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Napa, CA – November11, 2013 – Smithsonian Magazine, the publication for the world’s largest museum and research complex, has published a list of "101 Objects that Made America" in its November 2013 issue. Included in the items selected from among more than 137 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens in the collection, was the 1973 Vintage of California Wines which won the 1976 "Judgment of Paris." This prestigious award and recognition catapulted California wines into the international spotlight. Renowned winemaker Warren Winiarski crafted one of the winning wines.

Warren and 1973 S L V  3 PicmonkeyWarren and 1973 S L V "It’s an honor and a thrill to have a wine I made included among such historic and ground-breaking artifacts," said Winiarski. "It clearly demonstrates how much of an impact California winemakers have on the world at large. Forty years ago, a small group of winemakers showed a passion to succeed and a drive for excellence which helped prove that we could make wines as good as or better than anyone else. Today, the world holds California winemakers in high esteem, a reputation that is due, in part, to the 1973 vintage and the Paris tasting."

Other items chosen from among the collections for this historic list include Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, and Lewis and Clark’s compass. A complete list of the objects can be found at http://smithsonian.com/101objects.

Winiarski is founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and winemaker of the 1973 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that bested France’s wines in the historic 1976 Paris Tasting. That win not only raised awareness of the quality of wine made in California, but of American wine in general. A bottle of Winiarski’s 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Today, Winiarski is actively involved in preserving agricultural and open land in Napa Valley for future generations, something he has felt strongly about since the 1960s. Winiarski and colleagues fought to have the historic 1968 Agricultural Preserve Act passed in Napa County.

Winiarski was inducted into the California Vintners Hall of Fame at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in 2009, and continues to explore his passion for greatness in grapes and wine at his Arcadia Vineyard in Napa Valley.

Editor's note: The 1976 "Judgement of Paris” refers to a blind tasting of California wines—Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons—against similar French wines (white Burgundies and red Bordeaux). French experts picked Winiarski's 1973 SLV Cabernet over all the other Cabernet-based wines, both French and Californian. A 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena, made by Mike Grgich, bested all the other California Chardonnays, as well as the elite white Burgundies made from that same grape variety. Time magazine reporter George Taber attended the tasting and told the world, much to the chagrin of the French. Thirty years later Taber's book Judgement of Paris was published by Scribner.

Violet Grgich with French Film Award PicmonkeyMilka Barsic (left) and Violet Grgich with Cep d'Or Trophy

Rutherford, CA, October 11, 2013 – “Like the Old Vine (Kao Stara Loza),” a documentary about the life of Vintners Hall of Fame inductee Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, was presented the Grand Jury’s Special Award from the 20th annual Oenovideo International Grape & Wine Film Festival.

The documentary’s director, Milka Barisic, accepted the Cep d’Or Trophy in the French Senate at the Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, France on September 27, 2013.

Violet Grgich, Mike's daughter, said, “I was extremely honored to represent my father at the award ceremony. This has been a magical year, with my father first celebrating his 90th birthday in April and now a documentary on his life winning a special award from French judges. He feels like he’s won the 1976 Paris Tasting once again!”

Like the Old Vine describes Mike Grgich’s extraordinary life, achievements and how his “American Dream” became a reality. The documentary also shows some interesting unpublished facts about the 1976 Paris Tasting. Like the Old Vine was filmed by Croatian Radiotelevision in the Napa Valley, Mike’s birthplace in Desne, Croatia, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., where on exhibit are his signature French beret and a bottle of the 1973 Chardonnay he crafted – the “champion” of the 1976 Paris Tasting. The movie has been shown on national TV in Croatia and premiered in the United States on November 7 at the 2012 Napa Valley Film Festival.

Grgich Hills Estate was founded in 1977 by Vintner Hall of Fame Inductee Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills after Mike’s 1973 Chardonnay outscored the best of France in the now-famous 1976 Paris Tasting that revolutionized the world of wine. Today this iconic Rutherford winery farms 366 acres naturally, without artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, and uses its passion and art to handcraft food-friendly, balanced and elegant wines. Mike is assisted by his daughter, Violet Grgich, Vice-President of Operations, and his nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, Vice-President of Vineyards and Production. For more information, visit www.grgich.com.

