Food Arts presents its March 1991 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Robert Mondavi, legendary winemaker.
If any one person is the symbol of California wine, it's Robert Mondavi. Mondavi wasn't content just to make good wine. He was determined to make great wine and was motivated by unswerving faith that California wines would one day stand up to the best in the world. "I knew we had the climate, soil, and grapes, so, if we had the techniques, we could produce wine that would belong in the company of the great wines of the world," he explains. Traveling in Europe, Mondavi discovered that the finest wines were aged in small oak barrels in contrast to the large redwood tanks then in use in California. "This was a real eye-opener," he says, recalling that he ordered 120 oak barrels immediately upon his return to California. Later he would collaborate with Château Mouton-Rothschild to produce Opus One, a Bordeaux-style red wine in the Napa Valley. This spectacular wine has been produced at Mondavi's Oakville winery since 1979, but a $10 million Opus One Winery is scheduled for completion this year.
A tireless leader in research and experimentation, Mondavi pioneered numerous other techniques in winemaking and in the vineyard that improved the quality of California wine. A consummate promoter, Mondavi introduced new styles of wine proved it was possible to sell good wine to increasingly sophisticated Americans and even exported California wine to Europe. Early on, he recognized the importance of the wine/food connection: He established a Great Chefs program at his winery some 15 years ago and was a co-founder of the American Institute of Wine & Food.
Now 77, Mondavi has been involved in the wine business since he was ten, when he began helping his father, Cesare, with the family grape-shipping business in Lodi, California. After graduating from Stanford, where he studied both chemistry and business, Mondavi joined his father and brother, Peter, at the Sunny St. Helena winery, which produced bulk wine. A few years later, the Mondavis bought the Charles Krug winery. After a family rift, Mondavi, by then 54, struck out on his own and built the Robert Mondavi Winery, where he has realized his goals of producing world-class wine and establishing a legacy for his three grown children, Marcia, Michael, and Tim, all of who are in the business.
Mondavi has now undertaken an ambitious educational project, known as the "Mission," to counteract neo-prohibition sentiment by preaching the gospel of the health and cultural benefits of wine in moderation.