krug_wines_web_locateGrapelines: Napa Valley's oldest winery leads industry through innovation

by Lou Marmon

The 150th anniversary of the Napa Valley's oldest winery, Charles Krug, will be celebrated this summer. With a $21.6 million renovation of its winemaking facilities and vineyards under way, the winery is positioning itself to remain a leader of California's wine industry.

The winery's story began when the 27-year-old Krug left Germany in 1847 and became a teacher in Philadelphia. Inspired by the French Revolution, he returned home the next year to participate in the unsuccessful attempt to establish a German Republic and was imprisoned for nine months. He returned to Philadelphia in 1851, eventually moving to California to serve as the editor of the West Coast's first German newspaper. Over the next several years, he worked as a farmer, road builder, gold and silver refiner, and clerk in the San Francisco Mint. In 1858, a farmer hired Krug to make wine from grapes grown in the Napa Valley. Using a cider press, Krug bottled nearly 1,200 gallons of the first wine ever made in the region. Several other local farmers subsequently hired him to make their wines and in 1861, he set up his own winery on the site of the current facility.

Despite an 1874 cellar fire and other hardships, Krug persisted in his belief that the Napa Valley could become a center of quality wine production. He was among the first to bottle vintage-dated California varietal wines and constantly sought out the best locations to grow premium grapes in the Napa region. Besides serving in various civic capacities, Krug also established the St. Helena Viticultural Society and the Napa and Sonoma Wine Company.

Upon Krug's death in 1893, James Moffitt purchased the property, and then sold it to Ceseare and Rosa Mondavi in 1943. When Cesare died in 1959, Rosa took over and with their sons, Peter and Robert, maintained the high standards and spirit of innovation that characterized Charles Krug wines. In 1966, Peter assumed control of Charles Krug's operations and Robert moved to Oakville to establish his own winery.

Peter Mondavi was the first to use French oak barrels in Napa, and developed several other winemaking advances including glass-lined tanks and cold sterile filtration. He was also among the first to recognize the potential of the Carneros region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. His sons, Marc and Peter Jr., are now at the helm.

Releases include an upper tier "Family Reserve" along with a tasting-room only "Limited Release" series. Regular bottlings are widely available, including the Charles Krug Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18), a refreshing, very fruit-forward wine displaying peach, guava and green apple flavors with nice, crisp citrus acidity and a long finish.

Also worth trying is the lemon and pineapple-scented Charles Krug Carneros Chardonnay 2009 ($20) with orange peel, vanilla and apricot notes in a medium-bodied, slightly sweet frame and only a touch of oakiness.

Grapes sourced from different vineyards were used to create the Charles Krug CarnerosNapa Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($25) that has spicy black fruit aromas including plum, dark cherry and currants that progress smoothly into strawberries and cranberries accented with some toasty oak.

Plums, coffee and red berries predominate in the tasty Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot 2007 ($24), while the Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($27) is more floral, with cassis, cedar and blackberries in a restrained style that has good balance and finish.


Charles Krug Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18)

Charles Krug Carneros Chardonnay 2009 ($20)

Charles Krug CarnerosNapa Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($25)

Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot 2007 ($24)

Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($27)