Sunday, 25 August 2013 12:34

August 23, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Bottle Amici CabSauv NoVintage Picmonkey

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Amici Cellars

Appellation: Napa Valley

Alcohol: 14.5%

Suggested Retail: $45

 

“Joel Aiken, winemaker (and partner) at Amici Cellars, was BV's winemaker for 27 years. Who has greater experience with quality Napa Valley Cabernet than that? It will be interesting to follow Amici's path as they pursue some single-vineyard bottlings that necessarily will be more expensive the Napa Valley definition we review today. Most of the fruit for this Napa Valley label was sourced from Rutherford (75%), the balance from Yountville, just a few miles to the south.

“We found it dense in flavor and not yet yielding the subtlety and nuance it will show will show with a little more age. Dark fruit predominates—Santa Rosa plums, blackberries and black cherries with just a bit of cassis. There are also some licorice and light chocolate notes in the background. At $45, this is a relative bargain for quality Napa Valley Cabernet.”

Food Affinity: “Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural with almost any red meat dish. We'd suggest decanting to aerate for at least half an hour, then pouring with some substantial autumn fare—maybe that French classic Boeuf en Daube ?

Jan Shrem at desk PicmonkeyJan Shrem, retiring at age 83.

SANTA ROSA, Calif., Aug. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ – Vintage Wine Estates announced today the acquisition of iconic Clos Pegase Winery and Vineyards. The purchase of the classic Napa Valley estate includes the Calistoga vineyards and a lease of the Los Carneros vineyards which total 450 acres. Jan Shrem, who celebrated his 83rd birthday in July, said, "It is with admiration and respect that I pass the torch of my beloved Clos Pegase to Pat Roney and Vintage Wine Estates. I know they will build upon my success and carry forward my passion for great wine, art and hospitality." Clos Pegase Winery was founded in 1984 by Shrem. The property was designed after an Architectural Competition hosted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Celebrated architect Michael Graves was awarded the winning design to create this architecturally significant winery in Napa Valley. The winery became a "must visit" destination for lovers of art, design, and wine and is simultaneously majestic and peaceful. Clos Pegase offers world class hospitality and special events on its incredible grounds and in its caves which feature a unique cave theater.

By producing classic wines of elegance exclusively from their own estate grown grapes, Clos Pegase has maintained their high standards in winemaking over the past three decades. Their key varietals have been award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but they offer an entire range of critically acclaimed wines including Pinot Noir, Merlot, and unique blends all grown on their Napa Valley vineyards that span from Los Carneros to Calistoga.

Pegasus Redon Logo PicmonkeyOdilon Redon's Pegasus was inspiration.Vintage Wine Estates, led by Pat Roney, is a privately owned company with a family of wineries from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. The company is based in Santa Rosa and is committed to producing high quality and great value wines for every occasion. In addition to this new purchase, the Vintage Wine Estates portfolio includes Girard Winery, Cosentino Winery, Windsor Vineyards, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Cartlidge & Browne Winery, and Ray's Station. Pat Roney said, "We are very pleased with the purchase of Clos Pegase Winery because it is the perfect complement to the Vintage Wine Estates portfolio, offering classic Napa Valley wines from only estate grown grapes, special hospitality opportunities, and a one-of-a-kind destination. We are excited to continue the legacy Jan has established as an iconic property for lovers of art and wine."

