For the last half century, the Mondavi name has been synonymous with successful Napa Valley winemaking. In a region with well over 500 wineries, only a handful can claim the same legacy and passion that defines Charles Krug Winery, and the Mondavi family. Speaking with Peter Mondavi Jr., we learned what it means to earn such acclaim in this great region, and how he has expanded upon his family’s foundation.
Peter’s grandfather, Cesare Mondavi, purchased Charles Krug Winery in 1943, spearheading a dramatic renaissance that would flourish throughout the next decade and beyond. Over 70 years later, Peter and his brother Marc carry the torch, staying true to his family’s roots, while paving the path for Charles Krug Winery into the future. The winery’s rich history paired with the Mondavi Family’s pioneering vision has brought consistent success to the oldest winery in the Napa Valley. So how do they do it?
“It’s two things,” Peter says, “and I don’t think one would survive without the other. One is the commitment to one hundred percent family owned business. No partners, or anything like that, but just absolute one hundred percent commitment to it. That’s one aspect, and the other aspect, equally important, is just the pure passion that we have for Napa Valley winemaking, and the area we live in. It’s the passion and the love that we have for our product.”
With such a reputation and legacy, it could be argued that Peter’s family and team have found a recipe for success in this winning combination of passionate, family-owned winemaking. But in an industry so heavily dependent on variable factors, there is no cookie-cutter method to this madness. At Charles Krug Winery, they live by a much simpler philosophy of consistently striving to innovate and improve on the quality of their wines, while staying honest to their house style.
“Winemaking today is, roughly speaking, half science—half art. What truly defines us, and every other winery here in the Napa Valley is the art form. I think it boils down to the experiential. You have to continue to taste the wines, and experience them through their evolution—not only from a grape to bottle, but also from bottle through aging, and to see how they express themselves and develop. And you have to do that vintage after vintage. Maybe everyone won’t love each one, but as an art form—people don’t universally love every piece of art. The same goes with wine.”
Vintage after vintage, year after year, there are so many things that can go wrong in this process. When you throw the region’s water issues and a rapidly changing climate into the mix, you either innovate and adapt, or you fail. Historically speaking, however, there haven’t been many quantum leaps in improving quality.
“What truly defines us, and every other winery here in the Napa Valley is the art form.”
“I mean, years ago when my dad was first starting in the 40’s and 50’s, you could do a couple notable things. He researched and implemented cold fermentation. In ‘63 he introduced French oak barrels to the Napa Valley. In those days, American oak wasn’t produced for winemaking. You want American oak? Here’s a whiskey barrel.”
As a winemaker, you simply do what you can in an attempt to produce consistent quality year after year. Given the recent drought in the region, it’s clear that water is going to be a huge issue for the wine industry going forward, “…from the standpoint of not only improving quality but trying to minimize the use of water and making sure we have a long-term, viable plan for our vineyard.”
At the end of the day, we remember why they do it in the first place: for the experience. Whether it’s Sunday Dinner with your family or a night on the town with friends, when it comes to truly experiencing the art of wine, Peter says it’s about the people you share it with. “Great friends, great conversation, supplemented around this venue of wonderful food and wines that complement the situation. And time just passes without you knowing.”
The wine industry: It’s part farming, part chemistry, part branding, and entirely art. Producing and selling wine is a process we think we know, but beyond the glass lies the real story of a winery and its winemakers. The Napa Valley Film Festival team is proud to share the inspirational behind-the-vines stories we’ve had the pleasure of learning from our Vintner Circle members with you.