The Mondavi Story Continues with Robert

Robert Mondavi heads out on his own


I left off last week after going through the first chapter of the Mondavi Story, which ended with the ongoing adventures of the Peter Mondavi Branch of the family at Charles Krug. Peter and Robert are the children of Cesare, the Mondavi who started it all.  In a way, Robert was following in his father’s footsteps when he set off to found his eponymous winery in 1964.

As with most success stories, the factual has gained a drape of the romantic with the passage of time. I certainly do not know all the intimate details of this split, though many have reported that fisticuffs preceded Robert’s fateful decision to head out on his own. A decision that must have been particularly difficult knowing that, not only was the Charles Krug Winery profitable, but much of this success was directly attributable to Robert’s tireless efforts on its behalf.

The story of the Mondavi Family is intertwined with that of the famed To Kalon vineyard. For years the source of some of the world's greatest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon has also quietly been responsible for exceptional Suavignon Blanc. This slice of Oakville deserves all its accolades, and is as close to a Grand Cru as Napa Valley can claim.
Whatever the history may be, one thing is for sure: Robert Mondavi set out on his own. With the help of some $200,000 that he was able to raise, he purchased 12 acres in Oakville, the heart of the Napa Valley.  By 1966 the Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa Valley’s first new winery since the repeal of Prohibition, was ready for its first crush.

The first wine released from the new winery, in 1967, was a Chenin Blanc, typical of the wines offered for sale in those early years. Before Cabernet was king the vineyards were planted primarily with Chenin Blanc,  Chardonnay, and a small plot of Sauvignon Blanc. That Sauvignon Blanc would lead to one of the first indelible marks impressed on the Napa wine industry by Robert.

After a trip, in 1962, to visit some of the great wine estates of France, Robert returned to Napa Valley convinced that one of the elements that set the greatest European wines apart from, and above, their American cousins was the use of French oak barrels for aging. From virtually the moment of his return, Robert began experimenting with various wood types and barrel sizes before settling on the French barrique as the ideal aging vessel for his fine wines.

The first chance Robert had to market test his theory came along in 1968, when he introduced a revolutionary wine: his Fumé Blanc. The world had never before seen a Fumé Banc, and in fact it was a proprietary name, used as much to add a little panache to the Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc, as to signify that this was not the Sauvignon Blanc of years gone by. It was fermented until dry, blended with a touch of Semillon, and aged in French oak barrels.  Fumé Blanc was a hit and helped to establish the Robert Mondavi winery as a leader in its field, and a force to be reckoned with.

While much of the success of the Fumé Blanc, and subsequent wines like the Reserve Cabernet, can be attributed to the innovation and attention to detail always practiced at the Robert Mondavi winery, the fact that the fruit came from one of the valley’s greatest vineyards, To Kalon, cannot be discounted.

Recently, I was fortunate to join a group of wine lovers here in New York in order to taste through some of the Robert Mondavi wines with Margrit Mondavi, Robert’s widow. It was a pleasure to hear Magrit recount the story of Robert and the winery while trying a nice flight of wine, many from the famed To Kalon vineyard.

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  • Snooth User: wudzee
    35302 7

    "2000 Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis
    Priced from $40.00
    This smells decedent"

    Dead? I think you meant decadent. :-)

    Feb 18, 2010 at 12:15 PM

  • Snooth User: bobzaguy
    251522 15

    decedent was not found in the Cambridge Dictionary of American English

    not good form to make up words to describe aromas that can't exist.

    Feb 18, 2010 at 1:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    It is a misspelling of Decadent and is being corrected.

    Feb 18, 2010 at 1:31 PM

  • Snooth User: wudzee
    35302 7

    You're welcome.

    Feb 18, 2010 at 1:37 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    My Apologies. I did indeed mean to thank you for catching it. I was quickly trying to make the correction at the same time. My apologies!

    Feb 18, 2010 at 1:49 PM

  • Decedent is most certainly in the dictionary, and I can't believe that Cambridge missed it. As a legal professional, who's worked in probate and wills, this misspelling struck me right away. It's not a made up word, Bobzaguy, just a word spelled wrong!

    decedent - 4 dictionary results

    de⋅ce⋅dent  /dɪˈsidnt/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [di-seed-nt] Show IPA
    -noun Law. a deceased person.

    1590-1600; < L dēcēdent- (s. of dēcēdēns) departing, withdrawing, prp. of dēcēdere. See decease, -ent

    Feb 18, 2010 at 2:00 PM

  • omg people, are we tasting wine or marking an essay?

    Feb 18, 2010 at 2:06 PM

  • Tasting wine, indeed! It's just that I would rather taste decadent wine than decedent wine...words matter in articles, after all. Cheers!

    Feb 18, 2010 at 3:11 PM

  • Snooth User: cbracerx
    152437 34

    Nice article! I just opened my one hoarded bottle of "Fume Blanc To Kalon Vineyard I Block" last month. Purchased this at the winery in 2003 and wish I had bought two! Really nice with some Copper River Salmon. Bottle is also nice and I have to decorate with it somehow ;)

    Feb 18, 2010 at 4:42 PM

  • A Great Read..."The House of Mondavi"
    The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, by Julia Flynn Siler


    Feb 18, 2010 at 4:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Nice wine and food pairing Cbracerx.

    I'm going to start buying a few of these bottlings as I see them. I really was surprised by the quality in the bottle!

    Feb 18, 2010 at 5:21 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Thanks for the tasting notes on the Fume Blanc and Cabs, Greg. Was interesting to see how much you liked the To Kalon Fume Blancs--was my sister's choice for her wedding reception white way back when (she'd dealt with the winery at a restaurant she was running and that served it, and knew that's what she wanted). Also good to see that California can make a sauvignon blanc that ages well, and that discerning tongues can appreciate. Too many people would judgmentally turn their backs on a near-decade-old SB without even tasting it...

    Regarding the typos, there were a few, besides just the lawyer injoke 'decedent', as there have been in past articles, too. Perhaps Snooth can put in place a copy editor function (meaning person), at least for the articles, considering the reaction the typos seem to keep generating, and Snooth's growing exposure?

    Feb 18, 2010 at 7:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Hey DM,

    you should find far fewer typos. We do have an actual writer now editing the copy before we send it!

    Feb 22, 2010 at 7:25 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    You write a lot better, Greg, than many so-called 'writers'. I know from past experience how hard it is to go over self-written texts a couple of extra times just to focus on spelling or syntax problems. Especially when there is so much on, and overflowing, your plate. That's why traditional publishing organs always have had a separate set of eyeballs labeled 'copy editor' clean things up (to greater or lesser degree ;-) ) before publication. One of the disadvantages of the Internet's deluge into our inboxes is that many bloggers view their posts in the same way as personal emails--something to dash off quickly, and typos be damned. There comes a point where that no longer washes, and I guess Snooth is there now! ;-)

    Feb 22, 2010 at 8:50 PM

  • Snooth User: StockBoy
    188562 78

    If you buy your wine in the grocery store, I guess these wines are OK if the price was under $15.00?

    Feb 23, 2010 at 6:36 PM

  • Snooth User: malros
    303033 2

    hey guys - get a grip. if you are old enough you could have figured out the world decedent was a misspell!

    Feb 26, 2010 at 7:19 PM

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