Peter Mondavi Jr. is remaking a piece of the wine-family legacy
The sons of Peter Mondavi are remaking a piece of their family legacy, spending $30 million to upgrade their winemaking processes and focusing on higher-quality wines. A recent sampling of their products under the Charles Krug label show the efforts are paying off. The 2008 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc ($16) and 2007 Charles Krug Chardonnay ($18) are especially noteworthy.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Charles Krug 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc; $15.
The grapes for this wine used to be sold to Duckhorn, until Peter Mondavi "became enamored of the New Zealand style" and brought them back in-house. Crisp, clean, brightly fruity and unoaked, this is a delightful bottle. (Young's Columbia distributes)
THE CHARLES KRUG winery, which has been owned by the Mondavi family since 1943, claims to be the oldest in the Napa Valley. The winery labels — an elegant script bearing the founder's name — also feature the year 1861 as a sort of watermark running vertically up the right-hand side.
That was the year Charles Krug opened his doors. Krug was a German who had been working for Agoston Haraszthy at Buena Vista and made his first wines (from Napa Valley grapes) in 1858. By most accounts, this was the first commercial wine made in the valley, and led to the establishment of the Charles Krug winery in 1861.
Krug built a thriving and prestigious business, only to be shuttered by Prohibition. After lying empty for more than two decades, the winery was purchased and renovated, along with hundreds of acres of prime Napa vineyard land, by Cesare Mondavi, who hoped it would permanently tie together the business fortunes of his two sons, Robert and Peter.
Robert provided the vision for the wines, while Peter handled the more routine winemaking chores. By the 1950s and early 1960s, Charles Krug was known for its crisp, dry white wines — a rarity in Napa at the time. When Robert and Peter went their separate ways in the mid-1960s, Peter gained control of Charles Krug and also its jug-wine subsidiary, CK Mondavi.
While Robert went on to worldwide fame and fortune, Peter's branch of the Mondavi family motored along quietly over the decades, managing hundreds of acres of prime Napa vineyard, content to churn out rather ordinary wines under the two labels.
Recently I sat down with Peter Mondavi Jr., a handsome man in his early 60s. He acknowledged that by 1995, he and his brother had reached a consensus that the winery had come to a "pivotal point." They were determined to take over the reins from their (then) octogenarian father and "reinvent ourselves."
In 1968, he explained, they were making 27 different wines. "By 1995 it had come down to around 16. We cut that in half in one fell swoop." The third-generation Mondavis also invested in new facilities, upgraded vineyards and brought their winemaking in line with modern practices — spending $30 million in the past decade. The results of all this effort have been increasingly apparent. Their Charles Krug wines, which now number eight in all, are very soundly made, estate-grown and priced below many comparable Napa Valley offerings.
We tasted through the lineup, and I found myself especially fond of the 2008 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc ($16) and 2007 Charles Krug Chardonnay ($18). The 2006 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon ($23) and 2007 Charles Krug Zinfandel ($25) also impressed, with good concentration, excellent varietal character and well-managed tannins.
Mondavi also confided that, because the Robert Mondavi winery, brand and name are now owned by Constellation Brands, one of the largest winery holding companies in the world, he and his family cannot use their name for the winery. A thin line reading "Peter Mondavi Family," in small type under the elegant Charles Krug label script, is the only acknowledgment of their ownership. They do, however, also own and produce less expensive wines under the CK Mondavi label.
It is clear that the $30 million investment the Mondavi family has made is paying off in terms of much better wines. Still, I cannot help but wonder about the impact of the branding, left over from long-ago days. The real Charles Krug made jug wines — good jug wines. Maybe the Charles Krug label should return to those roots, and let CK Mondavi become the premium label.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.