With the acquisition, Vintage Wine Estates is planning to expand the distribution network and invest in the facilities. The visitor center is located at 1060 Dunaweal Lane in Calistoga, For more information on what's going on at the winery visit www.clospegase.com

Friday, 19 July 2013 17:27

July 19, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Sutter Home PN Picmonkey

2011 Pinot Noir

 

Sutter Home

Appellation: California

Alcohol: 13.2%

Suggested Retail: $6

 

“Top-quality Pinot Noir, whether it comes from Burgundy, California or any other new world country, is never cheap. And a bottle that does even slight justice to the variety is hard to find under about $15. Most of those priced under $10 we've found disappointing—sort of like a beautiful favorite tune sung off-key. Nevertheless, we persist in our search to find drinkable examples of this variety that don't break the bank.

“The Sutter Home 2011 Pinot Noir is a very attractive bottle of wine. While not exhibiting all the subtle nuances of great Burgundy, it does deliver basic Pinot character at an incredible value. Plenty of black cherry-like fruit quality, as well as some blackberry and raspberry. There's even some of that characteristic Burgundy spice and earthiness, though in a richer California-style package.”

Food Affinity: “Wouldn't be out of place with French classics like confit de canard and boeuf en daube, but would also work with many American treatments of pork and poultry, especially if prepared with/served with any any red-fruit salsa or compote (raspberries? plums? blackberries?).

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 22:27

Memories of Bob, Part III

by Dan Clarke

Hospitality

We were in a ballroom in San Francisco's venerable St. Francis Hotel. The occasion was a Mondavi Winery dinner celebrating the salubrious effects of wine and its part in a gracious lifestyle. Conversation was lively at my table and just as we were approaching our first course, we heard the rustle of drapes or curtains above us. There was a mezzanine that I hadn't even noticed. Looking up we saw violins and cellos encircling us. The male musicians were in tuxes, the women in their equivalent finery. And then came the sound of all those strings. No doubt there were many people in the room more sophisticated than I, but it was unlikely that any of us had begun a meal in such stylish fashion. It was a bit theatrical, but at the same time it was still understated. In context, those strings seemed appropriate and we soon adjusted to their just being a part of the gracious living we were enjoying that evening.

On the other side of the Atlantic was another mover and shaker, the Baron Phillipe de Rothschild who owned Chateau Mouton in Bordeaux. Colorful scion of a Parisian banking family, he raced his own Bugatti at Grand Prix level in the late 1920's and was awarded the Croix du Guerre for his World War II service with the Free French Army. After years of lobbying he was able to get Mouton reclassified from second to first growth status in 1973, an unprecedented accomplishment. Among his many innovations was to commission work from artists like Miró, Picasso, Chagal and Salvador Dali to be used on Chateau Mouton labels. He also was said to convene business meetings in his bedroom while wearing pajamas and a robe.

Robt  Rothschilds in vnydBob, the Baroness and the Baron stroll through the ToKalon Vineyard.When Bob and the Baron decided to co-venture a wine from Napa Valley grapes that would combine the strengths of both California and France, winemakers Lucien Sionneau of Mouton and Tim Mondavi of the Robert Mondavi Winery worked together on the concept. The new wine was dubbed Opus One. No doubt this development caused a few French eyebrows to rise, but the project became a success and plans were made to create a completely new winery for the brand to be located in vineyard land across Highway 29 from the Mondavi Winery. In 1989 there was a wonderful dinner to celebrate the groundbreaking for its construction. The Baron had died a year earlier, but his daughter Phillippine, heir to Chateau Mouton and a couple of other wineries, became the new partner. Though she and Bob were outdoors and seemed in no danger from falling objects, they both donned hard hats to turn the first ceremonial shovels of dirt. It set a playful tone for the sumptuous dinner we were about to enjoy under a nearby tent. It was fun to be around at the beginning of such an ambitious undertaking.

Two years later a wonderful lunch marked the grand opening of the completed winery. It lasted a long time and a few of my colleagues had editors to answer to. They began drifting away in mid-afternoon. Not me, I was staying. Like most Mondavi-related events I had attended, the hospitality this day was spectacular. But for all the potential of things becoming pretentious, it never got that way. It seemed just a lovely day among friends.

