Vintners You Should Know

The Marvelous Mondavis

When Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi moved to Napa Valley in the early 1900s, it’s pretty certain they had no idea their name would become associated with the pioneers of the American wine industry in the 20th Century.  And beyond.

A greengrocer by trade, Cesare started buying and selling grapes.  Then, in the early 1940s, he started making wine out of them.  Soon after, Cesare and Rosa bought the Charles Krug winery from another immigrant family (this one from Germany), and their sons Peter and Robert learned the trade...very well, it turns out.

The brothers parted company in later years, and Robert’s flair for winemaking and promotion made his name the more familiar of the two.  However, Peter and his sons quietly grew their company into one of the most successful wine brands in America.

Today, Peter’s son Marc runs the Charles Krug winery, along with several other labels he’s established. “I’ve always been involved in wine production,” he recollects.  “Even in elementary school.”  Like many children of Italian parents, he grew up with wine all around.  “We never had just one bottle of wine on the table at dinner,” he says.

Marc Mondavi was educated and trained in the art not only at the family table, but also through the famous wine program at UC Davis.  “I was there at just the right time.  I had all the most famous professors.”  (Later, when Marc’s daughters attended UC Davis, they had to use assumed names because everybody but everybody knew who the Mondavis were.)

Marc Mondavi’s team produces several brands, including CK Mondavi, a value-priced lineup.  He was kind enough to pour a few of them for me at dinner a few weeks ago, and I asked him a question that I pose to every winemaker I interview:  what’s the most important thing in the winemaking process?

“Terroir,” he says.  That’s the French word for the soil in the vineyard, but like most French words, it means a lot more than that.  “Terroir creates the end result,” Marc believes.  “It’s the dirt that impacts the fruit the most.”  Following that philosophy, Mondavi’s winemaking techniques are “true to the earth,” and he’s most proud of the fact that everything the winery uses, from the bottles to the labels to…everything…is “Made in the USA Certified.”  His family’s commitment also extends to support of veteran’s organizations such as the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

During dinner, we sampled the CK Mondavi Chardonnay and Merlot.  There are nine wines in the CK Mondavi portfolio, ranging from a lighter Pinot Grigio to a rich red blend they call Scarlet Five, which includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the other traditional Bordeaux varietals.

So…here is an evaluation (and a bit of appreciation) for the flavor and value the winery is able to pack into this particular brand.

CK Mondavi Chardonnay California 2016 ($6.99) – A great value, it’s medium-bodied, giving off citrus aromas and flavors, with a hint of apple and oak.  It’s 95% Chardonnay with 2% of a grape called Symphony, which was a new one on me.  According to Marc, it’s a hybrid created at UC Davis, and adds flowery notes to the blend.  WW 88

CK Mondavi Merlot California 2014 ($6.99) – It says Merlot on the label, because the bottle contains over 75% of that grape, but there are also small amounts of several other varietals that add dark fruit flavors and body.  A great everyday sipper.  WW 88