ENTHUSIAST'S CORNER April 2001
Micky, Minnie and Mondavi
Disney and Mondavi join forces to present a family-friendly introduction to viticulture, fine dining and wine's place in a wholesome lifestyle.
A vineyard is usually a quiet place. Even at harvest time, the earth and sky seem to absorb the sounds of trucks and fieldworkers. But strolling through this vineyard, you hear screams…and the roar of a roller coaster… and see characters dressed up as dogs and mice.
This is no ordinary winery. It's the Golden Vine Winery, presented by Robert Mondavi and located at the new California Adventure Park, adjacent to Disneyland in Anaheim. Michael Mondavi, president and CEO, worked with Disney to help make this happen, the goal being to educate Americans about the pleasures of wine. And his passion is contagious: "I believe that wine has evolved from its golden age and is now entering the platinum era," he says. "There is a great opportunity to grow the consumer base by removing wine's mystery while maintaining its magic." And this is precisely what Mondavi has achieved with this re-creation of California wine country.
A visit to the Golden Vine Winery begins with a walk along pathways that frame the winery and working vineyard; the path brings you to an intimate barrel room. Knowledgeable "wine ambassadors" answer questions and guide visitors through tastings, offering insight into the character of various wines with tips on serving and food pairings. The winery features seven wine bars; both informal and formal dining experiences are available.
A seven-minute film presentation, "Seasons of the Vine," offers a behind-the-scenes introduction to the workings of the vineyard. Watching this film was thrilling to me as I thought of the thousands of new potential wine enthusiasts being exposed to this glorious process on a daily basis. This was without a doubt the single most positive aspect of this Mondavi joint venture with Disney: the emphasis on family education, which has always been a hallmark of Mondavi's approach to wine. Children receive a 16-page activity book explaining farming techniques and other aspects of planting and harvesting of grapes. Young chefs are offered assistance in the preparation of their own pasta dishes. The natural association of food and wine is emphasized throughout the experience. The theme is echoed throughout the park, as prominent chefs like Andrew Sutton, Wolfgang Puck and Joachim Splichal are opening superb wine and food venues. (More on this in our May issue.)
In my column at the end of last year (Best of Year issue, 2000), I named the Disney/Mondavi collaboration as one of the top five wine stories of the year. And now that I've seen the end result, I'm even more sure that I was right. When an American institution like Disney, which has always stood for a wholesome lifestyle, acknowledges that wine is an integral part of that lifestyle—well, it's groundbreaking. And all Disney visitors will benefit from this knowledge. We congratulate the entire Mondavi family for having the vision and perseverance to make this dream a reality.
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Second- and third- generation Italian Americans like the Mondavis have certainly helped put California on the map of first-tier wine regions. Meanwhile, a renaissance of sorts is taking place in Tuscany. In this issue, Mark Mazur, our tasting director, takes a look at the new face of Chianti. Also along Italian lines, you'll find an article on Amaro, or Italian Bitters. And let Food Channel Superchef Mario Batali, a lover of all things Italian, introduce you to balsamic vinegar.
Closer to home, we visit the winemakers of California's South-Central Coast. Steve Heimoff examines the image of the winemakers of that part of the world, and finds the truth: you can't take a "don't worry, be happy" philosophy and then expect to create quality wines and compete in a global business. Unlike the Golden Vine Winery, operating most such businesses is not a Mickey Mouse affair.
-Adam M. Strum