La Dolce Vita

Inside the grand Mediterrean-style hilltop aerie created by Jennifer Montana and her legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback husband Joe.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Stefanie Lingle Beasley
  • Photographed by
    Paul Rollins and Jack Hutcheson

Jennifer Montana might be best known by many as the wife of football legend Joe. But this former model and actress is a proud mother of four beautiful children, an accomplished interior designer, and a burgeoning artist with galleries and clients clamoring for her thoughtful and introspective work. Gentry Home sat down with the Montanas to discuss art, design, and life as empty nesters.

The 503-acre estate includes an Italianate villa, guesthouse/art studio, caretakers’ cottage, professional equestrian arena, and stables for 30 horses, along with offices and staff residences. The main residence features two turreted towers with 360-degree views of Mt. St. Helena, elaborate wood-beamed and vaulted ceilings, interior and exterior statuary, tapestries, and large fireplaces. 

When asked to describe one of his favorite paintings by Jennifer, Joe Montana doesn’t hesitate: “The one I liked most, she destroyed. It was a portrait of a woman done in red—her face was very white. Jennifer said it wasn’t right, and she got rid of it.”

Indeed, Jennifer’s passion and fire seem to ignite with each subsequent canvas. She treats her paintings with the care, love, and protective nature she does her children. On the day Gentry Home visited her spectacular art studio with its floor-to-ceiling windows, she was very clear that some paintings were off limits to our photographer. “They are not finished yet,” she stated matter-of-factly. To the casual observer they were quite lovely, but the artist in Montana innately knew that theirs was a story that needed polishing.

“When my sister Elizabeth and I were little, Mom painted our rooms and all of our bedroom furniture by hand, with bows, geese, and other intricate designs. She always encouraged us to take part in her artistic endeavors.”

Jennifer Wallace Montana’s own story is interwoven with a love of the creative, a love of the arts. “From the time I was young, I’ve always been fascinated by creative expression, whether it was cooking, painting, sculpture, or dance,” she recalls. As a young model, Jennifer found herself in Paris, drawn to the beauty of the architecture and majesty of the museums. Just a teen, the impressionable Jennifer was captivated by the elegance of France’s capital and the world of high fashion. The clothes, the craftsmanship, and the photography—it was all there providing the seeds of an artistic foundation in the woman she would become.

The 3-4 acres immediately adjacent to the main residence are elegantly landscaped with groves of ancient Tuscan varietal olive trees that produce 30-60 gallons of olive oil each year. Fully-grown cypress trees anchor the home and loggia, while rose gardens, white table grape vines, and a moat, bridge, and centuries-old well greet guests upon arrival.

Modeling led to acting, a foray that proved quite auspicious; she met Joe on the set of a commercial. He was instantly smitten and asked for her hand in marriage shortly there after. Over 25 years and four children later, the couple still seem as though they are in the first blush of dating—each serving as the other’s biggest cheerleader, advocate, and support.

The Montana children all recall their mother encouraging them to dabble in art when they were young. Setting a good example, Jennifer took photography courses and excelled at portraiture, capturing her little ones at every turn in black and white and developing the film by hand. Daughter Alexandra recalls, “When my sister Elizabeth and I were little, Mom painted our rooms and all of our bedroom furniture by hand, with bows, geese, and other intricate designs. She always encouraged us to take part in her artistic endeavors.”

An expansive wine cellar in the home houses 3,500 bottles of wine, a tasting room, and a terrace for outdoor wine tasting surrounded by vines producing white table grapes. The cellar also holds storage for bottles of olive oil created from the Tuscan varietals planted by the Montanas on the property.

Many of those creative undertakings manifested themselves in the form of interior design. “I’ll never forget the house she showed me in Kansas City,” recalls Joe, referring to the brief period following his San Francisco 49ers days when he played two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs. “It was awful, but Jen was convinced she could do something with it. When I returned, the house was transformed—it didn’t look anything like the house I’d toured. It was beautiful and rustic. She draped the windows with burlap, textured the walls—it was amazing.” In fact, Joe’s often encouraged her to go into design full time, “since she’s so good at it.” But the Montanas, themselves, have ended up being Jennifer’s best clients; many moves have meant many new homes for Jennifer to hone her craft and perfect her skills.

Jennifer’s piece de resistance is the family’s Mediterranean-style hilltop Villa Montana in Sonoma—a breathtaking 503-acre property with a masterfully designed and built 9,700-square-foot home at its center. The Montanas were so enamored with Italian culture and style that they considered moving to Tuscany at one time. They later decided to recreate much of what they loved about Italian living in the heart of Wine Country.

A 17th-century stone well marks a pathway to a bridge over a moat to enter the home’s front doors. An elaborate outdoor kitchen near the pool features a Tuscan grill, pizza oven, and wine refrigerator. State-of-the-art technology and security throughout the home are seamlessly integrated into the interiors and are hidden from view.

The property took nearly a decade to complete and the results are nothing short of stunning. Jennifer modestly says of the magnificent project, “We wanted it to feel like it had been passed down for generations.” Jennifer, Joe, and the children would take trips to Europe to source items and materials for the home, but it was Jennifer’s vision, in the end, that was realized and her extraordinary attention to detail is evidenced throughout.

The decade spent creating Villa Montana was an active one for the entire family. The children spent half of their lives there. Sons Nick and Nate could be found on the basketball court or in the pool, while daughters Alexandra and Elizabeth were often busy riding horses with Mom. Now that the children are grown, Jennifer and Joe have started a new chapter in their lives. Villa Montana is on the market and these empty nesters have moved to San Francisco, where Joe is busy investing in early-stage start-ups through his venture-capital firm, Liquid 2 Ventures.

The Montanas put the special property on the market briefly 10 years ago, but their children convinced them to keep it a little longer. Now, just like the Montanas, this incredible estate is ready for its next chapter.

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