Saturday, May 17, 2008


Robert Mondavi passed away at 94. To say he had a full, rich life is a minor understatement. As arguably the pioneer of the California wine industry, Robert Mondavi showed the world that superior wine was not an exclusive product of European countries. The subject of many books and news articles, Mondavi’s life was filled with tumultuousness, innovation, and drama. A true icon of business, his passing leaves an indelible mark on this industry that many like myself won’t soon forget.

I never met Robert Mondavi. My closest association with him was a story told to me and my wife while at the Martini House in St. Helena. We were having dinner with Drew Neiman, owner of Vanguard Wines in Columbus as well as assistant winemaker at Kongsgaard, one of Napa’s top Chardonnay producers. As we were leaving, we ran into John Kongsgaard and his wife, who had just come from a charity event. John told us of Robert Mondavi’s introduction of a beautiful Russian violinist, and his obvious enthrallment with the beauty. John shared with us his inner dialogue of “someone get the hook” as he looked at Robert’s somewhat embarrassed wife, and the redfaced Mondavi himself. An icon such as Robert Mondavi, you tend to forget that they too are human, prone to the same kind of awkward hilarity that you are, and it was a moment that though not experienced firsthand, nonetheless possessed a connection to this small world of an industry that many of us winefolk share.

I still have a few bottles of Mondavi Napa Cab 1997 and Reserve Cab 98. Perhaps the time has come to open them, in fond remembrance of a man who, for argument’s sake, had a hand in creating a job for yours truly, because honestly, without him, I would probably still be in a simple server at some chain restaurant. For that alone, I owe him profound thanks.

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