After the Fires: Spotlight on Charles Krug Winery

Drink Features Charles Krug
After the Fires: Spotlight on Charles Krug Winery

The Charles Krug winery has been operating since 1861, which I believe makes it the oldest winery in Napa Valley. Krug was a technological innovator and a pioneer in winemaking innovation. He also believed in sharing best practices and creating community, and founded a viticultural society for winemakers in Napa to lean on for tips, support and camaraderie. He also opened the first public tasting room in the valley. So, you could say they had a lot to lose. Happily, the gorgeous grounds were spared during the most recent complex of wildfires, the facility is intact and they’re open for business. They are using that fortunate position to raise funds for less lucky neighbors: Their “Thanks. Giving” relief effort will donate 20% of tasting room sales in November (up to $20K) to the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Co-proprietors Peter Jr. and Marc Mondavi noted: “Although there were some close calls, the winery is unscathed and in good shape, as are all of our vineyards. We applaud the inspiring work of first responders, firefighters, and volunteers who have helped so many people get back on their feet as this whole area starts the return to normalcy.”

Paste checked in with Peter Mondavi Jr. for a snapshot of life at Charles Krug in the aftermath of the worst of the wildfires.

Paste: How are your employees holding up and what’s on your mind at this point?

Peter Mondavi Jr.: Fortunately, all of our employees are safe, and none have lost their homes. Many were evacuated at various points during the fires, and some have not yet been able to return to their homes. Many if not most of us have friends or colleagues that have lost homes in the fires. We’re back at work now and focusing on the winemaking process for this year’s vintage and are thinking about/assessing the damage to see who is most in need. The winery was out of power for a short time, 24-36 hours, and after that time we were able to resume harvest and other operations.

Paste: Had you already harvested when the fire broke out?

PM Jr.: We had most of our grapes into the winery before the fires broke out, except, as with many Napa Valley wineries, for some Cabernet Sauvignon. These grapes are being harvested now and assessment of the quality of the wines produced will be made in the future. We anticipate no impact on future vintages due to the fires.

?Paste: How does a large winery plan for an act of nature that might destroy your vineyards, your facilities, or your stockpile of produced or in-process wine?

PM Jr.: We are constantly monitoring conditions and seasonal shifts in our vineyards; once these fires have been fully contained, we will review how our landscapes and viticultural practices can be improved to further guard against wildfires in these areas. Improvements in infrastructure and procedures can always be made, and certainly some will come out of this years’ tragic fires.

Paste: The photos and video rolling in from Sonoma and Napa counties has been harrowing to look at. How does this compare to other events the valley has weathered?

PM Jr.: This is an unprecedented tragedy for wine country, the likes of which we hope to never see again. The Napa Earthquake from a few years ago certainly affected a number of people, but we’ve yet to see anything match the degree of this week’s events.

?? Paste: How do you determine damage to grapes, for example those that were still on the vines when the fires started? Is it obvious whether fruit has been tainted? (Cabernet has thick skin; I’d assume that’s a plus in this case?)

PM Jr.: Wines are assessed after fermentation; these wines (Napa’s in general, not Charles Krug’s) may vary widely by vineyard location and proximity to the fires. None of our 850 acres of vineyard were impacted by the fires, and no wineries suffered damage of any kind, so it luckily shouldn’t be an issue for us in any capacity.

C. Mondavi & Family CEO Judd Wallenbrock emphasizes the importance of supporting the wine regions in the aftermath of this tragic week. “Everyone can help support the recovery process for our beloved region by keeping California Wine Country in your travel plans — visit wineries, organize a weekend trip to the region, dine out at restaurants and continue to drink Napa wine.”

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