Guido Ragghianti, age 98, and family at his last harvest in 1986.
1) Guido at his basket press
My grandfather as well as my grandmother, Matilda Ragghianti, were both excellent chefs. The table was always full of food and there was always five to seven vegetables, three to four different meat dishes, at least two pasta dishes, fruit, cheeses, a variety of wines, and, of course, grappa, at the end of a meal. As a young boy, I helped my grandfather make wine by assisting in the picking and crushing of grapes.
However, it wasn't until 1986 when I had lost my job at a securities firm and was living off a 6-month severance that I had learned the winemaking process from start to finish. Coincidentally, in the harvest of 1986, my grandfather died a peaceful death at age 98. From the vintage of 1986, I fell in love with wine as well as the winemaking process.
I was fortunate to inherit all of my grandfather's winemaking tools and equipment, including a 100-year old basket press, home-made punch-down tools, which my mother (Lola Ragghiantti Fanucci) says are at least 100-years old, as well as barrels, funnels, a hand-grape crusher, 5-gallon containers, 1-gallon glass jugs, siphon hoses, wooden bungs and an assortment of other tools and equipment.
The wine was fermented in an old chicken coop in the back of my grandfather's property on Charter Oak Avenue. Underneath his house was an old European wine cellar, where the wine was barrel-aged. In the early ‘20s and thereafter, he bartered wine from his basement.
How Charter Oak is still made today
Charter Oak wine is unfined and unfiltered. The grapes are fermented on natural yeast. I use tools crafted by my grandfather (Nonno in Italian) to punch down the cap three times a day. I work the must into a foaming lather. No one makes wine quite this way. We believe the secret to our success is the natural fermentation and the punch down of the cap with hand-made wooden tools, which is done religiously over and over. There is nothing quite as beautiful than to see the sun shining down on the purple grape juice as it bubbles to the top. I live for this and it nourishes my soul.
After three to four weeks in the fermentation tank, it is time to separate the skin from the juice. This is all done by hand by utilizing the 100-year old basket press. The wine is then bucketed into barrels. This is certainly not the most efficient way of making wine but follows my grandfather's winemaking tradition. The wine is in the truest sense handcrafted. We guarantee that you can taste the difference in every bottle of our wine in comparison to mass-produced wines.
Reasons to visit
Charter Oak Winery in St. Helena, takes pride in being the "most original, old-world," winery of some 500 wineries in Napa Valley.
The reason to visit: See how early wine pioneers lived and made wine in Napa Valley -- and taste wines which hearken back to those simpler times. The wines made at Charter Oak are silken, elegant, and balanced, words not customarily used to describe Zinfandel or Petite Sirah. Charter Oak also makes an elegant, modestly priced Cabernet Sauvignon, whose grapes come from the peak of Mt. Veeder.
Fanucci Family in wine cellar: