As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the very first wine experience that gave me a real sense of what wine could be about came from a bottle of Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 1987. And I have several very good memories of drinking Mondavi wines, before the days of the Constellation takeover that took the Mondavi Winery away from the Mondavis. To Kalon Fumé Blanc 2004, for instance, is one of the greatest New World whites I’ve tasted.
So it was with a real sense of sadness that I read, today, that Robert Mondavi, the patriarch of that famed wine family, died today at the age of 94. Wine Spectator immediately sent out an e-mail to subscribers and put up a whole special section on its web site. The news was not completely unexpected, as he had been fading over the past couple of years, a slow sunset at the end of a rare and extremely significant life in wine.
Wine Spectator is publishing an excerpt of Mondavi’s autobiography, Harvests of Joy, where he tells of the realization that made him set the path that led to the creation of his own winery, after being expelled from Charles Krug, his family’s original winery. The objectives he laid out ring true today, in the context of Napa Valley and California’s history:
I wanted to take American technology, management techniques and marketing savvy and fuse them together with Old World tradition and elegance in the art of making fine wine. We would need passion, conviction and courage, along with a willingness to invest in the necessary research, development and new equipment. But with this combination, I felt confident that Napa Valley and California could ultimately create wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the great wines in the world.
Whatever one thinks of the path taken by California wine over the last decade or so, the fundamental change Mondavi’s thinking helped imprint on the region’s wine, and potentially, on all the New World, is one of the great turning points of contemporary wine making. So it’s worth pondering what his life and works have meant.
Coincidentally, tonight, I’m heading to a tasting of 1997 cabernet sauvignons from California. No doubt that every one of these ones will be tasted as a toast to the great Robert. So cheers to you and many thanks, sir.