At times it seems like the impossible dream: a high-quality, reasonably priced wine from the Napa Valley. If you’re not sleeping, check out Charles Krug.
Founded by the eponymous Prussian immigrant in 1861, Charles Krug was actually Napa’s first winery. The property survived Prohibition, and in 1943 was sold to Cesare Mondavi, who himself had emigrated to America from Italy decades before. Mondavi was ambivalent about the wine business, but had two sons---Robert and Peter---who were passionate about running the place.
For a while, it seemed like an ideal partnership. Scientifically-minded Peter made the wine, and consummate salesman Robert promoted it. Soon, however, cracks began to develop in the relationship as the two brothers disagreed on their business philosophy. Robert wanted to expand the business, while Peter’s desire was to make smaller quantities of quality wine. Their conflicts boiled over in 1965, when Robert left and set up his own winery several miles away.
Many people credit Robert Mondavi for establishing California wine on the world stage. The two brothers did reconcile before Robert’s death, but his story didn’t have a happy ending. After his winery went public it was bought by Constellation, who severed the connection with the Mondavi family. In the meantime, Charles Krug remains family owned, operated by the Peter Mondavi Sr. family. They make 80,000 cases of wine annually from estate vineyards (compared to the 10 million made by the Robert Mondavi winery prior to selling off some brands), with an emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon.
The heart of Charles Krug’s production is their entry-level Napa series, consisting of six wines that are remarkable values in today’s market. The Cabernet is sourced from Yountville, the Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel from St. Helena, and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir hail from Carneros. They are balanced and carefully crafted, revealing complex fruit flavors and good acidity. Amazingly, they sell for $20-25 on the retail shelf, a fraction of what some of their famous neighbors charge, and fulfill the winery’s philosophy of providing affordable, well-made wines that can grace your table on a regular basis.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, pulbished by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.