VINE CUTTINGS September 2003

Happy Birthday, Dear Robert

Mondavi Celebrates 90th Birthday in style.

The great lawn at the Robert Mondavi Winery was packed with food and wine luminaries on June 18. Guests came from all over the world to celebrate Robert Mondavi’s 90th birthday. Among those in attendance was California Gov. Gray Davis, who officially proclaimed the date "Robert Mondavi Day" in California.

"Ernest [Gallo] is here too," Davis said. "These two guys drink wine every day and they’re both over 90. What does that tell you?" he asked.

Chefs from 17 restaurants, including Thomas Keller of Yountville’s The French Laundry, provided a smorgasbord for the crowd before a stage presentation that relieved the senior Mondavi from a seemingly endless receiving line. To kick off the event, vintner/comedian Tommy Smothers fired up the audience before ceding the microphone to various members of the Mondavi family.

A bit of new information regarding Robert Mondavi’s personal history was revealed when his sons, Michael and Tim, disclosed the fact that their father had been christened Anthony—not Robert—at least according to his Minnesota birth certificate. His mother ultimately preferred the name Robert, and it stuck, though the birth records were never altered.

"I just learned that today," said Mondavi. "You always keep learning if you’ve got an open mind and an open heart."
Renowned San Francisco chef Gary Danko was also on hand for the celebration. "Robert Mondavi changed the way we Americans think of food and wine," he said. "He was the first vintner to do food and wine pairings at a winery."

Indeed, Mondavi indelibly changed the face of modern-day California wine. After a dispute with his brother, Peter, in 1965, he left his family’s Charles Krug Winery. The following year, he founded his eponymous Napa Valley winery. An ambitious international travel schedule led Mondavi to bring Old World winemaking traditions back to California. Perhaps even more important, his peripatetic nature led him to become California wine’s most effective ambassador.
Today, the Robert Mondavi Corporation is a publicly held company with some 1,000 employees. The company’s 15 brands produce a total of 12 million cases of wine per year.

The winery’s luster has been dulled recently as a series of cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing moves have caused them to lay off 100 employees, and offer up some 1,500 acres of land for sale.

A week prior to the birthday party, Mondavi’s 91-year-old sister, Helen, died, which cast a slight pall over the festivities. However, the wine patriarch seemed to be in fine form as he addressed an adoring crowd, which sang a rousing "Happy Birthday" in unison.

Flanked by his extended family, Mondavi said, "I’ve had 32,850 days of beautiful living." He then thanked his guests for coming and resolutely returned to the task of shaking an estimated 1,500 hands.

—Jeff Morgan


Q&A Carole Meredith
UC Davis’ (former) top prof teaches us Clones 101

Professor Carole Meredith, who retired in January from the University of California, Davis, School of Viticulture and Enology, is famous for having discovered the origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other winegrape varieties. She is also an expert on the varietal clones, and owns, along with her winemaker husband, Stephen Lagier, Lagier Meredith Winery.

Wine Enthusiast: What are these famous Dijon clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay we hear so much about?
Carole Meredith: Numbered clones that were originally developed in the Dijon region of Burgundy.

WE: Do the Dijon clones make better wine?
CM: I wouldn’t say so. They just happen to be a set of clones that have a name attached. Far too much importance is placed on them.

WE: Wineries boast about their Dijon clones. Is it hype?
CM: It’s not so much deliberately hyped as misunderstood. The folks making those statements think it’s the best France has to offer, and I’m sure the folks in France who gave them those clones want them to think that.

WE: So what should consumers think about clones?
CM: It’s not really relevant to the consumer. What’s important is that the grower has chosen the right mix of material for his site.

WE: What’s a "suitcase clone"?
CM: Well, the term we use at the University is "Samsonite clone." The U.S. has a quarantine against the direct import of grapevines, to prevent the inadvertant introduction of a new disease that could be devastating. Samsonite clones are brought in by people who don’t declare them.

WE: Is it common?
CM: It used to be. A lot of people have done it. They probably brought in some interesting stuff, but the risk wasn’t only to their own bottom line, it was to the entire industry.

WE: Is there a downside to cloning?
CM: We’re in danger of too few varieties, and their internationalization. You have all these obscure grapes, and they’re being replanted [to popular varietals] based on economics. One of the saddest things is places like Bulgaria and Croatia, where they’re ripping out old vineyards. You can get a Bulgarian Merlot for $2.69, but try getting a Dobricic, which makes fantastic wine.

