Taste of Wine

The passion returns for Michael Mondavi

Michael Mondavi, son of the legendary Robert Mondavi of Napa Valley, now makes his own premium wines under the name Michael Mondavi Family Estate. Photo by Frank MangioFresh, handpicked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are placed in bins during the Napa Valley harvest. Photo courtesy Napa Valley Vintners

The Mondavi name in Napa Valley wine lore is indeed alive and well.  It still commands a reverence for its illustrious history and an intense interest in its re-boot for the future.

The Napa Valley Mondavi family tree of wine was rooted by Cesare Mondavi, who began growing wine grapes in 1921 in Lodi, Calif.

The second generation included Robert Mondavi, who, in the ‘40s with brother Peter Mondavi, built the Charles Krug winery into a major name in Napa Valley.  Robert eventually separated to build his own empire with Robert Mondavi Winery in the ‘60s, and later Opus One in the ‘80s.

In the fast-track growth and stormy experiences that followed, third generation Michael Mondavi, son of Robert, was making wine under his father’s guidance.  My interview with Michael at the Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas was one I had waited for, and it didn’t disappoint.

“Back in the ‘60s, our focus was on small, quality production, 30 to 50,000 cases a year,” he said. “When we sold Robert Mondovi Winery in 2004 to Constellation, a world wide holding company, we were up to 11 million cases and I was running the company. I was too busy to do anything with the production of wine. Now, what’s fun for me is that, when I was making wine, it had to be what my father Robert said I had to make.  Now I have my son Rob and Daughter Dina making our wines and I advise, but I encourage them to make their own kind of wine and create a change in the tradition of Mondavi style wines.  You see it especially in EMBLEM ($35) mostly Cabernet but with a creative blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Petite Verdot. It comes from Howell Mountain, about 1,300 feet in elevation and it’s our signature wine.” (It was TASTE OF WINE’s Wine of the Month for October)

Howell Mountain, located in the northeast part of Napa Valley, is the place of choice for “mountain style” Cabernet and I asked Mondavi if he thought the wine world had already seen and tasted the best Cabs.  “Oh no,” was his quick answer.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was making the wine for Robert Mondavi Winery, it was all valley floor wine.  But if you go back in time to before prohibition, the wines were made in the hill country of Napa Valley.  Mountain Cabernet, we found out, has much greater structure, more style and character.  So the future of Cabernet lies in the past for real flavor changes over the traditional valley Cabs.”

With Michael Mondavi Family Estate and the wines being made, plus their growing distribution company Folio Fine Wine Partners and its worldwide collection of wineries, Mondavi sensed a return to bigness.

He and his family decided to sell off their Carneros valley property and its 13 acres and follow the original vision to produce high quality, small production wines under the family labels. They retained the Animo and Oso vineyards for their mountain style grapes. They are actively looking to secure a boutique wine making facility and tasting room in Napa Valley. For wine sales and wine club information, go to michaelmondavifamilyestate.com.

2014 Harvest Proves       Better than Most

You could almost hear the statewide collective sigh of relief, that this year’s 2014 harvest of wine grapes came through the growing season without the fear expressed when the realization of another year of drought, the third year in a row, would be coming.

As it turned out, the dry weather, combined with warm days and cool nights, have produced grapes of higher taste and quality than 2007, a banner year.

Most of America’s high-end wines come from Napa and Sonoma and they point to their vineyards as drought-tolerant when vines seek the water tables underground.

Harvest was weeks before normal and came on the heels of a 6.0 earthquake on Aug. 24 that caused an estimated $80 million in damage.

Most vintners and growers are reporting greater than normal quantities of grapes produced, but not quite as much as the record-breaking 2012 harvest.  Even though the winemakers dodged the bullet of another dry year, they are all saying they don’t want the drought to go on as underground water supply is showing signs of drying up.

Wine Bytes

Temecula Wine Country has its two-day Harvest Barrel Tasting Weekend, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Food and wine samplings at each participating winery.  Tickets are as little as $79.  Call (800) 801-9463 for details.

Solterra Winery & Kitchen in Encinitas has a Sip for Make a Wish event Nov. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m.  It’s a “Night at the Opera” theme with 5-course dinner and new wine releases.  $200. Call (619) 302-6162 or debbie@solterrawinery.com.

Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo presents Masi Agricola Italian wines with a 4-course dinner, Nov. 5 at 6 p.m.  $55. Call (858) 673-5100.

The fine wines of Napa Valley’s Frank Family will be tasted along with a 5-course dinner at Harry’s Bar & Grill on La Jolla Village Drive across from UTC, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. Dan Matin of Frank Family will be guest speaker.  Call (858) 373-1252 for price and an RSVP

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at tasteofwinetv.com.  Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com and follow him on Facebook.