It’s not often you hear a famous winery owner complain about bugs. But Peter Mondavi Jr., the co-proprietor of the Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley's oldest winery, has to fight with Mother Nature every day, like all vineyard owners.
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But, in this case, Mondavi is not going out to the vineyard with a can of Raid.
Because, while his goal is to protect his vines and grapes, he doesn’t want to hurt the environment. So, Mondavi, along with his brother Marc and their father, Peter Mondavi Sr., created a system of sustainable farming that satisfies everyone.
They are doing things like “leafing,” which involves dropping the basal leaves on each vine to an insect called the “leafhopper” by more than half.
They’ve installed 25 bluebird and eight bat boxes at the winery. These birds and bats happen to love the taste of the blue-green sharpshooter, an insect known to spread a vine-damaging disease.
“We love the reaction of customers when they learn that bats and bluebirds play an important part in the making of their favorite Charles Krug wines,” says Mondavi.
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And back in 2005, they enrolled about 150 acres in the Fish Friendly Farming Program for the Napa River watershed, preserving local fish and wildlife habitat.
So, while Charles Krug, which celebrated its 150th year anniversary last year, continues to produce its award-winning Bordeaux-style wines, it is simultaneously protecting Mother Earth.
Questions for Our Wine Pro
What is your death row wine?
I have no plans of being there (!) but if you must, please see "best wine and food pairing” below.
What region produces the best wine?
The best wine! I think that’s really a very personal choice. It makes a difference what you’re eating with the wine, whom you’re with, even what the weather is like! I’m a firm believer that the Europeans have refined the expertise of serving wine with a meal, and I’ve found that a local wine is almost always perfect for the local food. When I’ve been in northern Italy, for example, I love Tuscan wines paired with richly flavored pasta graced with their local ragù. In the south, with a tangy tomato dish, I love a crisp local white wine. Sometimes, with a pizza in Napa Valley, I can’t help but reach for a glass of Zinfandel, a spicy compliment.
What is the best wine and food pairing you’ve ever had?
We do what we call “Grill Your Own” feasts at the winery from time to time and when we do, I’ve realized I am always wowed by our Vintage Selection Cabernet paired with a dry-aged bone-in New York strip, grilled rare. The Vintage Selection cabernet is our flagship wine-and the current vintage, the 2008, earned 92 points from Robert Parker. 2008 provided a real mélange of great conditions that yielded flavors of nutmeg, brown sugar, blueberries and black cherries layered with toasty oak. It’s luscious. The steak gets a sprinkle of sea salt and a wisp of my dad’s extra virgin olive oil sourced from the olive trees at the winery. There’s nothing like a simple preparation and a straightforward pairing--great aged beef and a fully balanced rich Cabernet-- to allow both the wine and the food shine. It’s a perfect pairing.
When I feel like drinking a white wine, I reach for our Sauvignon Blanc. Again, the simplest pairing is the one that is the most satisfying. I’ll drizzle a chunk of bread with a little olive oil, spread on soft goat cheese and pour a glass of sauvignon blanc to go with it. That’s a favorite pairing.
What will the U.S. wine industry look like in 10 years?
The wine industry will be more consolidated and larger (both wineries and distributors) than it is today, but I think it will continue to be a vibrant, healthy business. Wine regions will become even more specialized in which varietals they grow and produce; grape growers and wine makers both will fine-tune their choice of grapes specifically to what works best in their vineyards. And the consumer will be the beneficiary of that through better wine. We’ve already started doing that in our Napa Valley vineyards when we significantly replanted many of them beginning around 15 years ago, guided by all we’ve learned over the years. I also feel that wine as part of a meal will become more a part of the American food culture, as is has in Europe, and that is a welcome evolution!