Peter Mondavi Jr., regardless of anything else (and there are a lot of anything elses with the Mondavi family), knows wine. He is the son of Peter and the nephew of Robert, two men who are among the handful who have helped California wine become some of the best in the world.
So when Peter Jr. offers his perspective on the state of the wine business, as he did during a recent visit to Fort Worth, it’s worth paying attention. Today, Peter runs the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley, which one part or another of the Mondavi family has owned since 1943. One of his goals? To make wine drinkers once again associate the family name with quality wine. This is something that hasn’t happened much given the focus on the Mondavis’ various personal and financial woes – mostly on uncle Robert’s side of the family -- over the past decade.
“It’s incumbent upon our half of the family to show the Mondavis in as different a light as possible,” he says. “We want to continue the family name and heritage.”
So far, so good. Peter Jr. has been aggressively upgrading the quality of the Charles Krug wine since the late 1990s, both in the barrel room and in the vineyard. The winery has cut the quantity of wine produced in half and replanted two-thirds of the family acreage with varietals more suited to Napa Valley and the American palate.
His objective is to become a mid-sized, family-run winery like Napa counterparts St. Supery and Merryvale, producing well-regarded, mid-priced wines. Charles Krug’s current releases show he has made significant strides in that direction.
The 2006 sauvignon blanc ($18) has more citrus than most California sauvignon blancs, but it also has the region’s tropical fruitiness. I don’t know that it’s a better wine than the best from New Zealand, but it is a well-made one. The 2004 cabernet sauvignon ($26) is practically a steal, given how expensive Napa cabernet has become. It has classic Napa structure without any of the over the top fruit and tannins typical of so many Napa wines. The 2003 Generations ($42), a Bordeaux-style red blend, is deep and powerful now and should only get better with age. Again, if wine this pricey could be considered a bargain, this one is.
Peter Jr. also talked about trends in the wine business, and especially in Napa:
• He is convinced that high alcohol in wines – chardonnays at 14.5 percent and cabernet at 15 percent – is a product of better quality grapevines. Technology, through improved farming and grafting techniques, has produced vines that stay healthier longer and so produce more sugar, which leads to more alcohol in the wines.
• Ironically, Charles Krug’s wines are low in alcohol – just 13.6 for the Generations. Does Peter Jr. know why? “Not really,” he says with a laugh. “That’s just how it works for us.”
• Expect to see wine prices, especially for Napa, continue to skyrocket. That great $20 cabernet could be a thing of the past, and there will be more wines costing $50 and up.
• Also expect to see the multi-nationals dominate the production of inexpensive wine, since they’re able to use economies of scale that aren’t available to smaller producers.
• The globalization of palates, in which wine is made to a certain style regardless of where it’s made, will continue. This is another function of the increasing numbers of multi-nationals in the wine business.