Charbono is one of Napa's best-kept secrets. The total production of this variety is tiny, and most of the best bottles get snapped up quickly by those in the know--"those in the know" being anyone who's ever had a topnotch Charbono. Great Charbono is dark and densely packed with red and black fruit and spice flavors and built to last--once you've tried one you'll always be on the lookout for more.
Planted widely throughout Napa Valley in the late 1800s by Italian immigrants, Charbono vines now cover fewer than 40 vineyard acres, most of which are clustered around Calistoga. Twelve of these acres belong to Gary Heitz, whose grandfather Michael planted them around 1900. Charbono's a difficult, fickle variety, and most of what was originally planted was either wiped out during Prohibition or dug up to make room for California's other famous reds.
Four generations of Heitzes have been nurturing some of the most sought-after Charbono in Napa. For decades, they sold their harvest to Inglenook, Robert Foley, and Cosentino, but a few years ago Garry, his wife, Ginny, and their winemaker son, Peter, decided to make their own under the Shypoke label. ("Shypoke" is the word the Heitzes coined to describe the great blue herons that visit their vineyard every year.)
One chief reason why the difficult Charbono does so well near Calistoga is the super diurnal temperature swing each day during the growing season. Hot days nudge the slow-ripening Charbono grapes along, and the cool evenings moderate the process thanks to the fog that rolls in through the Chalk Hill Gap via the Russian River.
It's hard to know what to expect from a grape like Charbono as we don't have an ocean of reference points. In this bottling however, look for a dark brooding color, almost black, with a garden of aromas from blackberries and raisins to fresh mushrooms and cedar. A lengthy, rich wine that will hang around in your cellar for the next 3-7 years.
Suggested Food Pairing:
We first tasted Peter's wines over lunch in St. Helena a few years ago. It was springtime and we had a cool bowl of potato leek soup followed by BLTs. The bacon was thick sliced and smoky, the bread was rustic and earthy and a slice of avocado made it distinctly Californian. An easy but delicious meal to replicate.