Some moments at Bob's 90th birthday party in 2003 were not as awkward as Governor Davis' appearance. For the most part, everybody seemed to have a great time. The attendees included some press people and many friends of the winery. There were also quite a few people I reckoned to be key vineyard employees and their families. These young men tended to be in dressy-casual western wear and many sported hand-tooled belts with big buckles. Their shirts and trousers looked not just pressed, but starched and pressed. Wives were dressed equally well and the kids would be looking as sharp as if attending a baptism or first communion. A cynic might have wondered if this inclusiveness were window dressing arranged by an image-conscious business. I didn't think so, though. It was a birthday and such things should be family affairs. These people were considered part of the family.

Wines and wonderful walk-around food were served from under the eaves and out on the lawn in the late afternoon sun. I accepted what looked like a little cone of orange sherbet from a fellow in chef's whites. He looks familiar, I thought. Doing a double-take I realized that it was Thomas Keller, the chef and owner of The French Laundry. The orange sherbet cone turned out to be a salmon cornet, a signature dish of his establishment, which one magazine named the best restaurant in the world that year. The chef was having fun serving his cones and passing out tiny versions of old fashioned wooden clothes pins—references to his restaurant, apparently. It was that kind of party.

The crowd was asked to come closer to the low stage at the edge of the lawn and drink a toast to the birthday honoree. Of course it was suggested that we sing the obligatory “Happy Birthday” song, too. Tommy Smothers announced that we should have some instrumental music to augment our chorus. He asked if there were a anybody in the group who could play the piano. There was a little murmur, but no immediate action. Tommy posed the question once again. A moment later Dave Brubeck came up the steps and sat down at the piano. After a few bars of recognizable birthday song, he moved into 10-minutes of improvisation. Eventually returning to more familiar notes, he asked us all to sing happy birthday to Bob. This we did while Brubeck's playing gave us confidence that we might actually stay on key. How many real singers could say that they once had a pianist of Dave Brubeck's stature as an accompanist?

Vinexpo

In 1993 I went to Vinexpo, the international wine trade fair held every other year in Bordeaux. I had just come out with a new quarterly magazine, California Wine and Food, which targeted trade buyers of California products outside the United States. The magazine was a “four-color, slick” and published articles not only in English, but in the first language of many of its readers. This meant French, Spanish, German and even Chinese translations. I was proud of the debut issue and had a few boxes shipped to France so that I could get copies into the hands of the international wine media who'd be attending.

I had accepted an offer to stay with an old Rugby teammate and his girlfriend. They lived 40 miles away and the daily train ride to the show was easy. As Bruce and I sat reminiscing about old times on that first night of our reunion, my friend told me that, although retired from serious Rugby, he was playing occasionally for les Renards Bleus, who competed in a category called les Anciens. Were these old guys any good, I asked? Last season we came in second in the national tournament, he replied. Hmm. After a couple more glasses of Pastis, I proposed a game—his French team versus a group of Californians. Never fainthearted, Bruce accepted the challenge immediately. Since his team's home was the wine country of France, why not come to California and play the match in our wine country?

R Mondavi JPEG Lodi HS fullback PicmonkeyAn undersized fullback for the Lodi High School Flames.Having seen a picture of Robert Mondavi in a Stanford Rugby jersey, I thought if I ran into him at Vinexpo. I might ask him to be honorary captain of the California side. Such a chance meeting did occur. I was walking the floor of the enormous exhibit hall, making sure every California exhibitor got a few of my magazines, when I spotted Bob. As he was coming up the aisle I hailed him, re-introduced myself and gave him a copy. After a bit of small talk, I asked him if he really did play Rugby for Stanford. He had, he said. He was a scrum half, a position for which he'd have been well-suited. He was too small to play American football with the famous “Vow Boys” at Stanford and was even small when he played in the backfield of Lodi High School, he said. When I told him of seeing a great Lodi vs.Grant contest when I was a boy, Bob began reminiscing about the games in which he played. His conversation was full of detail—the opponents, the scores, the names of his teammates. It was a very successful team and he was obviously still proud of it more than 60 years later. We were at the biggest event in the business that week. At the time Robert Mondavi was the most significant man in the world of wine. I was a relative nobody, but was enjoying playing my role. We were years apart in age and even more distant in status, but for 10 minutes we were just two guys from the Central Valley talking sports.