WE: I can just see them trying to sell Dobricic in the U.S.
CM: Yeah. They’d have to call it "Doby," or something!

—Steve Heimoff


People in the News

William Knuttel, formerly of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery, is the new winemaker for Dry Creek Vineyards. He replaces Jeff McBride, who is now a general manager at Stimson Lane.

Terlato Wine Group has selected Bryan Parker as winemaker for Alderbrook Vineyards & Winery. Parker was formerly the assistant winemaker of Pine Ridge Winery.
At a recent Wine Institute board of directors meeting, Robert P. "Bobby" Koch was promoted to president and chief executive officer of the organization.
 Sterling Vineyards promoted Rob Hunter to the post of vice president of winemaking. Hunter has held various positions on the Sterling winemaking team since 1997.

Jim Moore has been named director of winery operations for Bonny Doon Vineyard. He brings more than 25 years of wine-industry experience to the job, including various capacities at Robert Mondavi Winery. Moore will continue as proprietor and winemaker of L’Uvaggio di Giacomo, which he founded in 1997..
Angus M. Shipley, who sold stainless steel tanks for Paul Mueller Company to many California and Washington wineries, was remembered in a recent memorial in Falls Church, Virginia. Shipley died on May 17.

Industry News

Viña Undurraga, has announced that its distribution agreement of 15 years with Kobrand Corporation will not be renewed this year due to market conditions and Kobrands’ portfolio reorganization. Viña Undurraga will be working directly with their network of wholesalers, overseen by US sales and marketing manager Bob O’Brien.
Domaine Carneros has just opened a new Pinot Noir winemaking facility, which includes energy-efficient insulated skylights and a 120-kilowatt solar panel system that is estimated to supply up to 40 percent of the facility’s energy needs. Domaine Carneros anticipates that this facility will allow it to double production of Pinot Noir.
Long Island’s North Fork is now home to The Tasting Room, a new, multiwinery tasting room. For a $3 fee, visitors may sample flights and purchase the latest releases from Schneider Vineyards, Broadfields Wine Cellars, Comtesse Thérèse and Sherwood House Vineyards.

The construction that broke ground in June 2001 at Nickel & Nickel is complete. To commemorate the event the winery hosted a grand opening on July 25th.

—Kristen Fogg



Windows on Tribeca to Open Early 2004

Former WOW workers found co-op in tribute to fallen colleagues

Coming in April 2004 is Windows on Tribeca, a stylish new eatery that celebrates comfort food: "The kind your mama used to serve at Thanksgiving," declares one of it principals, Magdi Labib. Even more surprising than American cuisine from a restaurateur whose childhood kitchen in Egypt ran to kebab and foul is that Labib will have 42 partners, all of whom are former Windows on the World employees.

The new Windows was conceived as a tribute to their lost colleagues. This project also demonstrates the power of the American Dream as most of this wildly diverse group—from such places as Nepal, Morocco, Indonesia and the Ivory Coast—have little managerial experience. Still, they seem to have few qualms about mounting a $3 million, white-tablecloth enterprise, in part because their passion has attracted seasoned consultants like Beacon chef Waldy Malouf and Tribeca Grill founding chef Don Pintabona.

Windows on Tribeca will appeal to the nearby Wall Street crowd, with hearty main dishes like veal chop in morel sauce, and small plates to share family style. But it is the wine list that may best reflect the co-op’s international face, with a wide selection served by the glass to pair with dishes that will be influenced by far-flung cuisines.

"We’ll have wine from every corner of the globe," proclaims Labib, once a dinner captain at Windows on the World and a certified sommelier. But while the restaurant will honor the ethnic diversity of its owners, national pride goes only so far. "We won’t have wines from Egypt," Labib laughs.  

—Janet Forman

Art Among the Barbera Vines

At Michele Chiarlo’s La Court vineyard near Asti, Italy, the hills were alive this summer with spirits, sculpture and more.

Under a full summer moon in mid-July, winery owner Michele Chiarlo and his family opened their phantasmagoric Orme sulla Court arts park, two years in the making and unprecedented in terms of scope and creativity.

Orme sulla Court, which means "Footprints in La Court," was inspired by the Chiarlo family’s love of art and the La Court vineyard, which spans about 50 acres of hilly terrain in the heart of the Barbera d’Asti region. The Chiarlos acquired La Court in 1995; since then, the vineyard-designated La Court Barbera has been a jewel in the family’s extensive portfolio of Piedmontese wines.

