My most recent trip to wine country turned out to be life-changing… but more on that later. (That’s a pretty evil way to begin, I know.) Our first stop: Robert Mondavi, one of the wineries in Napa I had long wanted to go to. I have always admired the guts and smarts it takes to be a pioneer, and that’s what Mondavi was. He brought world-wide recognition to Napa, then a fledgling little slice of wine country, before he died in Yountville in 2008 at the age of 94. (He had been forced to sell his beloved winery to Constellation Brands four years prior, after a public offering led to financial strain and then the takeover.) Mondavi is most well known for creating the Fume Blanc style of Sauvignon Blanc and his partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which led to the famous Opus One. But he also brought higher-density plantings (to make the vines work harder, producing heartier grapes) and French oak barrels to Napa, among many other technical improvements. He is considered by many to be the single-most influential winemaker in Napa’s history.
The tours begin with a walk of the gorgeous grounds. My shuttle from San Francisco was two hours late that morning, so I missed that part of the tour, and it was cloudy that morning to boot. (The photos I did take are eh.) So I’m going to skip right to the good stuff — you’ll see plenty of photos of rolling hills from the other wineries in Napa and Sonoma, I promise!
Robert’s second wife, Margrit, was a staunch supporter of local artists and art education (the couple gave generously to many art and performing arts schools in northern California), and the winery keeps up its art collection to this day.
The winery was founded in 1966 after Robert left his family’s Charles Krug, which his Italian parents had purchased in 1943, because of a blowout fight with his brother Peter. He didn’t go far — the wineries are just seven miles down the street from each other! Eventually, the two men began speaking occasionally and even produced one barrel of wine together in their old age. Unlike Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug is still in the Mondavi family; Robert’s side of the family does still own the premium single-estate Continuum Estate, which he founded with one of his sons at the tender age of 92.
Even though I love being outside and looking at the vines, nothing beats the excitement of seeing a winery’s cellar for the first time. That distinct smell, the chilly air, the low lighting… Robert Mondavi’s did not disappoint!
Then of course, there are the barrels upon barrels of wine! Robert Mondavi uses its barrels only one time before selling them off. At $800 a pop, that’s a huge expense. Bill Teed, who has been at the winery for 35 years, told us they started painting the barrels red to cover up any spillage.
But onto the tasting! Our group was led to a small room off the cellar. Tiffany was especially excited — this was her very first time to Napa, and our tasting was an excellent kick off. Bill, who no longer works full-time but is called in for “special” guests (at least that’s what he told us lol), regaled us with stories from his decades in the local wine business.
The winery’s cabernet sauvignon reserve (and fume blanc) is grown from grapes from the historic To Kalon (Ancient Greek for “the highest beauty”) vineyard, which was originally planted in 1868. I learned that yes, of course, “reserve” means better care and better grapes — but there is no official definition or requirement for a winery to call a certain wine reserve.
The best part about a winery’s tasting is getting to try the wines that you can’t find in the store. Both the PNX pinot noir and the Unoaked chardonnay are what Robert Mondavi calls its “spotlight” wines — winery-only bottles. Needless to say, both were delicious!
I’m already planning my next trip back –on a sunnier day, and when I can take the whole tour. And now I’ve also added the other Mondavi family wineries to my wish list.
After all, who can resist a good family feud story?
Family-friendly tours are available. Prices range from $15-$55 for the private tasting.
Contact info: 888-766-6328, Robert Mondavi
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