He left an amazing legazy behind him. Last year, I read his autobiography, Harvests of Joy, published in 1998. As I read the book I swung between dislike, admiration, and confusion regarding the man who helped build the Napa we know today. In the end, he admitted his own mistakes and I was left with a clear admiration for Mondavi.
There is the legendary fight between Robert & Peter, two brothers, which sent Robert out on his own, building the first winery in Napa since Prohibition. He saw the winery as a tourist destination, forever changing the perception of Napa Valley (for good or evil, your choice). He traveled France, learning more about Bordeaux and Burgundy styles of wine. And he began to understand, and quest for, terroir. That quest led to the purchase of his To Kalon vineyards. I have some wine from those vineyards, and I have (of all things) a stone coaster with a print of those vineyards. After reading the book, I was rather fascinated with the man.
His winery has grown, expanded, and suffered through financial hardships in the last 20 years. I was never thrilled with the decision to sell to Constellation Brands. In the meantime, Mondavi launched philantropies, including COPIA and the Robert Mondavi Institute
for Wine & Food Science at UC Davis, which is almost complete. He and Magrit, his wife, also donated funds to complete the UC Davis performing arts center.
When I think of Robert Mondavi, I remember one clear moment. In 2005, on July 4, we were in Santa Rosa. I had managed to get tickets to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert at the Mondavi winery that night. We had a picnic from the Oakville Grocery and met some wonderful people spread out on blankets around us. Behind us, at a table in the vineyard, Robert & Magrit were dancing. In 2005, Mondavi was 91 years old, but had no trouble getting up and sharing one dance with his wife on a perfect summer evening.
Many Mondavi wines are inexpensive or generic. But there are some wonderful wines as well – I have two bottles of a reserve cabernet: one of which I’m aging another couple years and one that I do believe I’ll be popping open this weekend, in honor of Robert Mondavi.
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