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Anthony Gismondi on Wine
Tuesday, September 18 2018

The Legacy of Robert Mondavi

By: Anthony Gismondi
Six-part short video series

It's no exaggeration to state that Robert Mondavi Winery jump-started the culture of wine in Vancouver after they agreed to be the first and only participant of the first wine festival in Vancouver in 1979.

Frankly, Vancouver’s wine culture has never looked back since that day.

Even then the Mondavi family did what they do best – Michael Mondavi conducted an educational component tasting, breaking down the elements of wine (fruit, acid and tannin), all while preaching the gospel according to Robert: California wine, Napa Valley wine and finally, the wines of Robert Mondavi.

It was classic Mondavi; give them some education, promote the social and cultural benefits of wine and give them a reason to drink wine the rest of their lives. But there is more.

Robert's dream to build a boutique winery on the edge of Napa Valley’s Highway 29, visible to travellers passing by, changed everything about how wineries would interact with their customers for the next 50 years. Despite the current inroads being made by social media, the Mondavi roadside boutique winery, ...Article continues below the videos. 

Gismondi on Wine Six-Part Short Series: Robert Mondavi Winery

 

Part 1: The Legacy  3:33                                   Part 2: To Kalon Vineyard  3:25                        

Part 3: Innovation  3:58                                  Part 4: To Kalon Cellar  2:40

 

Part 5: The Wines  3:15                                  Part 6: Gracious Living  3:15

with a tasting room and the ability to sell direct to its customers, remains vital to the bottom line of wineries worldwide.

Robert’s fixation with varietal wine (give the consumer some information that they can latch onto) was another monumental block in the foundation of a North American wine culture. After that, Mondavi became obsessed with appellation and place long before the rest of America would come to know that all great wines come from somewhere. Innovation was another Mondavi trait, creating a winery culture that would tinker with stainless steel tanks, small barrels, large vats, numerous coopers, cold fermentation and many other techniques to improve all its wines, not just the top five percent.

Mondavi would also go on to engage in several joint ventures with international producers of great stature:Baron Philippe Rothschild (Opus) in France, with Eduardo Chadwick (Seña) in Chile and with the Frescobaldi family (Luce) in Italy. While many consider these business machinations a distraction and an indulgence that took some lustre away from the Napa operation, Mondavi’s insistence on working with other cultures and exchanging winemaking information was all part of reaching for the stars.

Then there were the chefs invited to cook at his Highway 29 winery. Long before the Food Network, the Mondavis hosted some of the biggest chefs in the world, each cooking and presenting their most famous recipes alongside the wines of Robert Mondavi.

Robert always saw the big picture, to a fault, but his view was longer than most and while in the end his dream of a multi-generational winery did not happen, his family is still making wine in Napa Valley and their children are equally involved.

Robert was not the only wine evangelist but his connection beyond the wine world to mainstream America and drinkers the world round has always placed him at a much different level in my eyes. At the Robert Mondavi Winery, research was a way of life and while much of it was misunderstood by the bean counters and even some influential wine writers of the time, his quest for drinkable wines that would complement food, stimulate appetites and more importantly, inspire conversation, was light years ahead of its time.

The last time I had a conversation with Robert Mondavi was after his 90th birthday when he rose out of his wheel chair and lambasted his fellow Oakville producers, warning them that whatever success they were enjoying at that moment would be fleeting unless they were prepared to get back to work and work even harder than they had for the last two decades. He was certain the world would not hand California the international wine market on a platter and that only the greatest attention to detail and innovation would serve them going forward. It's doubtful anyone could carry the torch they way Robert once did, but we hold out hope someone will again one day. 

Until then, some fifty years after Robert Mondavi Winery opened on Highway 29 in Napa Valley, we stopped by with the Gismondi on Wine film crew to experience the impact of Robert’s legacy on the people who work there. As you might expect, we found the spirit of Robert and his wife Margrit in every corner of the famous Napa Valley landmark and the famed To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds it.

Written By: ag
Anthony Gismondi
Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi is a Canadian wine journalist and one of North America's most influential voices in wine. He is currently in his 29th year as the wine columnist at the Vancouver Sun and a Partner and Principal Critic at www.winealign.comAnthony is also the co-host of the longest running, weekly, wine and food show in Canadian radio: The Best of Food and Wine. You can listen to the show across the Best of Food and Wine Radio Network multiple times per week. For air times in your city, or to listen live on the internet, check here.