Charles Krug Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley
C harles Krug is probably one of the oldest, most prestigious, most innovative wineries you’ve never heard of.
It is the oldest winery in Napa Valley, owned by the Mondavi family, specifically by Peter Mondavi, brother of the late Robert Mondavi, who everyone has heard of. The winery makes great wines, but only people who are really into wine and the history of California wine know much about Charles Krug.
That is starting to change as the company has had a string of strong vintages, and even casual wine drinkers are learning about Charles Krug. The current release of the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2012 Chardonnay are great examples. Both are fresh, bright delicious wines that pair well with food.
“What drives us is wine and food,” said Peter Mondavi, Jr., who with his brother Marc runs the winery. “We want to produce wines that go well with food.”
Both of the whites from the winery’s Napa Valley and Carneros series are great food wines. At about $3 less than the Chardonnay, the Sauvignon Blanc is an especially good buy.
It is a beautiful pale yellow in the glass, with a pleasant honeysuckle aroma. Lime and grapefruit flavors predominate, but there is a mellow, buttery flavor that reminded me more of a Chardonnay. That was surprising because the Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak.
Like most Charles Krug wines, the Sauvignon Blanc is produced from estate fruit.
“We have 500 acres under vine,” said Mondavi. “Virtually all of our wines are estate driven except for the Chardonnay. We tore the vines out as they were getting old, and replanted. We contracted with our neighbors for grapes until the new vines get established.”
While the Sauvignon Blanc is made in stainless steel, half of the Chardonnay was barrel fermented, aged sur lie five months in French oak. It is a bigger, bolder wine, but balanced with good acidity, crispness and minerality.
With the 2014 harvest coming in as the third straight outstanding vintage, Charles Krug continues to showcase its vineyards instead of tinkering with the wines in the winery.
“We are strong supporters of sustainable farming,” said Mondavi. The family vineyards participate in the Napa Green and Fish Friendly Farming programs.
“We need biodiversity,” he said. “Chemicals alter the characteristics of the wine. Using too many chemicals, the grapevines don’t have to work so hard and don’t produce great grapes.
“We are really focusing on classical, traditional techniques, refining those techniques. We take advantage of modern analytical techniques to understand each bloc, where the grapes are coming from. We are blessed to have quite a spectrum of lots to choose from when making our wine.”
Each bloc of vines will be slightly different from a neighboring bloc because of soil and micro-climate. The challenge is to produce the perfect blend, and the Mondavis have been doing it well for a long time.
“Making wine is not an exact science, especially the blending,” said Mondavi. “It is truly an art form.”
Charles Krug has expanded into the mountain regions of Napa Valley, and Mondavi said they look to do more of that.
“We bought a parcel on Howell Mountain, about 20 acres,” said Mondavi. “We are starting to produce our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.” It is part of their reserve wines available online or from the winery.
“We look to expand there. The reserve wines will focus on a Bordeaux style wine.”
Winery: Acknowledged as the oldest commercial winery in Napa Valley, Charles Krug was founded in 1861 by a Prussian immigrant of the same name. Krug was considered one of the major wine figures of his era, bringing many innovations such as the cider press and selection of rootstocks and vineyard sites.
When Krug died in 1892, James Moffitt held the winery until he sold it to Italian immigrant Cesare Mondavi for $75,000. Cesare died in 1959 after building the winery to one of the Napa powerhouses.
Cesare’s wife Rosa became president of the winery, with sons Robert as general manager and Peter as vice president. In 1966 Robert broke away to build his own winery in Oakville, Robert Mondavi Winery. Robert was an innovator and also built his winery into one of the area’s powerhouses.
Meanwhile, Peter became president of Charles Krug when his mother died in 1976. By 1999, the Napa Valley Vintners Association had named him one of 12 living legends for such innovations as research on cold fermentation, aging in small French oak barrels and planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the Carneros region.
Peter Sr. recently turned 100 and still participates in the business, though his sons Marc and Peter Jr. have taken leading roles. They have updated the winery’s equipment and replanted more than half of the winery’s vines.
The brothers have six children between them, and some of them have shown an interest in continuing the family winemaking tradition.
Peter Jr. has been working at the winery for most of his life, though he did look at alternatives. He said he is excited to be involved in all aspects of the business.
“My first paycheck at the vineyard was when I was eight years old, doing odd jobs,” he said in a phone interview. He studied mechanical engineering in college, getting two degrees, and did an internship in IT before coming back to the winery.
“This is a unique business,” he said. “It makes me very proud to be a part of this family. It is aspirational to shepherd the business on to the next generation. And it is daunting.
“The challenges of the future will involve water, labor–especially in the vineyards–and the global climate is changing. But distribution to our customers is probably the biggest thing.
“The number of distributors is shrinking as the number of winemakers is growing. They are all going through fewer distributors. So direct to consumers is growing.”
The winery sells online and from the winery. Their limited production reserve wines have been doing especially well through direct sales. Most of the current release reserve wines have been sold out.
They produce wines in several layers of quality, focusing on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.
The family also has the CK Mondavi label, which produces well-made value wines in the $8-12 range.
Goes with: The Krug Sauvignon Blanc went surprisingly well with broiled lobster tails. The winery says the Chardonnay is a great match for lobster, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be any better than the Sauvignon Blanc.
I do like odd pairings, so we thought we’d try the Sauvignon Blanc. I had the Chardonnay ready to open if this didn’t work out, but the pairing was spectacular. The citrus flavors were the perfect counterpoint to the sweet lobster meat dunked in butter.
My wife Teri loved the match as much as I did. I don’t know if it was the pairing or the way the wine was made, but I thought I detected a slight buttery taste in the wine, which I expect from a Chardonnay, but not Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was well-rounded and mellow, but with the crispness and minerality I expect from a Sauvignon Blanc.
It should pair well with all kinds of seafood, grilled chicken or turkey, and mild cheeses. Serve it well chilled.
Author Dennis Sodomka