Alucky few may get to taste old and rare vintages of Robert Mondavi wines, beginning with the 1966 Unfined Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the To Kalon Vineyard. By 1971, it was simply known as Reserve. It wasn’t until the 2011 vintage that the winery designated it as To Kalon Vineyard.
But just as interesting—and more widely available—are the wines inspired by the winery or made by the many winemakers who have passed through its doors. There’s also the legacy of Geneviève Janssens, the director of winemaking since 1997 and a quiet mentor to many.
Michael Mondavi, Robert’s oldest son, was the first winemaker at Mondavi Winery, a position he held through its first eight vintages. He now runs Michael Mondavi Family Estate and Folio Fine Wine Partners.
Michael’s son, Rob, makes the Michael Mondavi wines, including M by Michael Mondavi, Animo and Emblem.
Rob recently launched Fourth Leaf Wines with his cousin, Angelina, the granddaughter of Peter Mondavi (Robert’s brother) and daughter of Marc.
Also there early on? Warren Winiarski, who would later found Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and launch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon into the global stratosphere after the historic 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.
The list of great winemaking names with connections to the winery reads like a Who’s Who of Napa.
Michael’s younger brother, Tim, began making the wine at the family winery in the 1980s. He went on to start Continuum Estate, which produces a singularly focused Cabernet from a high-elevation site on Pritchard Hill. He runs Continuum with his sister and children, two of which, Dante and Carlo, have recently launched Raen Winery, making Pinot Noir from three hillside vineyards on the extreme Sonoma Coast.
Zelma Long, Robert Mondavi’s chief enologist in the early 1970s, is an international consultant for wineries in California, Washington, Israel and France. She’s also winemaking partner at Vilafonté in South Africa.
Long was originally hired by Mike Grgich, who went on to help make the winning Chateau Montelena Chardonnay of Judgment of Paris fame. Now in his 90s, Grgich continues to preside over Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.
Other talents to grace Robert Mondavi Winery in the past include winemaker Ric Forman, later of Sterling and Newton, who is making his own wines under the name Rossi-Wallace; John Williams of Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford; Dan Goldfield of Dutton-Goldfield in the Russian River Valley; and Paul Hobbs, of Paul Hobbs Winery and myriad international consulting gigs.
That’s to name just a few.
In addition to the Robert Mondavi Winery wines, Janssens also makes Portfolio, a limited-production Cabernet in partnership with her husband, Luc, and two children.
Janssens stands beside the next generation of winemakers at Mondavi, Joe Harden and Megan Schofield. If the past 50 years are any indication, Robert Mondavi Winery will continue to nurture and launch future winemaking stars. It’s a good time to taste it all.
Tasting the Legacy
Portfolio 2011 Limited Edition (Napa Valley); $140, 95 points. A blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Cabernet Franc, made by Geneviève Janssens, this has an Old-World soul with plenty of California complexity.
Robert Mondavi 2012 To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $145, 94 points. From one of the Napa Valley’s most historic sites, this Cab delivers blackberry and blueberry alongside complex cassis, clove and black licorice, with years to go.
Continuum 2012 Estate Vineyard Proprietary Red Blend (Napa Valley); $200, 93 points. From Tim and Marcia Mondavi’s rocky, estate Pritchard Hill property, this is extreme, dripping in dense tobacco and bittersweet chocolate. Cellar through 2022.
Rossi-Wallace 2014 Chardonnay (Rutherford); $25, 93 points. A personal project of winemaker Ric Forman and his wife, Cheryl Emmolo, this elegant, mineral-driven wine offers subtle waves of apple skin, lemon and tangerine.
Michael Mondavi Family Estate 2012 Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $60, 91 points. Bittersweet at first, with sizable tannins, this Cab includes 13.8% Petit Verdot. Mixed berries dominate, while rich leather and clove notes mark the finish.