It was a small gathering at Maui Culinary Academy in Kahului Monday night, but Peter Mondavi Jr. more than filled the room as the larger-then-life speaker.
He's the third-generation member of the famous family that owns and operates C. Mondavi & Sons, and he's co-proprietor of Charles Krug Winery with his father, Peter Sr., and his brother, Marc.
"Charles Krug was the first commercial winery in Napa Valley," he told the small group of wine enthusiasts. "If you work the math, the winery will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year."
Maui Culinary Academy’s Chris Speere (left) and Peter Mondavi, Jr. enjoy some wine Monday night at Bistro Casanova after the famous proprietor spoke at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
To put it in perspective, "1861 was the same year that Lincoln was inaugurated as president, and when the Civil War broke out," Mondavi said.
Krug was a Prussian immigrant with ideas never before seen in America. In the 1880s, he built the Carriage House, and he had an unfortunate fire in his cellars.
"The Carriage House won the Governor's Historic Preservation Award. We now use it for entertaining," said Mondavi.
By 1889, Napa Valley had 140 wineries, including Inglenook, Schramsburg and Beringer. In fact, Jacob Beringer was Krug's first winemaker.
"Charles Krug passed away in 1892. The banker who had financed the winery for him, Moffitt, took over ownership in 1895. Then Krug's nieces and nephews leased it until 1920, when Prohibition hit. Then everything crashed."
Enter his grandparents, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, to America in 1908.
"That was the year they immigrated to America from?Italy through Ellis Island with just $30 in their pockets. My grandmother was just 18 years old."
The couple moved to the iron-mining town of Virginia, Minn. But Cesar "didn't like the work." So he started a saloon until Prohibition, well, prohibited the entrepreneur from making a living.
"So he started traveling to California and loaded grapes on ice blocks and brought them back to Minnesota via trains. He sold them to other Italians. Four barrels were OK for home consumption."
Then Cesare, Rosa and their four kids moved to Lodi,, Calif., and the patriarch bought Charles Krug in 1943.
"By then it was down to 150 acres with the historical buildings and the brand name. He paid $75,000. It was a good investment back then."
Peter Sr. and his older brother Robert grew up and became involved in the family business. Andre Tchelistcheff, who was the country's most important post-Prohibition winemaker, and Louis Martini were pals and added their insights.
Then in 1965, history was made as Peter Sr. and his brother Robert duked it out in the vineyards in the infamous fight that caused Robert to split from Krug.
"Robert split off and went on to create his own empire," says Mondavi. "He's since passed away, and his sons, Tim and Michael, and his daughter, Marcia, sold it in 2004 and now have their own ventures."
Then Krug started producing "what was selling. We made whatever people wanted. Cream sherries, tawny ports, vin roses, pinot blancs. We had a reckless disregard for the French and the Spanish way. For terroir. We had a little bit of everything."
The "pivotal moment in Napa Valley's history was the Judgement of Paris in 1976. The movie 'Bottle Shock' was just a loose interpretation."
Basically, two Napa Valley wines bested the French and it set the wine world on its ear that America could produce real wines. The win spawned "Wine Spectator " magazine and expert Robert Parker came into play and rated American wines.
"Apple was founded in 1976, and now it's the biggest thing on Wall Street. Things also started to rapidly change for the better in Napa after that tasting."
Over the years, the Mondavis continued to purchase acreage and improve their wine products. They now own vineyards in the highly acclaimed Howell Mountain area of Napa Valley as well as in Yountville and the Carneros wine region.
While their St. George rootstock has proven to be "bullet proof to the phylloxera bug," in the 1980s they replanted about 450 acres to the tune of $20 million, moved their vines closer together and updated their varietals. They also earthquake retrofitted their historic redwood cellars.
Many regulations have taken root in Napa. It became a federally mandated viticultural area, and so plots may not be subdivided to less than 40 acres. In addition, if a label says "Napa" on it, 75 percent of the wine must come from there.
"Today, there are over 400 wineries in Napa and it continues to grow."
After Mondavi's talk, the group moved the private room at Bistro Casanova for a tasting of 2008 Generations, a blend of 56 percent cabernet sauvignon along with merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. With its colors of red rose and garnet, and flavors of blackberry and candied cherries, it was rich and round. We also marvled in the tasting of his Vintage Select 2006 cabernet sauvignon, as well as the 2010 St. Helena Napa Valley sauvignon blanc.
He also sells other wines under the C.K. Mondavi label, and both labels are available at stores such as CVS Longs, Foodland, Times Supermarket and Whole Foods as well as select top restaurants.
"Maui Culinary Academy is so fortunate to host a leader in the wine industry of Peter Mondavi's stature," says Chris Speere, the program coordinator.
"Peter's presentation on the past and the present history of Charles Krug Winery was very informative. Meeting the people behind the product from farmers, ranchers, food producers to in this case, a world-renowned winemaker, is one of the greatest pleasures of the culinary profession."
Jim Powell, the vice president and Maui sales manager for Better Brands, which reps Charles Krug's products, agrees. "It's a pleasure to represent such an iconic family. They've made huge contributions to American wine culture. Peter really has it all going on. Yet he has his eyes on the tradition of the famous Charles Krug winery."
"I love Maui," Mondavi said. "I obviously go to Oahu because there are more hotels and restaurants to sell to, but I?like Maui for for enjoyment as well."
Mondavi was on island for four days with his wife, Katie, who is an internist. They dined at several restaurants such as DUO at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, Capische? at Hotel Wailea, and Nick's Fishmarket at the Fairmont Kea Lani.
On Sept. 10, Charles Krug will throw its 150th anniversary bash with tastings and top chefs. "If you're in Napa Valley then, come check it out," said Mondavi.