Home > Good, Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > Charbono: From the “Vinous” 1883 H. W. Crabb to the Earthy 2009 Calder Wine Company

Charbono: From the “Vinous” 1883 H. W. Crabb to the Earthy 2009 Calder Wine Company

Analyses of Charbono Samples [0]

I only knew that there was not much Charbono planted in California and nothing of its history.  Many sites and wine blogs detail that Charbono was introduced to California in the 1880s.  I believe it quite clear that it was introduced in the 1870s for there were some 70+ acres of Charbono planted in Santa Clara County alone prior to 1879.[1]  Shortly after it was first planted an article published in the New York Tribune on October 31, 1882, details the California vineyards during harvest time.[2]  The Chinese, Italian, French, and Portuguese laborers harvested the grapes including one vineyard of 600 acres planted with Charbono, Zinfandel, Malvoisie, Burger, Blanc Elben, and Muscatel.  In a letter to the editor from Eugene Morel from May 12, 1833, Mr. Morel noted that Charbono was “more correctly Corbeau”.[3]  The apparently quality of Charbono soon bore out in the papers.  In an article about the “Classification of Grape-vines delivered at the Viticultural Convention, San Francisco” in October, 1883, Charbono was ranked near the bottom with Black Malvasia, Chablis, Hungarian Green, Pied de Perdix, Grey Duchez, and Verdelho.[4]  That same month H. W. Crabb’s vineyard near Oakville yielded a “magnificent crop” of Charbono but the reporter could not “say that I admire its quality; the grape seems rough, coarse, and flat, although containing abundance of color.”[5]  Actual tasting notes of Crabb’s wines appear below.  Still, Charbono must have found its fans.  In September 1901, “lowland” Charbono sold for $16 per ton with Zinfandel at $14.50 as compared to Zinfandel from “foothill soil” at $16 per ton.[6]

Viticultural Statistics. [1]

Charbono appears in the annual reports of the California State Viticultural Commissioners as early as 1881.  In the December 22, 1880, report by Mr. Charles A Wetmore, Commissioner, it was clarified that Charbono and Trousseau were not Burgundy varieties rather they were from the Jura District, “which ranks nearly with but inferior to Burgundy.”[7] In 1884 the origins of Charbono were clarified in the Second Annual Report of the Chief Executive Viticultural Officer.[8]  It was stated that Charbono, sometimes spelled as Charbonneau, came from Jura together with Trousseau and Poulsard.  The leading name was Corbeau and it was imported by Mr. Drummond under the synonym Plant de Montmelian.  It was felt to dominate blends so it was not as flexible as Zinfandel and its future probably lay “to making of light cheap table clarets.” The following are early tasting notes for wine samples submitted to the Commission.

No. 154. Charbono, 1882.
From H. W. Crabb, Oakville.  Condition of sample is bright with a  moderately intense purple color, a rather light body, and a decided fruity bouquet; astringency adequate, and acid a little sharp.  The character of the wine somewhat impaired by the casky flavor.

No. 154 A. Charbono, 1883.
From H. W. Crabb, Oakville.  Sample is clear, medium-bodied, and of intense purple color; astringency, fair; acid, low; bouquet undeveloped; flavor fairly vinous.  Dilution with 50 per cent water results in a fair wine; with 100 per cent, only tolerable.

No. 155. Charbono blend, 1883.
From C. O. Butler, Hanford.  A clear wine of light garnet color, thin body, moderate acid, no bouquet, with an earthy unpleasant flavor, and mawkish aftertaste; astringency hardly perceptible.; though sound, evidently grown on alkali soil.

Charbono continues to appear in viticultural reports for decades.  Inglenook has long grown Charbono, Gustave Niebaum reportedly brought root stock over shortly after founding Inglenook Vineyards in 1879.  In 1941, A. M. & J. Solari of New Orleans sold a variety of wines selected by Frank Schoonmaker, including the wines of Inglenook.[9]  I have included several other wines to indicate the affordable price of the Inglenook Charbono as well as tasting notes.

