A Visit to Charles Krug, Napa Valley’s Oldest Wine Estate #CaliforniaWineMonth

wine glasses awaiting tasters near an original Charles Krug winery building

  • Which wine estate is recognized as the oldest in California’s most famous wine region?
  • Which wine estate hosted the first tastings in their own tasting room in California’s most famous wine region?

If you answered Napa Valley’s Charles Krug to both questions, you’re correct! I didn’t know until I visited that Charles Krug is a pioneering person and an iconic winery located in the midst of Napa Valley near St Helena that makes fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon based wines!

And since September is California Wine Month, it’s the perfect time to call attention to this historic winery, owned by the Mondavi family since 1943.

On a warm spring day in May, Clos des Amis owner and co-winemaker Gretel Mays Compton and I made a trip to Napa for the Battonage (women in wine) event as well as the barrel tasting at Castello di Amorosa with head of winemaking Brooks Painter.

This happy crew of tasting room professionals is waiting to for you at Charles Krug! And what a wall of wine behind them!

A quick call to my friend Jim Morris set us up for a visit the following day which found us cruising down the olive tree lined lane. We parked under shady trees near a grassy lawn not far from the tracks of the Napa Valley Wine Train which stops here and strolled the path to the large history building.

The olive trees aren’t just ornamental: the olives are used to make olive oil which is available at the onsite Cucina di Rosa and can be purchased at the winery or online.

HISTORY The Prussian born Charles Krug apprenticed with several winemakers before he began making his own wine not long after he became a US citizen in 1852. After marrying Carolina Bale –who had a dowry of 540 acres of prime Napa Valley land — he planted grapes and established his winery there in 1861.

INNOVATIONS As a pioneer in the wine industry, Charles Krug’s innovations included using a cider press, carefully selecting rootstocks, and paying attention to vineyard sites.  He also created the first tasting room in the Napa Valley.

MONDAVI When Krug died, James Moffitt Sr bought the property, but it wasn’t until 1943 when Robert Mondavi convinced his parents to buy the defunct winery that wine was made again on the property. They resurrected the Charles Krug name as an homage to the man who they see started it all. Today the winery is owned by Robert’s brother Peter and his family.

Yes my buddy Jim also goes to Burning Man and we’ve hung out together on Cabernet Day in Black Rock City! Stay tuned for our 2020 Cabernet Day plans in BRC!!

It was clear to Gretel and I that we hadn’t planned enough time for our visit to Charles Krug! Next time we’d definitely plan to have enough time for a tour of the wonderful restored buildings and the beautiful grounds plus eat! The pizza and the salami and everything there looked so good!

MENU As I thought about what we wanted to do for California Wine Month, I knew I wanted to recognize Charles Krug and share the photos from our visit so I contacted Jim and he sent along several samples: Sauvignon Blanc and two cabernet based blends. Gretel offered to host us — Sue and her SO John, plus Gretel’s partner Bruce Freeman. We paired the wines with classic California fare: steak and potatoes and ceasar salad and squash! We also did appetizers including goat cheese and crusty sourdough for the Sauvignon Blanc plus salami and venison sausage bites for the Cabernet.

2018 Charles Krug St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc
SRP $18 – 13.5% alcohol
Sample for my review consideration.

Following a great growing season, grapes for this mostly estate grown sauvignon blanc were handpicked, then cold soaked on the skins for 6-8 hours, then pressed to enhance the aromatics. The juice was cold  fermented in stainless steel for further preservation of aromatics as well as flavor. pH — 3.36; TA — 0.57g/100ml

Color: Pale yellow

Nose: Florals and fruit, smells like Sauv Blanc, with plenty of citrus, especially lime and grapefruit.

Palate: White stone fruit, peachy up front with lemon on the back. On the verge of the gooseberry side. Nice supple body.

Pairing: I loved it with the creamy fresh  goat cheese– it is so smooth and lovely with the wine. Bruce said he could use this to choke down a Dodger Dog– I think that was a compliment! Good with a triple cream brie as long as it has fresh berries. Fantastic with the Chevoo marinated goat cheese. We had three Chevoo and found it best with the Dill Pollen and Garlic one. Not surprisingly it was great with the Ceasar salad. It actually goes nicely with a bit of salami as well making it a perfect appetizer, and salad wine, but it’s not substantial enough for heaver fare than say a white fish.

