Mondavi's vision shaped Napa Valley

February 6, 2013 

Determined to establish that the terroir of Napa Valley, Calif., was unique and capable of producing world-class wines, in 1968 Robert Mondavi introduced "Fumé Blanc" -- a name that Mondavi coined as an American twist on the Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley in France.

The 2010 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Napa Valley is a blend consisting of 94 percent Sauvignon Blanc with the balance being Semillon. Semillon is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Sauvignon Blanc and, by adding a small amount of Semillon, it softens the acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc and adds some creamy overtones to the final product. This Fumé Blanc contains zesty citrus flavors of lemon and lime, along with subtle notes of honey and a bit of spice. It truly complements pan-roasted fresh Florida grouper topped with a lemon aioli served with grilled asparagus tossed with oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground coriander.

What makes this Fumé Blanc so tasty is that 30 percent of grapes used were grown in the famous "To Kalon" Vineyard -- a vineyard that was first planted in 1868 and whose name is ancient Greek for "most beautiful." Although To Kalon is primarily planted with vines that produce some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines from all of California, this vineyard also contains some of the oldest known Sauvignon Blanc vines.

Robert Mondavi's 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley also contains about 30 percent fruit from the To Kalon Vineyard. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon has concentrated flavors of black fruit, with a fair amount of mocha on the finish. Try this wine with short ribs braised in red wine served over buttered noodles.

The Spanish Mission-styled Robert Mondavi Winery sits on the west side of Highway 29 in Oakville, Calif., in the heart of the Valley. It is in the middle of the biggest thoroughfare for the tourists that Mondavi forecasted when he chose the location in 1966. His winery was the first major one that was built in the Napa Valley after the end of Prohibition. During this time period, there was not really a market for fine wines. Today, the Mondavi Winery draws several hundred thousand visitors each year.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to have the pleasure of meeting Robert Mondavi while having lunch on the terrace at his winery. I walked away from this brief encounter understanding just how this charismatic man could have pioneered the changes in the way that wineries operated in this country, including marketing Napa Valley to the world as well as assisting in bringing many innovative winemaking techniques to the region.

Since late 2004, the Robert Mondavi Winery has been owned by Constellation Brands, the largest wine company in the world. The Constellation portfolio also contains other well-known California wineries including Franciscan Estate, Mount Veeder Winery, Clos du Bois, Ravens Wood and Estancia.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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