Wine tasting with Peter Mondavi Jr.

Charles Krug Winery is not only the oldest winery in the Napa Valley, but opened the first public tasting room in 1882.

Peter Mondavi Jr. with a portrait of his father Peter Mondavi. (Courtesy photo)

Charles Krug Winery is not only the oldest winery in the Napa Valley, but opened the first public tasting room in 1882. The modern-day history began in 1943 when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi purchased the winery and began a lineage, with their two sons, Robert and Peter, that would change the Napa Valley forever.

In future years, Robert Mondavi left to pursue his own label and, in 1976, Peter Mondavi acquired full ownership of Charles Krug Winery, now a fourth generation family owned business.

While Robert’s children have founded new wineries, Continuum and Folio, Peter Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue to oversee the ever evolving Charles Krug Estate. Last week, as we walked the historic property, glass of wine in hand, Peter Jr. and I talked about how the past formed the present and how he saw the future of the winery.

As a major California winery with large production and numerous varietals, the family made a decision in the 1990s to reduce the scope of their wines and focus predominantly on Bordeaux grapes, not Bordeaux wines, a distinction that Peter Jr. made clear. After selling off fruit to other wineries for a few years, they undertook a major re-planting in 1998, using fine cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc stock.

Today, this nucleus continues with the 137-acre Charles Krug Vineyard that surrounds the property and another 430 acres in six different vineyards spread throughout the Howell Mountain and Yountville AVA’s. The exception to the production strategy is generated from their 169 Willow Lake Vineyard in the Carneros AVA.

When someone owns a vineyard in the Carneros, exposed to fog and ocean breezes, they grow cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. The current release Charles Krug 2017 Chardonnay Carneros ($21) is a fitting illustration of the terroir. Aged and stirred on the lees in 20 percent new French oak, it balances a healthy acidity with rounded stone fruit flavors.

Peter, Jr. made a point that all Charles Krug wines are made for the table, to pair well with food. To that end, the food-friendly Charles Krug 2017 Pinot Noir Carneros ($28) expressed restrained, yet full traditional cherry flavors on the palate and is offered at a good value price.

Mondavi and I settled into the elegantly appointed library room in the Visitors Center to sample selections from Krug’s three tiered wine selections. The stately premises, using a combination of old and modern materials is large, but designed for intimate tasting experiences. It also houses the Family Reserve barrel room and Cucina Di Rosa, a tribute to the winery’s matriarch serving Salumi di Casa produced by Pete Seghesio and the Journeyman Meat Co., using Charles Krug wines.

The center and surrounding grounds has the old carriage house and large open grassy areas with outdoor pizza ovens used for member and community events like fund- raising barrel auctions, a comedy series, farm to table dinners inspired by their on-site garden, library dinners featuring old vintages and as a venue for the Napa Valley Film Festival. Through these events, the family has provided ongoing support to local Make-a- Wish Foundation programs.

The tasting began with their largest production wine, the 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($39), blended with merlot, petit verdot and malbec and the 2015 Family Reserve “Generations” Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), blended with a small amount merlot and petit verdot. Awarded 92 points by James Suckling, the “Generations” is long and refined with hints of spice on the finish.

A departure from the Bordeaux varietal blends, the 2015 Limited Release Malbec ($65) was rich, but not given to excesses that would keep it from the dinner table. The wine that offers the finest expression of Charles Krug wines from the Yountville vineyards, the 2015 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) revealed layered flavors of dark fruit, cocoa with baked spice elements along the finish.

Peter Jr., over the years, has seen tremendous agricultural and economic change in the Napa Valley, and, through it all, believes that the Charles Krug Winery is as vibrant today as it has ever been. As for the future, he said that they will remain focused on refining estate driven Bordeaux varietals, continue to be a community supporter and develop as a cultural hub in the Napa Valley. In summary, “Great grapes, great wine, great food and great fun.”

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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