Hill Family Estate is proud to announce the release of our second vintage of Cuvée Charlotte.

Hill Family Estate is proud to announce the release of our second vintage of Cuvée Charlotte. Like the inaugural vintage, this bottling captures the essence of spring in the Napa Valley, with its delicate floral nose, balanced by a crispness on the palate. In addition to the grape varieties used in last year’s vintage, we have added two more: muscat canelli and muscat blanc. 

Visitors to our Yountville tasting room have wondered what the difference is between these two grapes. According to Wine Grapes, the definitive catalog of wine grapes of the world by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, they are the same variety, known officially as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Not only does this grape go by the two names we use, it has over 60 synonyms, mostly due to it being planted all over the world in lands that speak many different languages. 

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains traces its origins to either Italy or Greece, with most of the evidence pointing towards Greece. It is likely that ancient Greeks brought it to Italy and Romans introduced it to France. According to Robinson et al., “the earliest mention of this variety most likely appeared in Italy in 1304 in Pietro de Crescenzi’s Ruralium commodorum libri XII under the Latin name Muscatellus, later translated into Italian as Moscadella.” (Robinson et al, p 283)

The name muscat, which is applied to over 200 distinct and often unrelated varieties (ibid, 679), “most likely derives from the musky aroma produced by a gland of the male musk deer from southern Asia that was used in the fifth century AD to make a rare fragrance. The Persian word muchk became moskos in Greek, muscus in Latin, musc in French, and musk in English.” (Loc. cit.)

This widely planted grape, described by Robinson et al. as “small-berried muscat, the oldest and most distinguished of the Muscat Somethings… is unfortunately also quite difficult to grow.” (ibid 283) Prized for its floral and spicy character, it can be made into both high quality sweet and dry wines. It is for the floral characteristics especially that we have included it in the Cuvée Charlotte blend. 

So the question remains…why do we use it under two names? 

Winegrowing in California has a rich and varied past. Some of the pioneers were immigrants from winegrowing regions in Europe, and they carried their traditions and names with them. Along the coast, Swiss-Italians cultivated the grapes they were familiar with, and this would have included the muscat under discussion, and they would have referred to it by the name they knew it by in the old country: Muscat canelli. 

In the Napa Valley, however, the model was French, in large part due to how well Bordeaux varieties perform here. So, when Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains was planted here, it went by the (thankfully) much shorter French version of Muscat Blanc. 

The difference, therefore, is one of cultivation, tradition, and location, even though they are both the same variety of grape. With that, let us borrow (and paraphrase) from the Bard and agree that “a muscat by any other name would smell just as sweet” and raise a glass to this outstanding vintage of Cuvée Charlotte!