There are many stories in the history of Napa Valley that capture our imagination but the tale of Charles Shaw is one of urban legend. Shaw, a dentist from Chicago, started his eponymous winery in 1974 and produced some good quality wines from Valdiguie, Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. In those days these grapes where blended and sold as either Gamay Beaujolais or Napa Gamay to suggest the wines of Burgundy’s Beaujolais area. From accounts at the time, the Charles Shaw Gamay Beaujolais was one of the better versions most likely because the wine contained the true Gamay Noir of Beaujolais. These grapes are now used in Andrew Lane’s Gamay Noir reviewed on Winecast 70.
Years past and Shaw struggled to make a profit as more well known varieties emerged from Napa Valley such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. After a divorce in 1991, Shaw sold the winery assets and vineyards to Charles Krug and the brand name to Bronco Wine Company. That would have been the end of the story if Bronco’s Fred Franzia hadn’t pulled the brand from mothballs in 2002 to make the wildly successful “Two-buck Chuck” available at Trader Joe’s markets across the U.S. These wines, made from Central Valley grapes, are bottled at Bronco’s Napa, California factory to provide the word “Napa” on the label. Many consumers have been unfortunately misled by this and assumed the wines are actually from the prestigious Napa Valley AVA and are unbelievably good values. Out of curiosity, I have tried many of these wines and found them to range from simple but drinkable (Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet) to strange (Sauvignon Blanc) to flabby and thin (Chardonnay). But for $2 a bottle, I guess you get what you pay for.
I wouldn’t be writing this review if for not a chance encounter with Dr. Shaw while in Napa this week. It seems he is not very happy with all the success around the wines that bear his name so he’s out to prove that world class wine can bear a Charles Shaw label. His trademark lawyers have even found a loophole that allows him to use his name and not go the way others have after selling their brand name. It seems that Bronco only had a 15 year exclusive on the name and Dr. Shaw is wisely making some subtle changes to the winery name and label art to help consumers distinguish the new wines.
Made from grapes grown in Napa Valley these wines are made in very small quantities and are only available to the discerning few on a mailing list. From the four barrels of Chardonnay I sampled this week, I expect these wines to attract a significant cult following. Also produced are a Carneros Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir from Napa’s Oakville district.
Charles F. Shaw Winery, Chardonnay, “Old Vines”, Wild Horse Valley, Napa Valley 2006 (Barrel sample) – Pale straw color with floral pineapple, flint and toasty oak aromas. On the palate there are complex layers of butterscotch, fig, apricot and pear flavors that are very well balanced. A truly magnificent Chardonnay that will surely reclaim the Shaw name in the wine world. No word on the release price but I expect it to among the highest in Napa.
Natural cork closure