 24 months before bottling. Reserve bottlings age a minimum of 3 years in barrel.

In 2023 we bottled a total of 1,600 cases. In 2024 we anticipate bottling approximately 1,400 cases (reflecting a smaller crop in 2022).

In life we make many commitments. Commitments to ourselves, to our mates, to our children, to our customers, to our communities. I’d like to think that in Montoliva Vineyard & Winery I have rolled all of these commitments into one nice, not-always-so-tidy ball.

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The best advice I received when I decided to start a commercial winery was from a veteran winemaker. He said, “Mark, stay small, never produce more than 200 cases of any single wine, and only make wines that you personally enjoy drinking.” Why only wines that I personally enjoy drinking, I asked. “Just in case you are the only one drinking them” he said. In a perverse sort of way (for a commercial venture anyway), it made sense, and if Montoliva Vineyard & Winery has a philosophy, it encompasses that advice given so many years ago.

My winemaking style is also a bit outside the norm.  It just doesn’t make sense to me to work with grapes known for their earthiness (that’s “earth”, not “barnyard”), their tannin and their acidity, then employ winemaking practices designed to hide as much of this as possible. I employ extended macerations, authentic (and tempermental) wine yeast strains, and loooong barrel aging regimes.  Here’s the thing, if you don’t like complex, earthy, noticeably tannic wines, you probably shouldn’t be drinking Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Finally, as much as possible I want Montoliva Vineyard & Winery wines to reflect my rather extended idea of “terroir”. The Europeans tend to interpret terroir very narrowly (I would too if I owned dirt in Burgundy).  I developed my more expansive view of terroir during my brewing days.  I see terroir as encompassing not just the physical dirt and micro-climate.  It also reflects vineyard cultural practices, winery practices, even the actual physical layout of the winery (yes, I believe that if you change the size of the barrels you work with, it will change the wines produced).  And I want my wines to reflect this place, this time, this winemaker…a sense of “somewhere-ness”.  Like my wines, or not, I want people to taste my wine and sense a “Montoliva-ness” to them.

Our wines are not made from the so-called “Fighting Varietals”, like Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay or even Zinfandel.  If I am making wines that I enjoy drinking, well, it isn’t going to be from these varietals.  The Cabs/Merlot/Zins that I really appreciate are all way out of my pocketbook range, which means I can’t truly enjoy them (“ok…that sip just cost me $10”), and I frankly got bored with the Cab/Merlot/Zins that I could afford.

Part of what gravitated me towards Italian varietals, especially Central and Southern Italian varietals is their complexity, especially when these varietals are grown in California. Lots of interesting stuff going on in a well-made (emphasis on “well-made”) California derived Sangiovese, Aglianico or Primitivo.  They tend to retain the earthy mid-palate of their Mediterranean cousins, the heightened tannins and unapologetic acidity.  However, being California grown, they also show a bit more fruit on the front end than their Italian counterparts.  Like I said, interesting….and complex.

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