Jay Corley, a Napa Valley standard-bearer for nearly 50 years and founder of Monticello Vineyards, passed away peacefully on January 11, 2016 in Napa, surrounded by family. The cause was complications from cancer. He was 84 years old.
Jay was born on July 30, 1931 in Evanston, Illinois, to John and Helen Corley. After graduating from Cranbrook High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Jay moved west to attend University of Arizona and then graduated from Stanford University. Jay’s military service included months of intense study of the Italian language at the Army Language School in Monterey, which prepared him for his next assignment, the NSA in Arlington, Virginia. This assignment with NSA provided a backdrop for many stories too Top Secret to tell in complete detail. He later attended Pepperdine University, where he received his MBA. His thesis was starting a vineyard and winery business in the Napa Valley and that plan served the business well for decades.
An entrepreneur at his core, Jay founded and managed a number of successful business ventures in Southern California in the 1960s. His family’s long history of farming was always on his mind, and he felt himself being drawn towards the reemerging wine regions in Northern California. When the post-prohibition reincarnation of Napa Valley’s winegrowing industry began to germinate in the 1960s, Jay was quick to recognize the region’s potential for growing world-class wine, and he made the decision to move north and follow his dream.
He established his vineyard in 1969 in the cooler southern end of the Napa Valley, now known as the Oak Knoll District. When he first surveyed his land, he stood in a tired and gnarly prune orchard peppered with tall black walnut trees, but what he saw was a world-class vineyard with the potential to make classic wines. In 1981, after more than a decade of growing and selling his grapes to other wineries, he built the winery at Monticello Vineyards and began to produce his own estate-grown wines. Jay took great pride that the winery he founded has entered into its second generation, with the third generation showing early interest in the family wine business.
Jay nurtured a strong sense of civic duty, and served on many boards and foundations, including Queen of the Valley Hospital and Napa Valley Planning Commission. He served as Chairman of the Napa Valley Wine Auction, served on the Napa Valley Grand Jury, and was a longtime and active member of Napa Rotary. He enjoyed his affiliations with the Chevaliers du Tastevin, Wine and Food Society of Southern California and with his fellow GONADS (The Gastronomical Order for Nonsensical And Dissipatory Society), a group of fun-loving yet dedicated friends and fellow Napa Valley wine industry pioneers.
Jay was a life-long sports fan and devoted Chicago Cubs backer, rooting for his beloved Cubbies ever since he was a kid watching them play with his father at Wrigley Field in the late 1930s. Jay also cheered for the Stanford Cardinal, and loved to spend weekends tailgating in the eucalyptus grove at Stanford stadium, and cheering on his alma mater from the old wooden benches. Jay’s interest in business and sports led to his almost purchase of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970’s which he often recalled later in life.
He had a wonderful sense of humor, and would light up a room with his smile and wit. His love of swing music lifted the spirits, and was frequently playing in the background. He was a well-traveled man, familiar with international cultures, yet was most comfortable at home with family.
Jay is survived by his wife Joan Corley, brothers Todd Corley and Paul Corley, his six sons Kevin, Kent, Mark, Michael, Stephen, Chris and his daughter Carolyn and their families; 12 grandchildren, extended family, loved ones and countless others whose lives he touched.
Jay will be interred at Tulocay Cemetery in Napa. Condolences may be sent through www.tulocaycemetery.org
The Corley Family will be hosting a Celebration of Life at Monticello Vineyards, Napa, on January 30 from 1-4.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you send donations to the Jay Corley Memorial Fund at the North Bay Cancer Alliance. The fund will assist low-income cancer patients in Napa. Checks can be sent to North Bay Cancer Alliance, 185 Sotoyome Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95405, attn.: Jay Corley Memorial Fund.