Robert Mondavi may be gone now, having sadly passed away May 16 at the age of 94. But this visionary legend always will live on.
The winery that bears his name in the Napa Valley is no longer owned by the Mondavi family, having been sold to the beverage giant, Constellation Brands, four years ago for more than $1 billion. On the right in the photo above is the last vintage of Opus One (the premium Bordeaux-style blend made in a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) released before the sale of the business. On the left is the 2005 Continuum, the first release of the first new wine made after the sale with the help of all three generations of Mondavis. Only 1,500 cases were made of this blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Petit Verdot, and 20 percent Cabernet Franc.
Mondavi was a man who put California wine on the map; whose tenacity drove him to start his own winery at age 52 after disagreements with his brother, Peter, led to his ouster from the family wine business; and whose philanthrophy was seemingly endless.
In 1996, he and wife Margrit paid $2.1 million to purchase the Napa site for what would become Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts. In 2001, the couple gave $35 million to the University of California at Davis to establish the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
Over the years, I had the pleasure of meeting Mondavi at the ground-breaking ceremonies for each of those events. And last November, I, along with a handful of other media, was graciously invited to the Mondavi home in the Napa Valley, where Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and his staff prepared a nine-course dinner and where the 2005 Continuum was poured for the first time.
Over the years, I saw this once vibrant man grow more frail, first relying on a cane, then a wheelchair. But through it all, he remained, as always, the picture of grace and dignity.
When I finally open those two special bottles of wine, I will drink a toast to this man who did so much and meant so much to the growth and reputation of the Napa Valley wine industry. I hope you will remember him, too, anytime you enjoy a bottle that bears the Mondavi name.