Mead On Wine

© 1997 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 49

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by Jerry D. Mead

       With the possible exception of the Gallo dynasty, no
family has been more important to the 20th century American wine industry
than the Mondavis.

It all started with Italian immigrant Cesare Mondavi, who had owned a bulk winery in Lodi, then another in Napa Valley, and eventually bought the Charles Krug estate for his sons Robert and Peter. The price was $75,000 in 1941 dollars. Peter and his sons still run Charles Krug.

Robert Mondavi started his own winery at Oakville in the sixties, the first new winery of any size in the Napa Valley since the Repeal of Prohibition, which has become a very fashionable, publicly traded wine corporation involved in international joint ventures with the likes of the Rothschilds.

Robert Mondavi has been described as a Napa Valley icon more than once. I've known Bob Mondavi for 30 years and I'm here to tell you he's no icon. He's a real person, with more ambition, more vision and more energy than a half dozen men half his age. Robert will soon be 85.

He is also a truly nice man and loyal friend. When a long time employee (since vindicated) was involved in a very sensitive legal issue and others turned their backs on him, Robert, and his wife Margrit, remained as true to the fellow as they would have to one of their own sons, in spite of tremendous outside social pressure.

Robert is more figurehead and advisor, these days, the company having gone public (and very successfully so) and now being run my his children.

Michael is the main man, these days, and is more a 90s corporate kind of guy who makes the best of a photo opportunity. Timothy has always been more scientifically oriented, and deals closely with the viticulture and enology. If we were to cast the young Mondavi brothers in a movie called "The Gallo Story," Michael would play Ernest and Tim would be Julio.

There's also a daughter, Marcia, who heads up the company's efforts on the East Coast.

While I have always admired the Mondavis, and especially Robert, I have not always agreed with all their marketing decisions. I was particularly disappointed when they so prominently affixed the Robert Mondavi name to their lesser wines labeled Woodbridge. Not that they weren't good wines, they were, but it caused too much confusion among consumers. Restaurants, especially, were guilty of saying, "We Serve Robert Mondavi Chardonnay by the glass," which was true enough, but the customer was thinking $20 Napa Valley and not $8 Woodbridge. I'm told that they are finally fixing that problem with a new label that will feature Woodbridge as a stand alone brand.

So how is the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Winery doing as it enters its fourth decade and prepares for a new century of wine sales? Let the tasting notes to follow tell the story.

Robert Mondavi 1995 "Napa Valley" Fume Blanc ($13) Robert created the name Fume Blanc, but forgot to trademark it and now it's used by many wineries in several countries. "Fume" is really a synonym for Sauvignon Blanc, with the Mondavi version being a wood style, barrel-fermented and all that. Debuting this spring will be a 1996 version in a new custom made frosted bottle, the smoky look of which will tie in with the Fume name. This 95 has oak but isn't oaky. There's fresh, crisp grapefruit and it's totally dry. Try it with everything from oysters to halibut or swordfish. Rating: 91/86

Robert Mondavi 1996 "Napa" Chardonnay ($18) You will notice the term "unfiltered" now appears on virtually all the Mondavi Napa wines, which indicates a minimum of processing. This is one really pretty, extremely satisfy white wine. It combines fruit and wood in near perfect balance. A very forward oak-influenced bouquet leads to apple-citrus fruit and a very long, very complex finish. Case purchases recommended. Rating: 94/86

Robert Mondavi 1995 "Napa" Pinot Noir ($19) Complex, Burgundian, medium weighted red wine, with tea leaf and fading rose over delicate plum fruit. Tasty. Will work with holiday turkeys and game birds. Rating: 88/84

Robert Mondavi 1995 "Napa" Merlot ($21) Big, ripe and powerful (as Merlot goes), but with round edges and no offensive astringency. Smoky dark cherry flavors and a long nicely wooded aftertaste. Rating: 89/83

Robert Mondavi 1994 "Napa" Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) Blackberry, black cherry and cassis. Big, fully ripe fruit flavors; moderate tannins. This is one of those delicious wines you can serve to the boss tonight, but that you can cellar for a decade and know it's just going to get better. Rating: 90/84


Robert Mondavi 1995 "Napa" Zinfandel ($18) This is a variety Mondavi quit making for a few years. It's a very good thing that it's back. This is one gorgeous wine that will appeal to all those lovers of big fully ripe Zins, yet it doesn't cross over that line to the overripe, raisin-prune flavors and high alcohol that turn others of us totally off. It is big, it is ripe, with tons of black raspberry fruit and a very rich, almost jammy mouthfeel. The flavors hang around for days! Rating: 96/86


Greg Upton died of leukemia on Thanksgiving evening. You may not recognize the name of this talented young man, but if you're a wine lover you no doubt met one or more of his wines.

I met him working with Sergio Traverso when both were at Concannon in Livermore Valley. Then he was winemaker (and eventually vp of winemaking) at Franciscan Estate in Napa, where he also worked with fruit from Sonoma, Monterey and Chile.

Most recently he was employed by a new small Napa brand of Kendall-Jackson's. He was a husband, a father, an exceptional winemaker, and one of the nicest guys in the business. He will be missed.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.


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Latest Update: December 20, 1997