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A Review of
"Harvest of Joy, My Passion For Excellence"
by Robert Mondavi with Paul Chutkow

  by Fred McMillin

 

The California Wine Man of The Century...

Robert Mondavi
Harvest of Joy, My Passion For Excellence
by Robert Mondavi with Paul Chutkow
Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998, $27

18th Century—Father Junipero Serra, born 1713. His team brought the first wine vines into California and about 1782 the Spanish missionaries made the state's first wine.

19th Century—Count Agoston Haraszthy, born 1812 Man of Great Vision and Action. Brought 100,000 European cuttings to California. Promoted need to plant varietals that were superior to Father Serra's Mission grape...particulary the Zinfandel. Introduced the Muscat of Alexandria that founded the state's raisin industry.

20th Century—Robert Gerald Mondavi, born 1913. No other California vintner came close to his combination of both technical improvements (French oak, cold fermentation, etc.) and promotional achievements (the 364-page book covers this nicely).

 

Why People Call Me "Rapid Robert"

Here's the essence of Robert Mondavi, in his own words. "Too many corporate executives look for reasons to say no to new ideas. This is wrong. Business involves constant, unavoidable risk. Sometimes I decide right on the spot, in a matter of seconds. This can drive people around me nuts."

Example: "Oh, how my way of working used to exasperate the [great] Andre Tchelistcheff. Andre was a scientist, patient, methodical. But as a business man, I needed answers I could implement today, now, this minute." Andre recalled, "Bob came to me during the crush at Beaulieu...excited, looking around with open eyes, absorbing everything. Quicksilver. He was quicksilver right from the beginning. He was very insistent with his ideas. Bob was too speedy for me."

Example #2: Baron Philippe de Rothschild invited Bob to meet him in Hawaii during a wholesalers' convention. Bob went to the Baron's room, and was "totally taken aback" when Philippe asked if they could work together on a Cabernet Sauvignon project. Yet, in FORTY FIVE MINUTES they had agreed on a project which we know as Opus One, certainly one of the most celebrated of California wines.

Example #3: Page 283...THE CRISIS BIT DEEP. "I was just turning eighty years old. My company was in turmoil." Sorry, to find out how Robert Gerald handled this one you need to get the book!

 

The Many Wines of Mondavi

Those Mondavi decisions included producing wine in many more areas than the Napa Valley...the Central Coast of California, the Midi of France, Central Chile, etc. Here are the best of the Mondavi group from each area that my panel has tasted recently, always blind.

7th - Chile, '95 Cab, Caliterra, $12
6th - Woodbridge Winery, '93 PORTacinco (dessert), $15
5th - France (Midi), Vichon, '96, Mediterranean Syrah, $10
4th - Italian varietals grown in California/ Famiglia/Pinot Grigio/$16
3rd - California Central Coast, '97 Merlot, $11
2nd - Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay, $30
Winner - Napa Valley, '95 Opus One, $100
 

Postscript

Who will be the leading California wine man of the 21st century? If history is any guide, we have two clues. First, watch the birth announcements in 2012 and 2013, since the previous winners birthdates were 1713, 1812 and 1913...Second, check the candidates when they hit their fifties. Father Serra was 54 when he was selected to take the cross (and the first vines) into California. Agoston was 50 when he was cataloging those 100,000 vines from Europe, and when he published his landmark Grape Culture, Wines and Wine Making, published by Harper and Brothers in New York in 1862. Robert Mondavi was 52 when he decided to found his own winery, which is so well documented in the above Harvest of Joy.

Note:
This review first appeared in Fred McMillin's Book & Bottles column in The Wayward Tendrils Newsletter of the Wine Book Collector's Society, published by Gail Unzelman, Fax (707) 544-2723. Reprinted with permission.

 

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