Welcome to my new blog here at WineMaker magazine. I'm delighted with the opportunity to communicate with the magazine's readers with a less formal (and more frequent) vehicle than my Techniques column every other month. In these blog entries, I'll be covering anything about wine that comes my way. Most of the time, my own home winemaking will take center stage. In addition, topics I run across in co-owning a home fermentation hobby shop may sneak in. Finally, commercial wine events—especially when they intersect with home winemaking—may play a role as well.
For this first outing, the topic is Charbono. This obscure red grape, sometimes considered to be of Italian origin but more recently considered French, has been grown in California for over 100 years. Nonetheless, current plantings in the state account for less than 100 acres all together. My wife Marty and I first came across Charbono wine when we began taking wine country vacations together in the 1970s (we were living in Southern California at the time). Most notable was Inglenook's Charbono, tasted at the venerable winery in the Napa Valley. Apparently planted by winery founder Gustave Niebaum, the estate grapes were made into a varietal wine every vintage until some time in the 1990s, with the winery and brand eventually winding up in the hands of Francis Ford Coppola.
Marty particularly liked the Charbono wine. She dislikes harsh or astringent tannins, but enjoys red wine with good fruit and a rich, mellow tannin profile. Charbono fills the bill, often being described as having a blueberry pie aroma and offering a smooth, pleasant mouthfeel. With all the changes at Inglenook, Charbono sort of dropped off our personal radar.
Flash forward to the 21st century when I began making my own wines from backyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay near Petaluma, CA. One day, Marty asked me, "could we make a Charbono?" I assured her we could make the wine, if only we could find some grapes....