In the spotlight - Robert Mondavi
Earlier this month, we bade farewell to the godfather of California wine, Robert Gerald Mondavi, the man who transformed the wine industry and became an ambassador for the Napa Valley.
Mondavi, who founded his eponymous winery in 1966, was inspired by a belief that he could produce world-class wines in Napa Valley. Yet it is somehow ironic that upon his death on 16 May, he no longer owned a winery.
The vintner died at his home in Yountville at the age of 94, and although the winery that bears his name is now part of the Constellation Brands portfolio of wine and spirits, Mondavi leaves a legacy far greater than just the winery.
His death has garnered a mass of publicity, many wanting to paying homage to his dramatic, yet timeless impact on the wine industry. Others reflecting on their fortunate meetings with him and many more just wanting to praise his quality wines.
Peter Huwiler, who headed the Napa Valley winery for more than a decade, said: "Robert's stewardship for the valley will be the benchmark for generations to come."
Judy Meredith, wine education manager for Diageo described him as an "inspiration to the lives he graced through his passion and wine."
And Marvin Shanken, editor of Wine Spectator said he left an "indelible legacy on the Californian wine industry…making believers out of millions of wine lovers."
Most famously, in 1966 he set up the Robert Mondavi Winery after being ousted from his family's Charles Krug project, following a dispute with his brother Peter.
At the time, California was still primarily known for its cheap jug wines, and Mondavi, with the use of cold fermentation, stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, put his wines up against French vintages, a bold move at the time.
Intense competition and financial strains eventually lost him control of the business and in 2004 Mondavi accepted a buyout worth US$1.3bn from US-based Constellation Brands.
But Mondavi had strong business acumen and forged a number of important joint ventures with prominent vintners early on in his career.
His most significant came in 1979 when he teamed up with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild to create Opus One Winery.
Opus One caught the attention of the wine and business world globally and brought in a new era of foreign investment to California.
The new wine created a world sales record for California with a $24,000 case price at the first Napa Valley Wine Auction, and so with this in mind, he went on to set up joint ventures with local partners in Europe, South America and Australia.
However, one of his most significant contributions to the wine industry was his discovery of Fumé Blanc. In 1968 he made a dry oak-aged white wine, an unpopular variety in California at the time. The wine became a success and, in time, became known as Sauvignon Blanc.
At the end of the 1970's Mondavi bought a winemaking cooperative, Woodbridge, which produced the first value-priced US wines with barrel ageing, and provided the family with a steady flow of cash.
He further expanded his horizons through international partnerships with the Frescobaldi family in Italy, with Eduardo Chadwick of Vina Errazuriz in Chile and Rosemount in Australia.
Mondavi also later purchased some prominent California wineries, namely Arrowood and Ornellaia.
Now in the money, the winemaker turned his efforts to more humanitarian endeavours and began donating his hard earned cash.
Spearheading the Copia project, he donated $20m to building The American Institute for Food, Wine and the Arts.
He also donated $25m to establish the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, $10m to finish the campus' performing arts centre, and $35m to the University of California.
The wines of the Napa Valley received global recognition as a result of Mondavi's technical improvements and marketing strategies, and from early on he aggressively promoted labelling wines varietally rather than generically. This is now the standard for New World wines.
Mondavi's last dip into the world of winemaking was in 2005 when he joined forces with his brother Peter to make wine together for the first time following their feud. Using grapes from both family vineyards, they produced one barrel of cabernet blend, which was sold under the name "Ancora Una Volta" ("Once Again").
Remaining an active ambassador until his death, he will be remembered by many for centuries to come for his generous contribution to the wine industry.
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