Friday, April 13, 2012

Winey Travels: The Grandaddy Of Them All: Robert Mondavi Winery

Heading to California wine country for the very first time is a little daunting. Especially if you love wine. Why? Oh I don't know, maybe it's the billion wineries that line the streets, all with welcoming signs that say "Tasting Today". Talk about sensory overload.

When The Winey Hubby and I made the trip a few weeks ago, we did our research ahead of time. OK, I did some research. His contribution to the trip was to ask every few days, "Which wineries do you want to go to?" I took to Twitter to ask for recommendations. When we arrived in California, I talked to the wine gurus we met in San Francisco. And I pretty much grilled the innkeepers at The Wine Country Inn in St. Helena, where we stayed during this part of our trip. To their credit, no one at the Inn ran away when they saw me coming. They were beyond helpful in suggesting restaurants and wineries. So when we decided that we wanted to do at least one big, well known winery, they told us it had to be Mondavi, right on Highway 29 in Oakville. (Note: nothing is very far away from anything in wine country. Oakville was about a 15 minute ride from St. Helena.)

The famous entrance to Robert Mondavi
Winery. Photo by Winey Mom
Robert Mondavi was truly a pioneer in wine country. Not only did he build the first new winery in Napa since prohibition (1966), but he was also a cheerleader and mentor to nearly everyone else who started wineries there. (The two winemakers who won the now infamous Paris testing in 1976, beating out France with their upstart California wines, were protegees of his. Note: If you can, watch the 2008 movie "Bottle Shock" -it tells the story of the 1976 competition and it's a great movie to boot!)

Our tour started out with a lesson in Mondavi, and thus Napa, history. The Mondavi's actually started out growing the grapes that they shipped off to be made into wine. Our guide explained the different Mondavi wines you'll find today: Woodbridge ("Every Table Deserves the Joy of Great Wine"), Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Private Selection and Spotlight (these are available at the winery only)

The Winey Mom in the tour
On we moved to an actual vineyard (OK, it was one planted just for us tour takers, but it does the job nicely without having to put on boots and take a tractor ride in the middle of your tour). A little agricultural lesson (in which we got our Ohio tie-in: Ohio native Hamilton Walker Crabbe planted the original vines there in 1860) and then we were off to the cellars.

Leaning into a barrel,
looking up!
The first thing you notice (other than the heavenly smell of fermenting grapes) in the upper cellar is the sheer size of those oak barrels. The grapes come here from the vineyard and soak for a few days. Then their temp is raised to about 86 degrees and the fermentation begins for 8-10 days. The grapes then get to sit with their skins (called maceration) for about a month. The wine is drained and sent one floor down to the aging barrels.
Top view of the fermenting barrels
Fermenting barrel

Aging barrels
The barrel aging room is, for the Winey of us, a beautiful thing! Rows and rows and rows of gorgeous oak barrels just sitting there making wine. Ahh..... We all took a moment to reflect...

And then our "tasting". I use quotes here because this really was a wine lesson as much as it was a tasting. We were taught to swirl properly (with glasses on the table for the more timid of the swirlers), sniff with aplomb and to sip correctly. And with sipping correctly, I mean that we learned to never judge a wine on first sip (kind of judging people on first impression). Nope, sip it, wait 10 seconds, then take another sip and you'll be getting a much truer taste of your vino!

First up was the 2010 Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc (13.5%). I'm going to talk about this quickly since it's a Spotlight of their very best...but only available at the winery or through a special club (which cannot ship to we were out on that option). The aroma was of pink grapefruit and other tangy citrus. It tasted of sharp limes and minerals with a bit of green apple. It was tart and tangy and lively. Suffice to say, we went home with a bottle of this!

Next up the 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir (14.5%). Our guide described the Pinot Noir grape as the princess, the diva of the grapes. Apparently, she's very touchy, liking a cool, dry climate..or else (she didn't elaborate on the "or else" and I think I'm glad). Pinot Noirs don't travel well, so a good one from California can cost big bucks on the east coast. This wine was dark red with aromas of cherries and plums. It tasted like dark, tart berries and had a soft finish of oak.

We also got to taste a 2008 Momentum (15.5% ABV). This is actually a blend of 6 different reds - kind of a Meritage style. It had a big nose of cherry and black pepper and you could taste the spices and a little cherry/blueberry in there as well. It had a big, tannic finish. So big that we were actually given some gourmet pizza to eat while we sipped it - it really paired well with food. In its own, it might scare you. This was also a Spotlight wine.

And then our very wonderful guide endeared herself to The Winey Hubby forever and decided that we needed to taste a 2010 Moscato D'oro (8% ABV). The Winey Hubby loves his sweet wines and this one just sang with flowers and peaches in the nose and on the tongue. And yes, this too made the trip back home with us.

I loved our time at Mondavi Winery. The sheer wine history there is enough to make anyone raise a glass in honor of its founder. But the fact that he wanted every table in America to be able to have a bottle of good wine on it, that he worked with and advised nearly every vintner who came to the valley, and let's face it, the fact that he owned a jacket made out of corks (see picture at right) made this guy, and a tour of his winery, a day to remember!

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1 comment:

  1. The most beautiful and peaceful place. Extraordinary staff. Wonderful shops and great wine. It was great to compare this vineyard to the other two we stopped at that day. Would love to go back.


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