Robert Mondavi in Wines & Vines

Over the decades, the man who shaped California's modern wine industry had lots to say.

by Wines & Vines staff
Robert Mondavi
Robert Mondavi, circa 1967
Robert Mondavi's death one week ago was reported around the world. Wines & Vines, like the rest of the industry, benefitted from his vision and tenacity, and we rushed to commemorate the sad occasion in print and online. Since then, we delved into our archives to unearth relics that reflect his almost prophetic vision, and his undeniable passion to attain it.

Robert Mondavi began appearing in our pages in the 1950s. Rumor of his departure from Charles Krug Winery was published in our April 1966 issue; construction of his landmark winery that August. Robert Mondavi Winery was first listed in our 1966 Annual Directory, with a capacity of 100,000 gallons and 12 acres of vineyards.

Robert Mondavi Winery's first releases, 1966 Chenin Blanc, Traminer and Riesling varietals, were announced in August 1967: Retail price was $2, with a rosé selling for $1.79. That November, we published a photo of a proud Mondavi, flanked by son Michael and partners Ivan Schoch and Fred Holmes, presenting the first case of his new wine to John Daniel Jr., the head of Inglenook winery.

"The delivery of this wine is one of the most pleasurable acts of my life," Mondavi said. This was far from the final time we quoted him. Below we reprint vintage Mondavi wisdom, as current today as when he expressed it.

Mondavi in his own words

"Growers have to make a living, or we'll lose our vineyards. You can't have a fine wine business without quality grapes."

"As a family-owned operation, we're in an ideal position to maintain our commitment to quality."

"In the next five years, you'll be amazed at the difference in California Pinot Noirs. We haven't done the job with this grape that we have with Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay…. A lot of progress is being made, however, and we'll be in be in the company of the fine Burgundies before long."

"A totally involved, dedicated staff is essential to making truly fine wines."

"We will grow only so long as the family can oversee each step in the winemaking process."

"The secret in this business is to be consistent and to consistently improve the product."

--September 1978 interview with Philip E. Hiaring

"We are going through the Golden Age of the California wine business. The future is bright! In the next 10 years, I see a 10% increase annually for traditional table wines."

"We are going to be short of grapes--in the Napa Valley within two or three years, and in the rest of California we are going to be short in the mid-1980s…. This could be very unfortunate. The imports are waiting."

"We have the finest and most efficient wineries in the world…. With a good industry research program combined with individual wineries, we could obtain better results faster."

"We have the natural elements--the climate, the soil, the grapes, the vineyards.…. The amount of our success depends upon our desire and our will to succeed--and excel."

--January 1982 plea for industry promotion

"There is so much to be done. California has become one of the finest wine regions in the world, and too many people in it feel we've made all the progress we need…. They feel content."

"We can double table wine sales in 10 years. By necessity, we are going to learn how to educate the American people (about wine.) They don't want to be second best."

On the genesis of Fumé Blanc, a Mondavi marketing twist that brought Sauvignon Blanc to American tables in the 1970s: "Why not Americanize it? We called it Fumé Blanc and it took off in the market from its inception. Necessity really is the mother of invention."

"We are on the threshold of an effort in which even the large wine advertisers must realize that an industry program can be successful. It will take a generation to accomplish it in the U.S., and another to carry it out overseas."

--March 1986 interview with John Hutchison

"We need a positive program, placing our emphasis where it belongs, to resume selling wine for what it is: the healthful, temperate, civilized, sacred, romantic, mealtime drink recommended in the Bible; the liquid food praised by philosophers for life, health and happiness."

--March 1986 acceptance of Wine Industry Technical Seminar Annual Achievement Award

"Excellence, no matter what the cost."

--From his autobiography, written with Paul Chutkow, Harvest of Joy--My Passion for Excellence, reviewed by Philip E. Hiaring, February 1999.
Posted on 06.10.2008 - 10:55:41 PST
Robert Mondavi is a hero to Texas winemakers because he tasted the wines and pronounced them competitive on a worldwide basis. He reminded folks that, at one time, California had to struggle to build its reputation. His encouragement was generous, straightforward and should remind us all that he was a champion for the entire wine industry, not just his own imprint.
Spicewood, TX USA