So in returning to Napa I wanted to take a slightly different approach and explore the old and the new, and find out what has changed and what has stayed the same in this historic region.
What better place to start, therefore, than Napa Valley's first winery, Charles Krug, which was established in 1861? It is named after the Prussian immigrant who was likely the first European to recognize the potential of Napa Valley for growing grapes, and was acquired 67 years ago by the family whose name is, and probably will always be associated with American wines, Mondavi.
Peter Sr. and Robert Mondavi are the sons of Cesare Mondavi who was an Italian immigrant and purchased the Charles Krug Winery in 1943. The brothers worked at the winery, Peter as Vice President and Robert as GM until a bitter and well publicized feud split them apart, with Robert leaving the company and setting up his own winery down the valley, ostensibly out of spite. The family divisions have continued in some form to this day, but Charles Krug Winery is still very much controlled by the Peter Mondavi family (Peter Senior is in his 90s, Robert died in 2008), with Peter's sons Marc and Peter Jr. both taking active roles in its ongoing development and direction. In 2000, they embarked on a 10-year program to replant most of the vineyards they own (about 850 acres) and they have embraced the concepts of sustainable farming, following their grandfather's philosophy that if you treat the wine with respect it will show in the wine.
I was lucky to taste many of the current releases of Charles Krug yesterday, guided by Candace and Jim at the lovely, understated (by Napa standards) tasting room at the winery in St. Helena. I elected to taste only the wines that are available for general release, although they also have some reserve selections that are only available at the winery to visitors. Marc Mondavi was a presenter at last year's Kohler Food and Wine Experience and although I had an opportunity to meet with him, I was unable to attend the seminar he conducted. So the wines were quite a revelation! From 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Zinfandel (there it is again!) made with grapes grown right at the winery, to 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Pinot Noir from Carneros fruit, to the deeply rich, smoky 2008 Caberbet Sauvignon (made from Napa grapes) and red-fruit dominated Merot and finally the beguiling 2008 "Generations" a Bordeaux-style blend that is created and approved each year by "the family", these wines are indeed worthy of the heritage that the Mondavi family has created and the history that it has imparted in The Valley.
From the old, I moved to the new. Along Route 29, on the west side of the valley, lies so many wineries that it is almost intoxicating in itself. But I noticed a name that is relatively new and that I had not visited before, Alpha Omega. Only 5 years old, this is one of Napa's newest boutique wineries. It is a partnership between owners Robin Baggett (who also owns Tolosa Winery in San Luis Obispo) and Eric Sklar (a Napa grower with 30 years experience), together with Jean Hoefliger, a Swiss who has made wines for such exalted names as Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Carbonnieux and South Africa's Meerlust, and renowned wine consultant/superstar, Frenchman, Michel Rolland. This unlikely menage a quatre is creating wines that are quite simply spectacular! I tasted four as part of their regular winery offering. The 2010 (new vintage) Sauvignon Blanc is made from grapes right outside the winery. These are the only grapes that actually are grown here as the flat valley was described to me as being almost like a swamp - not good for other grapes, but excellent for Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is an entrancing combination of Bordeaux-style SB, with roundness and fruit, combined with the higher acidity you would find in a Sancerre or a New Zealand example. Wonderful wine. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a special wine, but at $84 a bottle it should be. It has highly extracted fruit, soft tannins and heady aromas that would be wonderful with red meats or game. The 2007 Proprietary Red is, to my palate, even more refined, but no less expensive at $86 per bottle. The company's tasting notes mention "