Thanksgiving with the Mondavis: A Family Reunited and its Rich Legacy
The memorable events described in this piece actually occurred this past weekend–i.e., the weekend before Thanksgiving–and consisted of three lengthy meals instead of one. Their theme and focus, however, were shared histories and an appreciation of the fruits of a long family legacy. Thanksgiving was the spirit then, albeit a little in advance of the calendar.
The Mondavi family dates its winemaking origins in the U.S. to Italian immigrant Cesare and Rosa’s wine grape shipping operations, beginning in Lodi, California, and then, with the 1943 acquisition of the Charles Krug winery in Napa, moving into winemaking.
It was son Robert Mondavi who had urged his parents to buy Charles Krug, which they ultimately did on the understanding that Robert and brother Peter would be jointly in charge of operations there. Peter focused more on the winemaking and vineyard management side while Robert, the dynamic entrepreneur, built up the sales, marketing and public image. Together they helped make Charles Krug one of the five top Napa producers by the early 1950s, along with Beaulieu, Beringer, Inglenook and Larkmead.
Robert and Peter, who were born only about a year apart and who both graduated Stanford University, had different visions for the business and were frequently in conflict. They famously came to blows in 1965, at which point Robert left the business to start the Robert Mondavi Winery. Lengthy litigation between Robert’s camp and the rest of the family led by Peter and their mother Rosa, then Charles Krug’s President, ultimately resulted in a division of Mondavi family assets. Among other things, Robert acquired the famous To Kalon Vineyard that had long been the primary source for Charles Krug’s Vintage Selection Cabernet. Peter remained with the Charles Krug name and much of its former operations while Robert, with sons Michael and Tim, and daughter Marcia, turned to expanding the Robert Mondavi brand.
Those efforts included the Opus One partnership with Baron Rothschild of Mouton Rothschild and a series of acquisitions and joint ventures with numerous other wineries in California, Australia, Italy and elsewhere. Significant debts and continued expansion led to the family taking the business public in 1993. Robert’s charitable largesse and business reverses ultimately led to Robert Mondavi Winery and all its assets being sold to Constellation in 2004. Following that sale, the only Mondavi who remained on the Robert Mondavi Winery payroll for a significant length of time was Robert’s wife Margrit.
Meanwhile, following Robert’s departure from Charles Krug, Peter Mondavi, Sr., steadily continued to build that brand’s operations, supported since the early 1980s by sons Marc and Peter Mondavi, Jr. In 1999, they launched a $25.6 million nine-year project of replanting the majority of their 850 acres of vineyards and upgrading the winery.
Starting in about 2003, Robert and Peter Mondavi, Sr., reconciled, thereafter meeting for lunch or dinner on a monthly basis. In 2005, the two made a wine together—a single barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon based wine that was sold as “Ancora Una Volta,” meaning “once again.” In the following years, other members of the formerly estranged branches of the Mondavi family started doing holiday dinners and other events together. This past weekend’s events, then, were partly a celebration of the family’s reconciliation and current harmony.
The idea for a series of family events over one weekend was born when Tim Mondavi’s family started planning for the opening of Continuum’s new winery at about the same time as Peter’s family began to organize a gala opening of the new Charles Krug Visitor Center—occupying the winery’s historic Redwood Cellar—to coincide with the family patriarch’s 99th birthday. With those two events in the works, family members reached out to Michael Mondavi about the possibility of a third event spotlighting Michael’s family’s current operations.
As a result, my intense and delightful immersion with the extended Mondavi family—i.e., nearly all the descendants of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, including the children and most of the grandchildren of both Robert and Peter Mondavi, Sr.—commenced this past Friday with a late afternoon visit to the Continuum vineyard on Pritchard Hill followed by a Thanksgiving themed dinner at the newly finished winery there.
It was Tim Mondavi who, from 1974 through 2004, was the winemaker for Robert Mondavi Winery. The focus of his current project, founded in 2005 with his father Robert and sister Marcia Mondavi Borger, is one artisanal Bordeaux blend wine called Continuum. (There’s also a second wine, from young vines, called Novicium.) The 2010 Continuum we sampled that evening was my wine of the weekend, and one of the best California Bordeaux blends I’ve tasted all year.
