Yes, this is late. Two and a half months to be exact.
By some standards it may seem a day late and a dollar short writing a tribute to someone I didn’t even know.
But for me, the words needed to be right. It took a while for them to come.
Robert Mondavi’s death did not come as a shock to me, considering his age, but it did stop me in my tracks and cause me to pause on the indirect affect he has had on my life.
As part of the wine industry I am grateful to be the beneficiary of some of this wine patriarch’s greatest gifts. It is through his passion, his incredible work-ethic, his insatiable restlessness to per-fect all things wine and his ambitious goal-setting that much of the American wine industry evolved into what it is today. Yes, of course there were other fledglings in the beginning too, but none like Robert.
Robert Mondavi was a legendary American vintner, a pioneer of sorts and probably the most important if not influential person in the United States wine industry.
There is no doubt Robert Mondavi was at the epicenter of what is now a very prized and successful business here in the states, especially in California. Through his eyes he saw the potential of the Napa Valley and set in motion the beginning of what is now one of the world’s greatest winemaking regions. It took incredible forethought and tenacity to make that happen. He accomplished it.
Mondavi’s gifts were many. It is difficult for me to narrow them down to a few worthy accomplishments. However, I would love to thank him for what I feel are his most memorable contributions to the wine world today.
Robert, thank you for never conforming to a cookie-cutter way of thinking. While so many other vintners during your time were set on making cheap, uninteresting jug wine you had better ideas. Your expertise in matching grape varieties to specific growing sites and conditions changed the character of California wine, elevating it to levels never thought possible.
Thank you for believing in your own wines enough to ambitiously taste them blind against wines from top French producers. Your wines spoke for themselves, an incredible eye-opener for the wine industry as a whole. In your own way, you leveled the playing field.
Your pioneering spirit and willingness to try new wine blends using varying processing methods brought about new styles of wine. Thank you for introducing and making successful a new blend, Fumé Blanc, as a result of your efforts.
Thank you for your constant craving to move forward technologically; trying new techniques to improve old ways of doing things. You were never afraid to leave old traditions behind if it meant finding a better way to craft a superior wine.
You believed wine was for everyone not just the wealthy. You showed others how to incorporate it into daily living and to be enjoyed with meals, something Europeans had done for years. Thank you for your non-elitist attitude in regards to this beverage.
Mostly, thank you for having the vision of sharing information, knowing it was not just important for you to do well but all of your colleagues too.
Thank you for making one of the largest private donations to my alma mater, the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology. The new building, winery and laboratories currently being built immortalize your conviction that each new generation of winemakers must train the next ones. As I have benefited from the teachings of others, I too hope to pass on my knowledge to those who come after me.
Thank you, Robert Mondavi, for the risks you took, the failures you endured and the victories you triumphed. It was your knowledge and perseverance in this industry that wine professionals, wine enthusiasts and wine consumers today have a lot to be thankful for. I know I am.
“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living…When I pour a glass of truly fine wine, when I hold it up to the light and admire its color,when I raise it to my nose and savor its bouquet and essence, I know that wine is, above all else, a blessing, a gift of nature, a joy as pure and elemental as the soil and vines and sunshine from which it springs.”‘
-Robert Mondavi, Harvests of Joy
I invite all of you, from everywhere, to join me in raising a glass to a man who has had such a positive influence on an industry he so passionately loved.
Thank you for paving the way for the rest of us.
Robert G. Mondavi
June 18, 1913 – May 16, 2008