I didn't know Mr. Mondavi well. We certainly didn't hang out together and couldn't even be considered friends. However, from when I started reading biographies as a child, I've always been interested in men of accomplishment. Robert Mondavi fascinated me. He wasn't a perfect human being and not every one of his business innovations turned out well. Notable flops were a short-lived presence at Disneyland and something in the city of Napa called Copia, The American Center for Wine Food and the Arts. I don't know how much these failures troubled him—maybe not at all. At least the times I was around him, he never showed a lack of spirit. There was always an upbeat attitude. More than once I traveled to a Mondavi event wondering whether I should look for a quicker path to prosperity than struggling with small wine publications. Robert Mondavi wasn't a polished orator and I'd heard his “iron first in a velvet glove” speech many times. It didn't matter. The guy was indefatigable. I always departed feeling better about myself, my business, the wine business and life in general. It was always a privilege to be in Bob's company

Memories of Bob, Part I

Memories of Bob, Part II 

Dolores and Jack CakebreadDolores and Jack

New York (July 17, 2013) – Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), an organization of leading professional women in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality, will present its prestigious Grande Dame Award to Dolores Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars of Rutherford, California. Previous winners include Julia Child, Alice Waters, Carol Brock and others. The award honors a lifetime of outstanding professional achievement, excellence and charitable/community contributions within the culinary industry, and is bestowed biennially. She will receive the award at a gala dinner during the LDEI annual conference in Austin, Texas on Saturday, October 26, 2013.

Dolores Cakebread is widely considered a visionary for not only her wine involvement, but also an early adapter of utilizing local ingredients, home vegetable gardening and healthy cooking. She paired this vision with an interest in children and youth outreach. She is also known as an international pioneer promoter of how America ought to show off its food, wine, and agriculture products.

Born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, she married her high school sweetheart, Jack Cakebread and began a life in Oakland, California in the early seventies. That made her part of the original Cakebread family business, an auto repair shop called Cakebread’s Garage in Oakland, California. In 1973 she co-founded Cakebread Cellars in the Napa Valley, which started with just wood and nails and lots of dust. It was not a great time for Napa Valley wines. Thanks in part to the Cakebreads’ efforts, that would soon change.

The decades that followed reflected not only her dedication to the creation of fine California wines, but also her singular vision of the winery needing to effect food-and-wine social change. Today, the Cakebreads' Rutherford, California property is a small village with dining facilities, five kitchens and guest quarters, in addition to the winery itself and surrounding vineyards.

Produce from Dolores Cakebreads Gdn PicmonkeyProduce from Dolores Cakebread's garden at the winery.Beginning in 1987, Dolores co-founded and organized the first California Vin Expo American Food and in 1988 co-founded American Harvest Workshop, a four day non-profit educational effort that is held annually in September. Its goal is the appreciation of the nutritional and aesthetic qualities of the American cottage farm producers, wine, viticulture and cuisine. Invited chefs from around the world develop a better feeling about the American bounty by sourcing, prepping and cooking local ingredients in the Cakebread kitchen.

In 1989, Dolores was a founding member of Les Dames d’Escoffier San Francisco Chapter and served as its President in 2003. Other notable achievements include Co-Chairing the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 2006 that raised $8.6 million for the people of Napa Valley for children’s and needy adults’ health care. She is a founding member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the San Francisco Professional Food Society.

Dolores’s programs at the winery offer open-to-the-public cooking classes, an annual open house and gardening classes. It’s worth noting that her staff includes a resident chef, who has been employed nearly two decades. Another sign that Dolores conducts her business with dignity is that Cakebread’s employees have one of the lowest turnover rates in the wine industry.