But on the night of July 12, wine was just one part of the show. More than 200 guests braved the sultry midsummer heat to see what had been brewing behind the scenes for the past two years. Quite an exhibition awaited.
For starters, the wines flowed and the food followed. Meanwhile, in the hayloft of one of the property’s two cascinas (farm buildings), was an exhibition of paintings from the Oscar-nominated set designer and artist Emanuele Luzzati. The 82-year-old Genoan was also the "director" of the overall Orme project.

Chief among his duties was conceptualizating and commissioning the artworks that would be installed throughout the vineyard.

Luzzati hired no fewer than 15 Italian artists to create haunting, humorous and surreal sculptures, gateways and vantage points. Sculpted birds were affixed to metal cages, glass was blown to look like flames, and two dozen iron heads were mounted atop posts in the vineyards, among other things. Clips from various movies showing the joys of wine and food were shown on an open-air screen, à la Cinema Paradiso. And, as the beat from the DJ’s booth thumped, one of Italy’s top gelato makers dispensed ice cream to go along with copious amounts of Nivole Moscato d’Asti.

"For us, this is an enchanting, exciting place," said Alberto Chiarlo, marketing director for the 75,000-case winery and a key planner of the opening festivities. "My parents are art lovers. They were inspired to create something that has never been done. For our family, this is just the beginning of something we can use to show off the region."

Indeed, the park was open to the public for three days in late July, and again in August. Alberto Chiarlo intimated that, in the future, the park will be open on numerous occasions for parties, celebrations, fundraising events and public viewings.

"We have something special here, something different for a traditional agricultural area," Chiarlo said of the project, which cost an estimated 250,000 Euros. "We anticipate groups coming from Milan, Torino and elsewhere to enjoy this park. And we’re not saying it’s done yet."

Translation: Expect more artwork, and even more footprints, in this park.

-Michael Schachner

When Bigger IS Better
Fourth edition of Bordeaux to be
published next month

Robert M. Parker, Jr.’s latest effort may give you a hernia, but those expenses are covered by health insurance. When you’re spending your own money on wine—especially on Bordeaux—a little heavy lifting may be worth the effort.

When Parker’s first book on Bordeaux was published in 1985, it was a hefty 542 pages, with hundreds of tasting notes and reclassifications of the chateaus by the once-upstart wine critic. But the fourth edition, out this fall from Simon & Schuster, makes the first look like a pamphlet. In fact, the review copy arrived as two volumes with an explanatory note saying the final version would be a single volume running just over 1,500 pages.

The added bulk represents an effort on the part of Parker and his publisher to make the book more than a compendium of tasting notes and vintage assessments. Each of the chateau entries now includes detailed contact information for prospective visitors, as well as capsule summaries of the estate’s vineyards, yields and winemaking techniques. In addition, Parker has added hundreds of new properties to the roughly 250 that were profiled in the original and the vintage assessments now cover the vintages from 1945 to 2001.

A final chapter, "A Visitor’s Guide to Bordeaux," contains Parker’s personally annotated list of hotels and restaurants, wine shops and "romantic and hedonistic excursions" in and around Bordeaux.

Despite the frills, the book remains, at its heart, a compilation of tasting notes. As such, it’s difficult to read cover to cover. On the other hand, Parker’s purple prose is capable of making even this jaded enophile salivate. After reading his description of the ’98 Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t resist a quick trip on-line to find out how much a bottle of this 96+-point nectar would set me back ($300 or more): "Remarkably fuller-bodied than I ever remembered it young, with an amazingly seamless texture and tremendous concentration and extract, this full-bodied yet gorgeously pure and elegant wine is impeccably balanced and certainly one of the all-time great Cheval Blancs."
Some of Parker’s best writing occurs in the preface, in which he argues that modern-day Bordeaux, although approachable in its youth, will age just as long and gracefully as vintages from the past.

At a suggested retail price of $60, I suspect many consumers may think twice about purchasing this weighty tome. After all, you can still get a good bottle of Bordeaux for that kind of cash. But if you buy more than a few bottles of Bordeaux a year, it pays to know what Parker says, even if you don’t always agree with his palate. And if you’re an armchair wine buyer, cruising the on-line auctions looking for bargains, you’ll find Parker’s latest book indispensable.

Bordeaux: A Consumer Guide to the World’s Finest Wines, Fourth Edition, by Robert M. Parker, Jr. Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, ©2003.

—Joe Czerwinski

Published on September 1, 2003
About the Author
Dylan Garret

The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories