From Left: Michael, Dina, Rob Jr., Isabel
I swear, my life is typically not this glamorous. My days consist of sampling wine, reading and writing about wine, and peddling the stuff in between. Ok, I have a pretty good life.
But the Thursday I spent with The Mondavi’s was one for the books. I was kindly invited to have lunch with them and to sample their Family Collection brands. Between meeting Michael, Dina, and Rob, sampling fantastic vino, and eating great food at Naha, I was certain I could cross one thing off my bucket list.
When entering the dining room, I didn’t feel like I was being greeted by one of the most famous names in the wine business. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but behind the big Mondavi name was a humble and unpretentious family of four, whose goal is to just make wine and have fun while doing it.
I sat in between Dina and Michael, directly across from Rob. I could see myself fitting into this family, for sure. Michael was such a warm, father figure like person whose stories I could listen to all day long, as long as he was willing to tell them. Dina reminded me of my best friend Traci; elegant, personable, and great company. Detail oriented and interested in art, she explained the concepts behind the Isabel and M brand bottle labels. Then there is Rob. I have never had a brother, but if I did he would need to have the qualities of Rob; someone who gets my witty humor, someone who could fend for himself if I were to ever play a prank or two on him, and most importantly someone I could smoke cigars and drink whiskey with.
Me with Dina and Rob Mondavi
Many of you had questions that you would want to ask the Mondavi family if you had the chance. So here are their responses.
1. What wine do you drink when no one is looking? Is it in a box?
Rob drinks a lot of his friends’ wines, who also work as winemakers in the area. None of them come in box format. Aside from wine, he likes to drink Bourbon.
2. Do the Mondavi’s always feel pressure to compete with their past legacy whenever they plant a new vineyard or release a new wine?
They do not feel pressure to compete with their past legacy. The past was then, and Rob, President of Winemaking for Michael Mondavi Family Estate, likes to make wines for people to enjoy today. Experimentation in the winery is ongoing. The family’s Emblem wine pays tribute to their winemaking heritage.
3. Can I call you Dad?
There have been numerous requests from people who would like to be adopted into the family. Unfortunately their family tree is filling up. Speaking of, here is The Mondavi family tree.
Mondavi Family Tree
4. Are you hiring?
There is a program in place that hires entry-level professionals who are pursuing a career in the wine industry.
5. To those of us investing in futures, 2012 in Napa should have technically been a masterpiece year unseen in more than a decade. Did you allocate a greater percentage of harvest to ‘winery exclusives’ allowing your winemakers to express and experiment?
Michael believes the 2012 vintage has been the best since the 70s. Rob took full advantage of the harvest and experimented in the winery. Regardless of vintage, Rob and Tony Coltrin, Director of Winemaking, are always experimenting and trying new things.
Michael says that Mother Nature is the winemaker. She’s unpredictable and can’t be controlled. The wine is only as good as the fruit produced in the vineyard.
6. If not wine, what other profession would you pursue?
Michael would pursue architecture if he were not in the wine business. He was intrigued with my architectural studies, but also thought it was great that I was pursuing my hobby and passion for wine as a career.
Dina would pursue a career in the culinary field. She enjoys cooking.
Rob would like to be a distiller. He loves Bourbon. His wife, Lydia, is a southern belle.
7. What is it like following the family tradition of wine? Was it expected or a natural decision?
Both Dina and Rob said it was their choice to pursue wine. Michael and Isabel wanted their children to experience work away from the winery and then make a career decision.
Dina first started in the wine business as an account manager for Southern Wine and Spirits. Later on, she became a wine educator at Robert Mondavi. Today, she is the co-founder of Michael Mondavi Family Estate and is responsible for directing the organization.
Rob showed interest in the wine industry at an early age. He was always playing in the vineyards at Robert Mondavi Winery. When Rob was 14, he broke a piece of farming equipment on the property. So to help pay for it, he started working at the winery. Like Dina, he too worked in sales at Southern Wine and Spirits. In 2004, Rob and his family founded Folio Fine Wine Partners, followed by Michael Mondavi Family Estate in 2006.
8. Why did you sell the Robert Mondavi Winery?
Dina- ”Because it stopped being fun.” Michael agreed. It was becoming too much of a big business. He was always having to tend to logistical, legal, and financial matters. He rarely got to spend time in the vineyard.
Today, Michael is very much hands on at The Michael Mondavi Family Estate. He now has time to walk the vineyards with Rob and John examining the fruit, deciding when to harvest the grapes, and enjoys being involved in crafting the family’s wines.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
Rob has breakfast with his son, typically organic eggs from the chickens on his property. He then puts in a full day of work at the winery, returns home to his family, and does the same thing the next day. Everyone is very active in the family business.
10. How do you think Robert Mondavi would have reacted to online tools (blogs, Facebook, podcasts, etc.) that we use to communicate about wine? Would he have been an active participant?
Both Dina and Rob agreed that Robert would have been an active participant in using social media as a means to communicate with others about wine. Robert was invested in making wine for people to enjoy. Having an additional means of reaching people would have been looked highly upon.
As I said, I had the honor of tasting several of the family’s wines with Michael, Rob, and Dina telling me stories behind each one. Here were my favorites:
2011 Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay
I love chardonnay, especially from Carneros. I thought Isabel’s Chardonnay was very well-balanced. Just the right amount of acidity with no overpowering oak on the palate. To me, a successful chardonnay is when you can get a sense of the fruit on the palate without being distracted by the oak. The palate was similar to the nose with aromas of green apple, pear, and mild vanilla. I also noticed a little minerality in this wine, as if this wine were a cross between a Chablis and a well done California Chardonnay. This wine paired excellent with the beat salad that I had four lunch.
2009 Isabel Mondavi Pinot Noir
Most of you know how I feel about Carneros Pinot Noir. I was born to drink this stuff. One of the things I love most about Carneros Pinots is that they are incredibly elegant, medium bodied, with a smooth finish. Isabel’s Pinot Noir is no exception. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry greet the nose, with the same fruits presenting themselves on the palate in addition to light carmel notes. This wine has a hint of black pepper on the nose and palate that adds complexity to the wine, which I love. This was an amazing wine to drink with the vegetable risotto at lunch. It complemented the dish very well.
2009 Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
For those of you that were wondering how The Mondavi’s have paid homage their winemaking heritage, this is it. Emblem is a culmination of 4 generations of winemakers, looking for the best vineyard sites in Napa Valley, determining the best location to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael, Rob, and Dina produce this wine together. This big cab is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Lots of baked fruit on the palate (cherry, blackberry) with subtle tannins, culminating with chocolate and toffee.
2009 M by Michael Mondavi
I was honored to have Michael tell me himself about his wine, M. The fruit is sourced from his Animo vineyard. Michael was taught that great wine starts in the vineyard, and that every winemaker should have respect for Mother Nature and the soils. The wine is instilled with a sense of place, reflecting the soil, vines, and climate. He named the vineyard “Animo”, “soul” in Italian, because he believe that it had a sense of place.
The artwork on the label depicts the vines’ roots underneath the soil, where the winemaking process begins for Michael.
This dynamic wines’ rich black fruit flavors and ripe tannins and acidity create an elegant Cabernet Sauvignon, reminiscent of the Mondavi cabernets of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
One step in this winemaking process that intrigued me was the use of a light egg-white fining in the barrel, using organic eggs. This aided in the clearing process of the wine.
If you couldn’t tell, this Thursday was a special day for me, one that will not be forgotten. It was a pleasure meeting The Mondavi family and listening to their stories they shared with me. You’ll be able to read more about my experience in my upcoming column.
“Animo” (“soul” in Italian) Vineyard