Editor’s Note:As many of you are well aware, Robert Mondavi died last week. Robert Mondavi was fundamental in helping to promote and define what California wine is today. Having read a dozens of wine tributes dedicated to his memory, Ryan and I equally wanted to share our thoughts too, but we didn’t feel as if we had anything new to add to the conversation. We never had the opportunity to meet him in person, nor did we have a memorable experience to share about his wine other than a few nice dinners. So we thought we’d pass the torch to a man who did know him both as a winemaker and as a friend. Fernando Melo is a well-known Portuguese wine journalist for both Blue Wine Magazine and a local weekly Portuguese magazine called Publica. Last week, while we were in Portugal, we met Fernando Melo for the first time in the Alentejo. In addition to Portuguese wine politics, and hearing about Fernando becoming a wine journalist, we shared our thoughts about Robert Mondavi’s passing. And after hearing his heartfelt story, we asked him if he would like to share it with all of you. We hope you enjoy the short piece he sent us, and we look forward to introducing you to Fernando in a future interview.
I interviewed Robert Mondavi when he turned 90, in Bordeaux, and we never lost contact ever since. He was sitting with his fantastic wife Margrit next to him, hand in hand, and it only took us 15 minutes – the actual time I was given by their PR for the whole interview – to switch places. Robert told the PR officer to cancel the next two interviews – one of them was for a TV Channel! – and I was interviewed by THE Robert Mondavi for about an hour. I still cherish that time as the warmest and deepest experience of my life as a critic.
Unfortunately, a part of our chatting went over the diverging strategies and views between Robert and his sons Michael and Tim, which made him very sad. We know what happened afterwards.
He knew Portuguese wines very well, and he was a keen fan of Port wines. He taught me something very important about Vintage Port: “they can be yummy, but they have got to dry up in the mouth to qualify as excellent”. I still use that rule of thumb whenever I blind taste Vintage Port. Another “Mondavi rule” that I keep using is being extremely economical in writing tasting notes: “don’t tell people what you found in the wines you taste; just tell them how it feels, that’s more than enough”. He was quite consumer-conscious: “if you’re just worried with showing your skills as a taster when writing down a tasting note, keep in mind that nobody will ever read it”. Kudos!
At the end of that wonderful conversation, he asked me to give a message to Portuguese winemakers: “don’t keep changing the style of your wines, that will confuse your customers; outline your style, and go after it during the following harvests, until you’ve reached YOUR wine. After that, you’ve got your product, just stick to it and promote it”. It’s quite an easy rule to achieve excellence.
They kept sending me books, mementos, cards and kept inviting me for their home in California. I’ve never managed to accept their invitation. Wrong priorities.
THANK YOU, BOB!
If you’re interested in reading more tributes to Robert Mondavi, check out some of these links:
The Pour, “Robert Mondavi Dies” Vinography, “The Passing of a Legend” Rocks and Fruit, “Should I Have Blogged on Robert Mondavi’s Passing?“ Wine Chatroom, “Toast to Robert Mondavi“ The Wine Case, “A Toast to Robert Mondavi“ Yours for Good Fermentables, “Robert Mondavi’s Huge Legacy“ Washington Post Blog, “ California Wine Patriarch, Robert Mondavi, dies at 94“ The Business Week, “Robert Mondavi, “The Pioneer Winemaker“ Shiraz, “Robert who?“ Strum Erika, “Reflections on a Summer at Robert Mondavi Winery“
Ryan and Gabriella Opaz