1939 Widmer, Lake Elvira, New York $1.55 per bottle
A light fresh wine, not unlike a young Moselle.

1938 Martini, Mountain Folle Blanche, $1.40 per bottle
Dry and delicate. Not unlike a Chablis.

1934 Fountaingrove, Sonoma Pinot Noir, $.1.39 per bottle
Full-bodied, yet delicate in flavor.

1934 Inglenook, Napa Valley Charbono, $1.19 per bottle
This deep-colored, full-flavored red wine, made from the Charbono grape, is highly reminiscent of a robust Barola from the Italian Piedmont.

1934 Inglenook, Napa Valley Cabernet, $1.39 per bottle
A full-flavored Claret, made from the true Cabernet grape of Bordeaux, long considered to produce America’s finest red wine.

Some 100 years after Inglenook was founded the estate created a Charbono Society.  At the first dinner held in December 1981 it was noted that there were only three other producers: Papagni Vineyards, Parducci Vineyards, and Souverain.  After a flight of recent vintages Inglenook reached deep producing bottles back to 1941.  The 1941 had “both elegance and flavor and a pleasant, almost cedar like, nose.”  The 1959 had “a marvelously developed bottle bouquet replete with complexity.  Its flavor was clearly evident and it was elegant, aged in a soft, generous, easy-to-drink style that was a light.”

I recently found myself down in McLean, Virginia so I stopped by Chain Bridge Cellars where I happened to spy the 2009 Calder Wine Company, Charbono.  At $30 per bottle I was exceeding my typical purchase price but I rarely come across bottles of Charbono.  Summers Estate Wines reports there are 80 acres planted in California.  I was fortunate to taste the 2009 Summers Estate Wines, Charbono last year which I found full of “old-school flavors.”   The bottle from Calder drank best on the second night.  It was an incredibly approachable wine being billowy, meaty, and earthy.  I did wish it had a bit more verve but the flavors were so different I kept thinking of 19th century California.


2009 Calder Wine Company, Charbono, Napa Valley – $30
This wine is 100% Charbono sourced from 40 year old vines.  Alcohol 13.1%.  There was a meaty nose which was somewhat deep.  The wine tasted old with distinctive flavors that were meaty and soft.  It was very approachable with a billowy start followed by a light body, very soft midpalate, and finally some structure in the aftertaste.  It seemed to have less acidity.  With air it became savory and took on an earthy finish and moderate structure.  *** Now-2016.


[0] Report of the Viticultural Work During the Seasons 1883-4 and 1884-5. 1886. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=LGgNAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[1] Annual Report of the Chief Executive Viticultural Officer.  1882.  URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=LmQ4AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Date: Tuesday, October 31, 1882                   Paper: New York Tribune (New York, NY)   Page: 7
[3] Date: Saturday, May 12, 1883          Paper: Fresno Republican Weekly (Fresno, CA)   Page: 4
[4] Date: Saturday, October 6, 1883     Paper: Fresno Republican Weekly (Fresno, CA)   Page: 4
[5] Date: Wednesday, October 10, 1883             Paper: San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, CA)   Volume: LVII   Issue: 3   Page: 1
[6] Date: Saturday, September 7, 1901                Paper: Riverside Independent Enterprise (Riverside, CA)   Page: 5
[7] Annual Report of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners. 1881. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=vMEVAQAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[8] Second Annual Report of the Chief Executive Viticultural Officer.  1884. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=Yb5CAQAAIAAJ&pg=PP3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] Date: Sunday, June 15, 1941            Paper: Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)   Page: 2
  1. MG
    January 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Calistoga, CA is the hotbed for Charbono as almost half the acreage is planted in vineyards throughout the appelation. Best producers, August Briggs, Shypoke, Summers, Tofanelli, T-Vine and Vermeil.

  1. July 24, 2014 at 9:00 am

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