In recent years, Dolores underwent brain surgery to smooth out tremors and from that experience created the Dolores Cakebread Chair for her surgeon, Dr. Starr: Neurological Service Research for Essential Tremors & Parkinson Disease at the University of California, San Francisco.

She holds a Master Gardening Certification from University of California Davis and co-authored The Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cookbook: Wine and Recipes to Celebrate Every Season’s Harvest a collection of more than 120 recipes perfected in the Cakebread kitchen over the past 35 years. She is most proud of her 59-year marriage to her husband Jack, and the raising of their three great sons.

About Les Dames d'Escoffier: The organization has over 1500 members with chapters in 28 cities in the US and abroad. For further information visit www.ldei.org.

Editor's Note: Sources at LDEI contributed to this TASTE News Service Report. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 23:46

Memories of Bob, Part II

by Dan Clarke

R Mondavi JPEG in front of new winery PicmonkeyA younger Robert Mondavi admires bunch of grapes in front of his new winery.

Nature of the Man – Indomitable

After a falling out nearly fifty years ago, Robert Mondavi was exiled from Charles Krug, the family winery. Though a financial settlement was reached years later, in the mid-1960s he was adrift and without funds—at least funds necessary to start his own winery. In 1991 a luncheon marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Robert Mondavi Winery was attended by several of the people who'd provided financial backing for the venture. One of them recalled asking Bob for some projections of costs to establish a winery and estimated revenues for the first year or so. He said that Bob repaired to another part of the building with a pencil and pad of paper, later returning with numbers that looked good enough to validate investment. The speaker added that those projections later proved uncannily accurate. Bob was a smart man and had been in the wine business for about 30 years at that time, so it's not unreasonable that he be able to make fairly accurate predictions. However, any new business is a risky proposition. I have the feeling that Bob knew what was going to happen, because he would will it to happen.

At the beginning of harvest some wineries invite a man of the cloth to bless the first grapes to be crushed. It's part religious ritual, part agricultural tradition and also a good photo-op for the media. The Robert Mondavi Winery followed this custom in the Napa Valley and also at their Woodbridge facility just north of Lodi. One year Bob showed up walking with two canes. Though obviously in pain, he took the microphone to thank the officiating priest and all those who'd shown up on a hot August day in the San Joaquin Valley. When ceremonies concluded winery employees returned to work and most of the spectators took off. Some grape growers and a few writers were invited to stay for lunch over on the lawn, but I lingered. Soon there were only two of us out near the crush pad. Machinery started and the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes started moving on the conveyor belt toward the crusher. Bob moved slowly toward the spot where fork lifts were delivering their bins of grapes. He leaned over and watched the grapes move by for several minutes. How many times has he seen grapes crushed, I wondered? Isn't it always pretty much the same? What his thoughts were at that time I don't know, but I do know my thoughts were, “He still cares. You have to respect a man who still has such passion for what he does.”

A few months later I ran into Bob's son, Michael, and asked how his father was doing. “He's doing great,” came the reply. “He's had both his knees replaced.” Guests at Bob's birthday party the following June were dancing on the lawn. When the band started playing the twist I figured to sit one out, but as I left to get a glass of wine I glanced over to the right and saw Bob Mondavi doing a very credible exhibition of the dance—one that made my own knees ache just to watch.

Nature of the Man – Gracious

At a later birthday celebration at the winery (I think it was Bob's 90th), Governor Gray Davis was among those mingling on the lawn. He was in the company of several guys in dark suits--unusual dress in the Napa Valley, especially on a sunny afternoon in June. Though in his second term, Davis' popularity had been plummeting. A few months later voters would make him the second governor in the state's history to be recalled. On this occasion he had come to the winery to offer official birthday greetings to Bob. When his presence was announced and he was asked to come up to the stage, the crowd was strangely silent. As the governor ascended the steps to join Bob there was still an uncomfortable quiet. Emcee Tommy Smothers said to the crowd, “C'mon. We know you don't like the guy, but give the Governor a welcome.” It was a funny line, even if borderline cruel. Though 60 years old, Smothers still had that impish little boy quality that let him get away with it.

