Wine & Spirits

Why does a wine haunt you?

“The story. I try to pretend it doesn’t taint me but it does, the story taints you,” says Felicia Colbert, Master Sommelier at A Rake’s Progress, The Line Hotel, DC. “And not in a bad way. I feel like you appreciate the wine so much more. It just tastes better. And they generally are better, because they were made with love, by someone who loved them.”

We could not agree more. And, perhaps not surprising with a cohort of makers that skew maverick, wine has a few ghost stories. A tenacious, color-outside-the-lines breed eager to try new things while honoring the history of their craft, and land, it makes sense that some can’t quite let go. We’ve picked wines from some of these haunting vineyards for a special Halloween WineGame.

Charles Krug Winery, the oldest in Napa, which initially failed after Krug’s death in 1892. The place was purchased in 1943 by Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, whose son Peter would eventually make wine of note from the land after his father passed. Today, visitors report hearing a man’s booming laugh from the cellar now and again, though it’s not clear whether it is Cesare or Charles Krug himself who are enjoying themselves so completely. A lady dressed in white is also rumored to roam the upper floor of the Redwood Cellar, perhaps keeping them company while they taste. Taste: Start with a Charles Krug Winery Sauvignon Blanc to wake up the palate… and the spirits. ($19)  

The earliest wineries in Napa – hundreds of them – were established from 1860, but buckled to the triple threat of Phylloxera, Prohibition and the Great Depression, leaving ‘ghost’ wineries throughout the area. Not so Trefethen Family Vineyards, founded in 1886, which survived Prohibition on profits from an illegal bootleg operation. The story goes that one thirsty young desperado broke into the winery to steal a tipple and, when busted by the bootleggers, promptly hung from one of the ceiling beams. Visitors have sensed that event, some even report seeing the shadow of a human form swinging in the rafters. Taste: A beautiful but bold Chardonnay – the same one that tempted our own CMO Sarah Munson to a life of wine – will delight ($38).

Just South, at Beringer Winery, there is a chateau called Rhine House, the home of Frederick Beringer himself. Some say Frederick still can be seen walking the halls, and hear noises in his bedroom as if objects are being hurled. He needn’t be displeased, as his brand is one of the most successful brands in the US.

Owen Roe Vineyard, named for a 17-century ancestor of co-owner David O’Reilly, has another ghoulish tale. Legend has it that in the days of the Irish revolution, the O’Reilly’s and the O’Neill’s agreed to settle a dispute over a prized parcel land with a rowing race: whoever touched land first got the rights forever. At the close finish, a crew member from the O’Neill boat pulled his sword, severed his own hand and threw it to shore, winning the land for the O’Neill family. The current O’Reilly bears no ill will, in fact he named a delicious, blood red Rhone-style wine Sinister Hand in homage to the hard-working man’s sacrifice. Taste: Sinister Hand, A full-bodied, mouth-coating Rhone-styled blend: 63% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 16% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault ($26).

In Virginia, the owners of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard have brought in paranormal experts who confirm their suspicions, saying they’ve documented more than 35 spirits, mostly in the library. Among them: Mattie Nixon, a descendant of George Washington’s who inherited the land, then a dairy farm, in the 1860s. When she married, the deed was transferred to her husband, sadly, as he had an affair with the cook and then proved he had totally lost his marbles when he shot the tenant farmer for letting the cows out one evening. Voices of a man and woman can often be heard talking loudly upstairs, perhaps Mattie and her husband, still unable to put their differences aside. She apparently is most vocal when a courting couple visits, as if testing their partnership. Taste: Try a Cabernet Franc if you can get it: it’s elusive as the ghost. Or perhaps a visit is called for, since Zephaniah was named one of the top 25 wineries to visit by Travel and Leisure magazine.

Oh, and please report back if you have a Mattie sighting…