In a coursed  meal this works as a greeter, appetizer, salad, or soup course; with soups think, creamy, but not too creamy, and think seafood or veggie soups, not root based soups. It doesn’t like to compete with foods too high in sugar like squash and sweet potato, but can handle regular potato, so would be a great companion with leek and potato soup.

2016 Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
SRP $39 – 14.5% alcohol
Blend: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec; 18 months in French oak. Sample for my review consideration.

Color: Medium density, garnet

Nose: Vanilla, cherry, cherry cola, cigar box, This is a wine that you think about when you think of Napa Cabs. Nice herbal notes, menthol, eucalytus.

Palate: Rich red and black fruit: cherry, blackberry. Sue found cherry jolly ranchers up front and cherry cough syrup like robutussin on the finish. Tobacco, leather, menthol at the back of the throat. Bruce: “It is seamless.” Me: “It is seamless because they have integrated a balance.”  Bruce also felt there was a lack of grip, which is what many want. This is a very smooth wine. or as Bruce put it, “Fat old man wine.” Long, lingering finish.

People tell me all the time they want a “smooth” wine. This wine delivers — especially when you are eating something rich with some fat to it!

Pairing: Sue made some squash goat cheese puff pastry roll ups for an appetizer which worked perfectly with this wine. Sue also wrapped some spicy venison sausage in puff pastry which I really loved. Great with blue cheese, better yet, add a few blue cheese crumbles on top of the venison puff pastry bite or blue cheese on a ribeye steak: The saltiness in the blue cheese and the steak compliments the fruity boldness of the wine. It is the same with a bit of blue cheese on the roasted squash; it just works well.

Think gamey meat stews over polenta, steaks with blue cheese melted over the top, buffalo burger with caramelized onion and blue cheese.

Think last course in a coursed meal.

2015 Charles Krug Family Reserve Generations
SRP $70 – 15.5% alcohol
Blend: 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot
Sample for my review 

This Bordeaux-style blend honors the Mondavi family’s past, present and future.  The dry year and hot summer led to a small harvest in 2015 that was night-picked from estate vineyards in Yountville,  and aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels.  pH — 3.78; TA — 0.61g/100ml

Color: Dark dense garnet with a fuschia rim.

Nose: Bruce pointed out that it was a bit high in VA (volatile alcohol) so give it an hour to blow off so you can get to the nose — or decant. Once you get to the fruit through the alcohol, you can pick up ripe rich cherry fruit, blueberry, and tobacco.

Palate: Very fruit forward and fun!

This wine will make you want to dance!

High in alcohol and fruit, it’s very celebratory and keeps a party going on the dance floor — or your palate! Full bodied and dense with a long, lingering finish of fruit and vanilla.

Pairing: Not great with the smoked salt and rosemary marinated goat cheese but wow, what a wonderful wine for food! Fantastic with the venison pastry puffs, even better when blue cheese is added, seriously, it’s to die for.

This wine and food though! Oh!

Absolutely decadent with the Snowdonia cheese company herb and garlic aged cheddar. Wow! what a punch of lovely flavors: the savory cheese brings out brilliant fruit in the wine, yet tames the sweetness of the fruit and balances the palate with a garlic herbal yum. The two together have a perfect complexity.

Really quite lovely with the oven roasted sweet potato. This wine brings baking spices of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg — even if none of these spices have been added to the potato and they are simply roasted in the oven! As a vegetarian, Sue would pair this wine with an oven roasted sweet potato soup with sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches. As a meat eater, I wanted to have this wine anytime any day with a perfectly grilled steak topped with blue cheese and a side of baked potato topped with butter. Also great with rich winter squash. butternut squash, kobach.

Still to come: Charles Krug Merlot for #MerlotMe during October, plus comparing a $125 Charles Krug with a $125 Don Melchor from Chile– wines that would make a wonderful gift for that special someone, and a finally a Charles Krug Chenin Blanc because it is time to think about wines for your Thanksgiving table!

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