Saturday afternoon was Tim’s older brother Michael’s turn. Michael, who had been involved in winemaking early on at Robert Mondavi Winery, ultimately became its President and CEO, being active primarily in marketing, acquisitions and joint ventures. In the same year as the winery’s sale to Constellation, he established Folio Fine Wine Partners, which imports the wines of Marchese di Frescobaldi and provides marketing services to a few dozen wine brands from several countries. The following year he launched Michael Mondavi Family Estate, producing wines with his wife Isabel and children Rob and Dina.
Michael and Isabel hosted a lunch at their elegant home–with uncle Peter Mondavi, Sr., on hand–that included not only Michael and Isabel’s wines, but also two older bottlings highly significant to the history of the family.
Saturday evening concluded with a tour of the impressive new Charles Krug Visitor’s Center—a creative reworking of the massive old Charles Krug winery that was originally built in 1872—ending with a joyous celebration dinner there in honor of the 99th birthday of Peter Mondavi, Sr.
During the course of these events, I got to spend time with many Mondavi family members, most of whom seem to be working in some aspect of the wine business. That includes fourth generation Mondavi family winemakers Rob (son of Michael), Angelina (daughter of Marc, granddaughter of Peter, Sr.) and Carlo (son of Tim). I came away very moved by the mutual respect and admiration that now reigns in the family. I was also delighted to learn about the huge amount of activity various members of the family are engaged in, and to taste the fruits of some of that activity.
In addition to the projects mentioned so far, Peter Sr.’s sons Marc and Peter Jr., who are jointly in charge of operations at Charles Krug, are producing a Cabernet Sauvignon from the family’s Howell Mountain vineyard called Aloft. Their collaborators in that project are vineyard manager Jim Barbour and leading Napa winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown. Marc’s four daughters—as loving, mutually supportive and formidable a team of siblings as one could imagine—have launched their own label called Dark Matter, producing small quantities of Zinfandel.
The oldest of those daughters, Angelina, is an accomplished winemaker, with a masters in oenology from the University of Adelaide and international harvests under her belt thanks to multiple stints in Australia, Argentina and California. In addition to the Dark Matter project, she serves as assistant winemaker to Jayson Woodbridge of One True Vine, LLC, for whom she helps to create Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie, and Layer Cake. She and cousin Rob Mondavi, son of Tim, also have a project together called Fourth Leaf.
Rob is responsible, along with Director of Winemaking Tony Coltrin, for the wines of Michael Mondavi Family Estate, which include the labels M by Michael Mondavi, Isabel Mondavi, Emblem, Oberon, Spellbound and Hangtime. Rob’s sister Dina, who had been an account manager for Southern Wine & Spirits, is part of the tasting panel for many of those wines, and is active in marketing for Folio Fine Wine Partners. Meanwhile Tim Mondavi’s son Carlo, who works with his father at Continuum, is also making a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under a new label yet to be announced.
At the three events, we sampled a number of the family’s wines, including the 1965 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection—the last wine that Robert and Peter Mondavi made together before Robert’s departure in 1966. I’ve had this wine on a few of occasions now and it’s still in great shape, with plenty of fruit, as many of the Charles Krugs from that era are.
The Mondavi family legacy looms large in the history of California wine, thanks not only to Robert and Peter’s early success with Charles Krug, but also Robert’s tireless promotion of Napa and California wines around the world. I have enjoyed the recent vintages of Charles Krug, Continuum and Michael Mondavi Family Wines that I’ve sampled, and look forward to tasting and reporting on those projects further as well as on what the fourth generation is up to.
For my tasting notes and ratings on the wines I sampled at the events this past weekend, see below.
