Pinot Noir from 1946 Takes the Prize
St. Helena, May 1 — To mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s first winery, the Peter Mondavi Sr. family has concluded its hunt for a small piece of that history–the oldest Charles Krug wine bottle in existence. The winning bottle, a 1946 Charles Krug Pinot Noir, was submitted by Joe and Janet Smith of Pope Valley, CA.
Charles Krug Winery was the birthplace of the Napa Valley wine industry and its storied history traces the transformation of the Napa Valley from “Wild West” to Wine Country destination. For the contest, the Peter Mondavi family encouraged wine lovers to scour their wine cabinets, cellars, closets and caves for Charles Krug wine bottles dating from the pre-Prohibition era, or the Peter Mondavi Family era which began with the 1944 vintage.
“We were excited to see all the old bottles that turned up,” said Peter Mondavi Jr. “It was a trip down Memory Lane. We loved reading about everyone’s experiences of the wines made by my grandfather Cesare and my dad (Peter Mondavi Sr.).”
In all, entries spanning 50 years of Napa winemaking came in from states as far-flung as Florida and Alabama, with entrants photographing their bottles and posting them to the Charles Krug Winery Facebook page. Some of the bottles entered in the contest were inherited from parents; others had been purchased to mark a special celebration. Many entries were accompanied by inspiring stories from their owners.
Winner Joe Smith explained, “We drank the 1946 Pinot Noir when Janet, a returning adult student, graduated from Davis, and we kept the bottle as a souvenir in honor of her success. And the wine was great!”
The next oldest bottle uncovered in the search was just one year younger, a bottle of 1947 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, which is tucked away in Brian Fink’s wine cellar in Salt Lake City. Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider website had the opportunity to share a bottle of the same 1947 Cabernet at a recent dinner. He described its “silky palate with kirsch accents” and a “texture that only truly aged wines offer. “This was the finest older bottle of California wine I have ever tasted,” Leve wrote.
Charles Krug planted Mission grapes on the St. Helena estate he received in dowry with his marriage to Carolina Bale. That was in 1861, the year President Lincoln was inaugurated and the year the Civil War began. He soon replanted to European grape varietals, though, which he felt would make better wine. Charles Krug Winery has been in the Peter Mondavi Sr. Family since 1943.
Joe Smith’s winning 1946 Pinot Noir bottle will become part of Charles Krug Winery’s new history museum, which will include artifacts illustrating the last 150 years of Napa Valley winemaking. The exhibit will display a vintage 9000-gallon redwood wine fermentation tank and Charles Krug’s original basket press which he used to crush the first harvest at his fledgling winery. The estate’s 1872 Redwood Cellar, Napa Valley’s oldest operating winery building, will house the museum. On the National Register of Historic Places and a California Historic Landmark, the Redwood Cellar will also house the winery’s new visitor center, with construction to begin later this year.
Proprietors Peter Sr., sons Marc and Peter Jr., and now the fourth Mondavi generation, are all actively involved in the family business, while Peter Mondavi Jr. is the family steward behind Charles Krug. Having extensively replanted the winery’s estate vineyards with noble red Bordeaux varietals, and practicing sustainable viticulture on their 850 prime Napa Valley acres, efforts to steward the land and preserve the winery’s historical legacy are earning new respect for a family long identified with California wine. To learn more about Charles Krug and the vision of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, visit www.charleskrug.com.
Photo below; additional images available on request.
Peter Mondavi Sr. congratulates Joe Smith of Pope Valley, CA, during a recent visit to Charles Krug Winery.
Joe came up with the oldest Charles Krug wine bottle.
Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Napa’s First Winery–established in 1861.