This past Wednesday it was my pleasure to attend a tasting of Charbonos at Felidia in New York hosted by the Wine Media Guild. While Charbono has a long history it currently exists as a cult varietal. No one seems to know exactly how many acres of Charbono are under vine, but everyone agrees it's less than 100. A large percentage of that 100 is in Napa Valley with the rest spread through other areas of California. Such is the appeal of this grape to believers, that until 1989 there was a Charbono Society, that held annual dinners in the Napa Valley area. My personal introduction to Charbono was an early 1990's visit to Napa Valley and specifically the tasting room of now defunct Bayview Cellars. The luncheon on Wednesday was notable for several reasons. Chief amongst them was the presence of the Charbonos themselves. The 14 wineries that had wines being poured, represent every single current producer of this grape, as well as one who no longer does. In total almost 30 Charbonos were poured. That in itself is impressive to anyone with a keen interest in wine and a sense of adventure. The presence of several wine makers and folks representing wineries in one form or another was also key to making this a special tasting and luncheon.
Sally Ottoson from Pacific Star Winery was amongst the featured speakers. She's been referred to as the Queen of Charbono. Her winery is located north of Fort Bragg California. In addition to speaking, Sally brought along 6 vintages of her Charbono dating as far back as 1990. Each was interesting in its own way. Her 1997 Venturi Charbono was one of my absolute favorites of the tasting. I found the hallmarks of her Charbono style to be soft, perfumed and well balanced. In many ways her wines put me in the mind of fine Burgundies. This is never a bad thing. In addition to these wines she brought her Charbera. A 50/50 blend of Charbono and Barbera, it was poured with our meal. As with her Charbonos the Charbera was well balanced and food friendly. Sally spoke to us about her Charbono experience and her wine industry history which dates back to the early 70's in Napa Valley. There is no question she's a winemaker passionate about what she does, in general, and specifically driven to help bring Charbono a bit more acclaim.
Coincidentally the other Charbono that really knocked me out the most was the 2005 from On the Edge Winery. I say coincidentally because they were also represented at the luncheon. Paul Smith the owner and Winemaker of On The Edge was one of the other featured speakers. Paul brought 4 vintages of his Charbono with him. His winery is in Calistoga and he sources his Charbono at the Frediani Vineyard. One of the other fascinating aspects of this tasting was the fact that several vineyard sources were represented by more than one winery. Frediani was one of those. Paul Smith's 2005 Charbono was the other favorite I alluded to. His Charbono shows some bright fruit, spiciness and a firm but gentle mouthfeel. While it's drinking well now I imagine it's going to be even better down the road. Paul also spoke for awhile about Charbono, referencing, among other things the DNA research of Dr. Carole Meredith. Once again what came through was not only an intense love of what he does but a passion for Charbono.
Paul handed things over to the next speaker, NFL Legend Dick Vermeil. Dick spoke effusively about his love of wine and the Napa Valley. Specifically he touched on his upbringing in Calistoga and the Italian and French heritage which made wine and the farming of grapes such a part of his upbringing. Listening to Dick speak about wine and the Frediani Vineyard, which he's had various connections with over the years, brought to mind what a uniting force wine can be. Here was a man who made his way in the world via the NFL. Now he's returned to his Calistoga roots to get involved with Paul Smith's On The Edge Winery. His ancestors once owned and farmed the land that One The Edge sources their fruit from.
The final speaker was Geoff Smith the Sun of Oakstone and Obscurity Cellars founders. He represented the winery and read a message his Dad had sent for those of us gathered to taste Charbono. Their winery was represented by 4 Charbono releases including a Rosé.
The other wineries represented included Heitz, Robert Foley, Joseph Laurence, Duxoup, August Briggs, Summers Estate, Turley, Tofanelli, Schrader, Chameleon Cellars, Fortino Vineyard and Boeger Vineayrds.
Turley and Tofanelli were another case of multiple Representatives from 1 vineyard source. The Tofanelli took that battle as far as I was concerned. It was a better balanced, more food friendly wine than either of the Turley's that were poured. The Boeger was fascinating in that it was a port-like blend of Charbono and Refosco which was poured with a cheese course.
This was a tremendous event, highlighting a varietal that more people should be aware of. While it's clear that Charbono can be made in a host of styles, by and large this grape makes wines that you'll want to consume with a meal. In addition to that, Charbono's tend to age well for a long time.
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