Robert Mondavi Winery

Without question, no winery is more important for the development of Napa Valley into the wine, tourist and food mecca that it is today, than is Robert Mondavi Winery.

I talked some about the history of Mondavi in our post about Charles Krug Winery, but it bears repeating here as well. Back in the 1940’s the Mondavi’s purchased Charles Krug, with the intention that the winery eventually pass to their sons, Robert and Michael. Sibling rivalry being what it is, that didn’t appear to ever stand a realistic chance of happening, without some serious parental intervention-which in this case didn’t seem to help.  When Michael was left in charge of Krug, Robert Mondavi went out on his own and started his own winery.

That’s really where the story of the two wineries really diverged and where Robert Mondavi became the household name that it is today around the world.

Robert Mondavi Winery, as well as the man himself, has always been most interested in a single aspect of making wine: quality. Given that our current experiences with the brand are largely centered around the “coastal” versions of the Mondavi brands and that they sell for around $10 a bottle-it’s an interesting twist of fate to be sure. In fact, Robert Mondavi had been openly critical of the family and then brand’s move into the direction of winemaking

Looking back at the history of Robert Mondavi Winery, you’ll find a number of innovations that they had a central hand in:

  • Caring for the To Kalon Vineyard and helping it to become the most expensive fruit in the world of wine.
  • Opening the first major winery in Napa Valley after  Prohibition ended
  • Perhaps the first to bring French oak barrels to the new world
  • Pioneered cold fermentation, now standard practice worldwide
  • Pioneered stainless steel tanks for white wines
  • The first to use aerial imaging in the vineyard-Robert would be using Drone’s if he was alive now, I’m sure of it.

While Robert Mondavi Winery and the man himself are too often used interchangeably-I thought a short story about why everyone in Napa Valley still misses him might be appropriate. Some months back, I had the opportunity to visit with a man in his 70’s that owns a rather small Zinfandel vineyard in Calistoga.  He had sold grapes to Mondavi for years, until the winery went public in the 90’s and has since gone through a number of separate controlling ownership groups.  I was told that he missed the old days.  He relayed a story about having some trouble with a specific type of rot on his vines during a growing season, so he called “Bob” to ask for some advice.  He said that he was told, not to worry about it and that his vineyard crew would be up shortly to have a look. As it turned out, they didn’t come up to have a look, but brought some type of specialized compost to add to the vines-which after about a week, took care of the rot.  They didn’t only add it to the areas of the vineyard from which they bought grapes, but instead took care of the totality of the property.  I think there’s an element of both class and being a good neighbor apparent in that story and there are similiar versions being told across the valley by people that knew Robert, as well as, many of the folks that he hired.  I’ve had dealings with at least 5-10 folks directly hired by him over the years and I find them to be among the brighest and most compassionate folks I’ve come across in the industry to this day.

Where Robert Mondavi Winery fits in with Uncorked Ventures: It really doesn’t all that well. Production sizes are too big and of course, it’s too well known. That being said, the To Kalon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is about as special as any wine made in Napa, during any given vintage. That’s the type of quality I could theoretically include in my Reserve Wine Club, our most premium of offerings. That being said, if I were an average consumer I’d do this in regard to Mondavi.  The next time you have a dinner party with a group of wine friends, find a half case of Mondavi bottles in increasing order or price and exclusivity. Your local wine store would be thrilled to put this together for you I might add.  You’ll notice the cheap and widely available stuff is pretty ordinary, but Robert Mondavi Winery continues to attract first rate winemaking talent and they own the best vineyard in California at To Kalon: so the high end offerings are truly special.