Charles Krug Review
Address: 2800 Main Street St. Helena,California 94574.
Tasting Hours: Tues-Sun 10:30-5:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 3/9/2016
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Peter Mondavi (moan-dah-vee), for much of his early life Peter Mondavi (mon-day-vee), died on February the 20th, 2016, in his home in St. Helena, California, just about two weeks prior to my visit to his winery. My flights were already booked, and I had born no real expectation of meeting the legendary figure of Napa Valley viticulture and owner of the Charles Krug Winery, the oldest in the valley. Still, as I progressed slowly up the winding drive toward the utterly massive stone structure on a rainy afternoon in early March, his absence was unmistakable.
Brother of his infamous counterpart, Robert, Peter had made the wine for Charles Krug, the family enterprise, and Robert had sold it, as was their arrangement beginning at a time when wine remained unfashionable in a country that favored German-style beers and hard liquor. While most Americans, still hung-over from Prohibition, were consuming cheap jug wine if they were drinking wine at all, Peter engaged in the art of fine wine making, and quickly helped to reestablish Charles Krug as one of Americas foremost producers of quality wines. They had beaten most post-prohibition pioneers to the spot by more than twenty years, and this arrangement went on well into the 1960s. Then the pot boiled over, and Robert and Peter parted ways famously in an episode that involved a fistfight, a lawsuit, and more than one books worth of nasty confrontation. In the end, however, Peter managed to maintain control of Napas oldest winery, and it was his brother who struck out on his own to found a new one a few miles down the road.
Inside Charles Krug, however, where wines can be tasted underneath startlingly massive wooden pillars and steel beams that run from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall in a grand room so immense one has to wonder at the intent of the builders as regards its purpose, Peters name appears on little, save for the lips of employees who remember him fondly.
Ive worked here for twelve years, explained the woman behind the bar as she poured us taste after taste of Peters wine. I used to walk past him almost every day its strange for him to be gone now. I could sense the loss she felt and wondered if she was just getting over a cold, or if instead her voice may have cracked, so despite my curiosity I didnt push her any further. In the grandiose stone structure that dates back to the 1870s, the dawn of wine in the Napa Valley, and relies largely on apertures for natural lighting, the cloudy day lent the room a dreary half-light to accompany the absence clearly felt by those who inhabited it.
Yet in spite of the loss, Peters legacy lives on in the form of his excellent wines. Flights ranged from $20-$40, and ran the spectrum from crisp, light Sauvignon Blanc to a deep, rich, Zinfandel port-style wine. After trying several, we ultimately left with a bottle of the 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, modestly priced at around $30/bottle. Charles Krugs case production is between 80,000 and 90,000 cases of wine annually, and nearly half of that is Cabernet Sauvignon.
Walking back to our car, we noticed parking for electric cars, and one specifically designated for Tesla, perhaps the quiet legacy of a man who understood that the Valley he called home was destined to outlive him. Peter Mondavi died at the age of 101. He began his mission at a time when the Napa Valley was better known for prunes and other edible fruits than it was for wine production, and left behind him two sons, Marc and Peter Jr., and a legacy of excellence that will live on forever in Californias most famous wine producing region, a region that Peter helped put on the map.