celebrating the mondavi century

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On September 21st, 1998, I was invited to have lunch with Robert and Margrit Mondavi during their brief visit to Seattle. The occasion was the publication of Robert Mondavi’s book – “Harvests of Joy” The subtitle: My Passion For Excellence – How the Good Life Became Great Business.

It is always fascinating to meet a legend, and I’ve been fortunate to have met more than a few in the wine business. Mr. Mondavi was gracious and welcoming, and, as always, opinionated. On this occasion he insisted that my companion (another wine writer) and I each order a bottle of Burgundy from the restaurant’s expansive (and expensive) wine list. “Order anything you like,” he said, “but make it good.”

There was an agenda of course, and as the two wines we had ordered turned up, it became quite clear. Joining them on the table was the 1996 Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir. We spent a good part of the meal discussing, comparing and contrasting the three wines. The Burgundies were good, but I cannot recall their names or conjure up their flavors. The Mondavi I remember quite well, not only because it was sleek, subtle, sculpted and delicious, in an elegant, quasi-Euro style; but also because I immediately ordered half a case for my own cellar following lunch.

As the meal wore on, Mr. Mondavi became more and more animated, and with the energy of a much younger man (he would have been 85 at this time) he spoke about his history, his ups and downs in the wine business, and the wave of success he was riding at that moment. Sadly, that wave crested shortly after, and the empire that he and his family had so painstakingly built came crashing down.

But I am certain that, had he the time, Mr. Mondavi would have shrugged it off, learned from his mistakes, and begun again. His passion – and it was a genuine passion, a wellspring of creative energy and dedicated talent – was crafting beautiful wines, and evangelizing the wine-centric lifestyle, a mash-up of good wine, good food, good conversation, good friends, fine art, hard work, and above all, an appreciation for all the pleasures that ensued.

I received a review copy of the book that day, and asked Mr. Mondavi to sign it for me. Here is what he wrote:

“To Paul – What a great pleasure to have lunch with you today. In my book I made it clear one must excel, have complete confidence, be completely honest. Interest is not enough. You must be passionate and have patience. Learn to give first, if you have patience in time you will receive much more – it is better to give than receive. God Bless you.”

The words have so much power behind them because of the man who wrote them. I try my best to live up to them. And I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had, to spend a wonderful three hours with Robert and Margrit Mondavi.

Postscript: Also on the signed page is a lovely drawing of a joyful, dancing, wine waving cherub, drawn by Mrs. Mondavi. Tuesday would have been Robert Mondavi's 100th birthday. Happy 100th birthday Bob! You are one of the people who has most influenced my life, along with the lives of so many others. God Bless you!


Unknown said...

You are a very lucky guy to have had the experience and the written good wish, Paul, a great story, I am jealous. I think that any of us in this biz who can't fathom ever fully retiring from it look to Robert Mondavi as the benchmark of dignity, perseverance and longevity.

I myself was fortunate to work pretty closely for a handful of years with a man of similar age, Bern Ramey, the author of "The Great Wine Grapes & the Wines They Make". He signed my copy with the words "For Keith, A good friend, a great fellow wine lover and a brand new partner in an exciting venture: this sets men apart - the ability to create what had not been before!"

What a cool thing it would be to gather such inspirational notes from colleagues across our industry, and share and compare the words from heroes that have stoked our passions, don't you think?

bobpet said...

terrific photo -- who shot it??

PaulG said...

I found the photo on Google. No photo credit was given.

Chris Wallace said...

What a great post, Paul. You are very lucky to have shared those three hours with a legend. Do you still have any of those Pinots?

PaulG said...

Chris, I'm afraid I killed the last bottle some years ago!

Bob Henry said...

Paul, et. al.:

Here's an out-of-print book, written by a friend that offered expansive interviews with acclaimed California winemakers from the 1970s:

"Great Winemakers of California: Conversations with Robert Benson"

[Link: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Winemakers-California-Conversations-Interviews/dp/0884961079]

It became the "inspiration" for Steve Heimoff's book titled "New Classic Winemakers of California."

[Link: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520267916]

~~ Bob

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