Bob strode over to greet the approaching Davis. He thanked him for coming and said that he was honored by his presence. Gubernatorial presentation having been completed, Bob said something like, “People are behind you, Governor Davis, just keep doing what you're doing” (stay the course, in effect). I have no idea what Bob's political leanings were, but he treated the Governor of California with respect and cordiality. It was the appropriate thing to do.

On a different occasion at Woodbridge (likely another blessing of the grapes), I slipped inside the door of a huge new barrel room as Bob addressed all the employees of this Mondavi-owned winery. There had been substantial money spent on upgrades recently and much of it had gone toward new French oak barrels for aging of the red wines. The new barrels weren't absolutely required, Bob told them, but they were necessary if the Woodbridge Winery were to continue in a leadership position in its price category. He thanked his employees for their efforts and assured them that they all contributed to the success of the operation. Returning to the subject of the new barrels, Bob said that this move was part of a constant effort to improve, citing past innovations in the quest to be the best. Reminding them that they were participants in the success of the winery, he challenged his employees to stay working hard and to imagine innovations yet to come, asking “What will we need to be doing to still be the best 25 years from now?”

Driving home to Sacramento I thought about how Bob had paid such respect to the Woodbridge staff while still encouraging them to do better. I had no doubt that he was seriously planning a future 25 years out. Bob was over 80 at the time.

Memories of Bob, Part I

Memories of Bob, Part III

Monday, 15 July 2013 18:22

Memories of Bob, Part I

by Dan Clarke

 

I first met Robert Mondavi in 1987. We were entering an elevator at the conclusion of a dinner in San Francisco at which he had been honored. The evening was billed as something like Legends of the Napa Valley and he was one of the 12 legends acknowledged that night.

“Hi, I'm Bob Mondavi and this is my wife Margrit,” he said, offering a handshake. Of course, I knew who he was. After all, he was a legend in the world of wine. Though I was covering the event for the California Wine Press, I was not a legend in the world of wine journalism. We exchanged pleasantries on the ride down to the ground floor, saying goodbye as we headed for our cars outside. I remember thinking, this man is a real heavyweight, but a regular guy. Since then he's always been Bob to me.RM RMondavi Toast low Picmonkey" . . . in the company of the best wines of the world."

Though that night was the first time we'd actually met, I was aware of him from the time he opened his own winery in 1966. Just a few years after that I had begun attending jazz concerts on the lawn at the new winery. At that time there were fewer than 30 wineries in Napa and booking music was quite innovative. It made people more aware of wine and of the Napa Valley. It was obvious that this Mondavi was a creative man, the kind who made things happen.

The Robert Mondavi Winery did no paid advertising in those days, but they had the best PR department in the business. They made a writer's job easier. There were real stories to be told and access to the family and staff was easy. Though still not a legend in the world of wine publishing, I found myself invited to many of their events. I had opportunity to observe this man in action and, on occasion, to interact with him. I was saddened the last time I saw him, as Bob's health had begun to wane. He was sitting next to his brother, Peter, and had a glass of wine in his hand. The glass had a straw in it.

Bob died at age 94, but a month ago the Robert Mondavi Winery, now owned by Constellation, acknowledged what would have been his 100th birthday. At that time I noticed newspaper articles in which colleagues included a personal reminiscence or two and I would like to share some of my own memories of Bob Mondavi when he was the most vibrant, dynamic personality I'd ever encountered.

