Robert Mondavi: The Godfather of California Wine

In my opinion, hundreds of years from now when people reflect on the history wines of California, Robert Mondavi will remain the number one influence in its success; making him the godfather of California wine.

He gambled everything; money, family and his reputation to get his winery built in 1966. He was 53 at the time. He was absolutely sure that the quality of his wine and his winery would be world class and a visit there would be the experience of a lifetime. He invited the world to come visit, they came and the rest is history.

Hundreds if not thousands, by now of talented wine lovers and professionals got there starts by working there and those people are everywhere in the wine trade. Every person who owns land, makes wine or earns a living in the Napa Valley should wake up every day and thank the lord for Robert Mondavi’s life. His vision for Napa Valley is exactly what it is today, one of tremendous beauty and one of the greatest spots on earth for wine, food, relaxation, and enjoyment of life.

When I was a young man in my thirties working in the wine trade, I admired him so much I often thought about writing to this dynamic, wine mogul and ask him to lunch; I regretfully never did.

But, in 2003 I was flying business class to Paris and then to Bordeaux to be inducted into the Commanderie du Bomtemps as a wine educator by Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and sitting right in front and across from me was Robert Mondavi. I wanted so badly to say hello but he was 89 at that time and I did not want to bother him.

When the plane landed there was the usual rush off the plane, a hunchbacked Mr. Mondavi was trying to get to the isle but people brushed by him like he was not there. I jumped up and when I got to his seat, I stopped and said after you sir; he turned and looked me in the face and said thank you young man. I said it’s my pleasure sir. His wife Margrit also thanked me, and I could tell she knew it was indeed my pleasure.

A few nights later the Fete de La Fleur was held at Ch. Mouton Rothschild on the 250th Anniversary of the estate. At our table we sipped two of the greatest wines on earth Ch. Haut Brion Blanc and 1982 Ch. Mouton Rothschild. For desert, the owner and Robert Mondavi’s partner at Opus One, Philippine de Rothschild had a huge birthday cake brought into the pavilion by a crane for his 90th birthday. The 900 people in attendance along with Placido Domingo sang Happy Birthday to Robert, about half the room stood and raised there glass.

I was a bit miffed at the people that did not stand, but they are the ignorant ones. They did not want to acknowledge or admit that the great wines being made in California were very real and serious competition to their wines.

To this day, style of the Mondavi wines has never wavered. Robert borrowed his style from his neighbor and fellow Italian winemaker in Napa, Louis Martini. Like Martini, he wanted his wine to be able to be drunk and enjoyed when released. Robert Mondavi’s red wines are always, ripe and round with silky textures, never hard and always delicious.

Let’s raise a glass to the Godfather, Cheers!

Ralph Sands

PrimeCellar Consultant

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Mr. Ralph Sands

Wine Consultant

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