1965 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection – USA, California, Napa Valley (11/23/2013)
Bricked medium dark red violet color with clarity; appealing, mature, black currant, bay leaf, tart plum nose; mature, poised, balanced, tart berry black currant, tart black raspberry, dried fig, mushroom, leather palate with lift; fades some after 20-25 minutes in the glass; long finish (last vintage that Robert and Peter Mondavi worked together; 13.5% alcohol; recorked in 1992) 94 points
- 1974 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
From 2.5 liter bottle – cloudy, bricked, dark red violet color; mature, tart raspberry, talc, mulberry, dill, tobacco nose; mature, blackberry, blueberry, tart berry, black currant jam, mulberry palate; medium-plus finish (Michael & Tim Mondavi’s last vintage together) 93+ points
Charles Krug – Peter Mondavi, Sr., and Family
2012 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release Charles Krug Vineyard Estate
Light lemon yellow color; very aromatic, lemon grass, tart grapefruit nose; tasty, tart grapefruit, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91 points
- 2005 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Pinot Noir Limited Release Dr. Maurice Galante
Bricking black tinged dark cherry red color; black cherry, cola, strawberry jam, ripe raspberry nose; mature, silky textured, black cherry, cola, classic Russian River palate with good acidity and firm, sweet tannins yet; medium-plus finish 92 points
- 2010 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection
Opaque red violet color; appealing, seductive, blackberry syrup, ripe black currant, mocha nose; tasty, rich, ripe black currant, blackberry syrup, mocha, cedar palate; good now but could use 2 years; long finish (97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot; 21 mos in 100% new French oak) 94 points
- 2010 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Family Reserve Generations
Nearly opaque red violet color; black currant, blackberry, cedar nose; rich, opulent, blackberry, black currant palate with integrating oak and firm, sweet tannins; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) 93 points
- 1983 Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Selection
From 12-liter bottle – bricked opaque red violet color; mature, mushroom, tart berry nose; mature, mushroom, tart plum, red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91 points
- NV Charles Krug Winery (Peter Mondavi Family) Zinfandel Port Lot XVI
Very dark ruby color; appealing, berry liqueur, mulberry, chocolate cake nose; rich, tasty, berry liqueur, black cherry, ripe black currant, mulberry palate; long finish 93 points
Michael Mondavi Family wines
- 2012 Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay Carneros
Light medium straw yellow color; focused, appealing, tart pear, apple nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, tart apple palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (simultaneous alcoholic and malo fermentation; 1/3 new oak; constant lees stirring) 91+ points
- 2010 Isabel Mondavi Pinot Noir
Black tinged medium dark ruby color; appealing, focused, ripe cherry, tart raspberry, roses nose; tasty, poised, delicate, silky textured, tart cherry, tart raspberry, mineral, roses palate with medium acidity; could use 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (33% new French oak; 3.73 pH) 93 points
- 2009 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon
Very dark purple red violet color; intense, lifted, tart black currant, violets, blackberry nose; tart black currant, black currant jam, tart berry, blackberry, boysenberry, boysenberry syrup palate with open knit structure; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot) 92+ points
- 2010 Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon Oso Vineyard Napa Valley
Very dark ruby color; appealing, dark chocolate, tart blackberry nose; tasty, tight, tart berry, dark chocolate, tart black currant palate with firm, sweet tannins; needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 92 points
- 2011 Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Very dark ruby color; ripe black fruit, tart berry, tart blackberry, roast coffee nose; tart black currant, blackberry, berry syrup, roast coffee palate, lacking structure; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 89 points
- 2006 Continuum Proprietary Red
Opaque red violet color; appealing, ripe black currant, tart black berry, light pencil lead nose; tasty, plush, black currant, blackberry, blackberry syrup, milk chocolate palate with violets on finish, sweet tannins and good acidity; medium-plus finish (59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot; 100% To Kalon Marjorie’s Vineyard; 95% new French oak) 93 points
- 2010 Continuum Proprietary Red
Opaque red violet color; appealing, aromatic, focused, tart black currant, pencil lead, tart blackberry, bittersweet chocolate nose; delicious, ripe black currant, unsweetened dark chocolate, pencil lead palate; with fine delineation; long finish (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot; 92% Pritchard Hill; 80% new French oak) 95 points