Tastings

Several times I participated in tastings at the winery with larger groups, often from hotel chains like Hilton and Hyatt. Food and beverage directors, chefs and key management people would come from all around the country to visit Northern California wineries. It was part educational for them and part buying trip. They were looking for wines that could be put on their core lists, meaning they'd be available at all their properties. These hotel reps also had some latitude to select wines they liked that would be available at just their own locations. Getting placement on a core wine list meant significant sales for a winery. By the time I would sit down to taste with the hotel people they had visited other wineries that had volunteered to share hosting duties for 40 or 50 tourists, including some in neighboring Sonoma County. As I recall, wines at these tastings at the Mondavi Winery were presented in flights stratified by price within each varietal category and would represent products from all the wineries that had been visited. Discussion would follow these segments. It was fun to get the perspective of non-Californians and learn about the needs of their clientele, especially so when a large group of Japanese sommeliers visited. Bob was a tireless promoter of his own winery and of the Napa Valley, but that never seemed to be at the expense of anybody else. If cultivating these groups was good business for the Mondavi organization, it was also good business for numerous other wineries that participated.

Another sort of tasting became an annual ritual. The winery would invite some members of the media to a good restaurant in San Francisco. There they would participate in a blind tasting of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and first growths from Bordeaux. These French wines were Cabernet based and considered the standard of the world for wines of this type. They were also far more expensive than anything from California. While we writers knew the identities of the wines to be poured prior to the tasting, we sat down to glasses of unidentified red wine. Two Mondavi Cabs would be among several French entrants. Each writer was asked to list which wines he liked in order of preference. Someone would tally the results while we tucked into a very nice lunch. Similar tastings were held on the same day in other major markets like New York and Los Angeles. When results were announced we discovered that most of us had selected the two Mondavi wines anywhere from the middle to the top of our lists. Invariably, Bob's comment was that he wasn't trying to say his wines were the best, just to show that “we belong in the company of the best wines of the world.” By that standard, anything but repeated, dead-last finishes would validate the theory. But his wines did so much better than that. Each time his point was proven, but Bob graciously underplayed his hand, letting others say, “Hell yes, these wines belong in the company of the best in the world.”

Memories of Bob, Part II

Memories of Bob, Part III

 

RM plaque with hands PicmonkeyPhotographer Gerry Parrott captured the moment as hands of Tim Mondavi and Margrit Biever Mondavi set the plaque. The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) has dedicated a stately, old-growth olive tree planted at its St. Helena office in honor of Robert Mondavi, one of the founding members of the wine trade organization. Mondavi's life was celebrated during an intimate ceremony this week at the NVV that included Margrit Biever Mondavi, members of the Mondavi family and winery staff, and representatives of the NVV's Board of Directors and staff. June 18, 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of Robert Mondavi's birth."The concept of dedicating something in Bob's honor that is so alive is perfect and today's celebration was very meaningful because he was a co-founder of the Napa Valley Vintners. I know he would be happy that his spirit lives on in this 100 year-old olive tree," commented Margrit Mondavi, who along with Robert's son Tim Mondavi, helped set a commemorative plaque at the base of the tree.

Linda Reiff, executive director of the Napa Valley Vintners, spoke at the ceremony noting, "The spirit in which Mr. Mondavi lived his life is the same spirit that has always guided the Napa Valley Vintners. He often said 'A rising tide lifts all boats' - a philosophy still shared by our more than 450 winery members and the NVV's leadership. This heritage olive tree, planted at our organization's permanent home, seemed the perfect symbol to honor his life and show our respect for his contribution to our industry."Robert Mondavi was one of seven vintners who signed the NVV's original Agreement of Association in 1944. He was also one of the founders of Auction Napa Valley (formerly Napa Valley Wine Auction) in 1981. Mondavi served four one-year terms as president of the NVV: 1954, 1958, 1968 and 1969. The NVV moved to its headquarters, across the street from the St. Helena Library, in January 2010. About the Napa Valley VintnersThe Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) is the non-profit trade association responsible for promoting and protecting the Napa Valley appellation as the premier winegrowing region. From seven founding members in 1944, today the association represents more than 450 Napa Valley wineries and collectively is a leader in the world-wide wine industry. To learn more about our region and its legendary American wines, visit www.napavintners.com.

Editor's note: Planning a trip to the Napa Valley? You may want to check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory where you'll find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining option in the North Coast of California.

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