Charles Krug Winery
Charles Krug Winery

The Charles Krug Winery—including its vineyards and on-site tasting room—is located in St. Helena, California.

The Enduring Wine Legacy of Mondavi

Wine patriarch Peter Mondavi, Jr., reflects on Charles Krug’s continuing impact on the industry.

Peter Mondavi, Jr., comes from American wine royalty. His grandfather, Cesare Mondavi, purchased the then 82-year-old Charles Krug Winery for $75,000 in 1943, well before California’s Napa Valley had cemented its reputation as a world-class wine region. Following Cesare’s death, his two sons fell out, with Robert Mondavi leaving to start his own eponymous label and his brother, Peter, Sr., taking Charles Krug to the next level.

“The whole family has been born and grew up in Napa Valley,” Peter Mondavi, Jr., says. “We really have roots here.”

This legacy and a lifetime spent immersed in the wine industry have lent Mondavi a rare vantage point; he’s watched the wine world change, and he’s also been a part of its evolution.  Along with his brother Marc, he is the co-proprietor of  C. Mondavi & Family, a company comprising Charles Krug Winery, CK Mondavi and Family, French Blue, West + Wilder, and Flat Top Hills.

When asked how the brand has stayed relevant through the decades, Mondavi doesn’t point to any one factor.

Charles Krug Winery

Peter Mondavi, Jr.

“I think there are a couple things. I think the family’s involvement, the engagement, and the passion the family has for the wine business translates into our employees, our salespeople, and our customers,” he says. “People are looking for authenticity, and we have that in spades.”

In terms of innovation, Charles Krug has an impressive resume. Mondavi’s father, Peter, Sr., is credited with pioneering the cold-fermentation process for white wines, a now standard practice, which protects the fermenting wine from oxygen. He was also the first vintner in Napa to utilize French oak barrels and among the earliest to develop vineyards in the Carneros region, a cooler area now famous for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

But beyond new viticulture strategies, one of the most important factors in the brand’s staying power has been its relationship with restaurants. Restaurants provide a space to develop new customers, Mondavi says, and those new customers help keep Charles Krug wines popular.

“Brands are built in restaurants,” he says.

Ordering wine by the glass, he adds, is a great way for guests who are unfamiliar with the brand, or perhaps a specific style, to sample the wine without making a commitment to a whole bottle. He says this is particularly important for younger demographics, who relish sampling different drinks rather than sticking to one.

“The younger group is much more experimental,” he says. “I like the concept of by-the-glass. … By-the-glass programs can be beneficial to introduce wine to that group.”

Mondavi’s thoughts on younger wine drinkers aren’t misplaced. Last fall, a Harris Poll revealed that consumers aged 21–34 (generally millennials and older members of Gen Z) are more likely to reach for a beer, spirits, and hard seltzer before choosing wine.

By contrast, wine is still the overwhelming drink of choice for consumers 65 and older.

The Charles Krug brand is aware of this trend and working to appeal to a younger customer base through updates like fresher packaging. It’s also leaning into the uptick in sales of premium products. Mondavi says that while overall consumption has remained relatively flat, total wine sales are actually up. He credits this increase to customers buying more premium products.

The numbers back up his position. According to research conducted by Future Market Insights, 54 percent of millennials reported they were more inclined to choose a premium beverage compared to other offerings.

Along with the rise of premium products, the past decade-plus has seen boutique wines popping up on restaurant menus, Mondavi says. More labels mean more competition.

One of the downsides of having so many labels and varietals on a wine list, Mondavi points out, is the risk of new staff not being as familiar with the brands during service. Given high turnover rates, it can be challenging for new restaurant hires to be as enthusiastic about brands they’ve yet to sample or even encounter.

“You lose that knowledge base and that enthusiasm,” Mondavi says.

Unlike new brands, Charles Krug has a broad, established presence, which helps in terms of patron and staff recognition. And to that point, it brings a certain stability to wine lists that might also feature more niche labels.

“You need brands like Charles Krug that are very well-proven, very high quality, and that people are comfortable ordering,” he says.

For businesses with as much history as Charles Krug, constantly looking to the future is imperative in staying relevant. For Mondavi, that means looking not only at the current landscape but also what’s coming down the pipeline.

“I look beyond the next several years,” he says. “We look more generationally.”

read more