Peter Mondavi, Sr. sat smiling at the crowd, receiving a steady stream of well-wishers like the royalty of winemaking that he is, a twinkle in his eye and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in his hand. He patiently shook hands, clinked glasses and toasted, all in celebration of the 150 year anniversary of Charles Krug Winery on Saturday, September 10, 2011. Owned by the Mondavi family since 1943, Peter took over in 1966, bringing innovations in cold fermentation for white varietals, resulting in crisp, fruity wines, aging wine in small French oak barrels and planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Carneros region, where they thrive in the cool mist of bay fog. Still spry at 96 ½ he insists on coming to work every day, despite the fact that his two sons, Peter Jr. and Marc, are capably running day to day operations. In a speech later that day Peter Sr. said he still has many ideas about how to improve the winery and Peter Jr. joked that his dad still had to keep an eye on him and his brother.
A highlight of the day was a special side-by-side pouring of 1966 and 1986 Vintage Selection Cabernet upstairs in the Carriage House. It was quite an honor to taste the 1966 Cabernet—very earthy and leathery on the nose, with a silky smooth mouthfeel and no tannins. The 1986 Cabernet demonstrated more structure and was rich with dark fruit and herbal overtones. A new release, a 2008 Cabernet honoring the 150th anniversary, was fruit forward with lots of berry flavors and great structure.
On display in the carriage house was the original cider press used by Charles Krug to make wine, a piece of history linking the past to the present. His innovative spirit led him to build the first winery in the Napa Valley, ushering in a new era. Innovation and leadership are maintained by Peter Mondavi Sr. and the extended Mondavi family.
Outside on the lawn the annual Tasting on the Lawn event, attended by an estimated 1,100 people under clear skies and pleasantly warm temperatures, featured entertainment by the popular Steely Dan cover band, Steely Scam, regaling the crowd with some wicked guitar playing. Food stations around the enormous lawn included a very popular burrito table, delectable wood fired thin-crust fig and gorgonzola pizza served with 2008 St. Helena Zinfandel, a decadently rich duck slider, thinly sliced, succulent grilled lamb paired with 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir and a shrimp salad served in a phyllo cup with 2009 Carneros Chardonnay.
At 3:00 pm Peter Mondavi, Jr. took the stage, flanked by four generations of Mondavis to read the proclamation from the Governor of California, Edmund G. Brown Jr. dubbing September 10 “Charles Krug Winery Day.” His proclamation cited Charles Krug’s contributions to California wine, and saluted the winemaking innovations of Peter Mondavi Sr. during his nearly 70 years at the original Mondavi family winery. Peter Sr. then read a speech he had prepared, detailing the history of the winery and humbly crediting his success to his parents, Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi. Straying from his prepared remarks a few times to provide colorful anecdotes and sly humor generated rounds of applause from an appreciative audience who clearly valued seeing the master vintner obviously enjoying good health and vigor in his ninth decade.
Tastings on the Lawn were started in 1951 as an enjoyable venue where the winemaking family could meet their customers, and educate visitors about fine wine. In the United States at that time, the wine industry was known more for ‘jug’ wines and not varietal wines. This Charles Krug tradition is believed to have been the first wine celebration of its kind, and went on to inspire myriad other Wine Country tasting events. The Tastings on the Lawn continue to today, drawing visitors to the spacious estate to enjoy the company of friends and family in an informal setting while appreciating good food and wine.
See related article:150th anniversary of tastings on the lawn at Charles Krug Winery
Charles Krug Winery
2800 Main Street
St. Helena, CA
Tasting on the Lawn
Held annually mid-September
Tickets will be available online next year at www.charleskrug.com
To reach Charles Krug Winery from San Francisco by automobile (about 1.5 hours, depending on traffic)
- Take the Bay Bridge and head east on Hwy 80
- Take Hwy 37 west
- Take Napa/Sonoma Blvd exit
- Turn right on Hwy 29 north
- Continue on Hwy 128
- Arrive at 2800 Main St, St. Helena