by Fred McMillin
for December 14, 1998

 

The Birth of a Wine


Prologue

1920—My father, Cesare Mondavi, was a very quiet man. A shrug of the shoulders was his idea of a conversation.


The Rest of the Story

1937—However, Cesare did talk enough to convince his son to change career choices. Robert Gerald Mondavi had just graduated in economics from Stanford University (with a minor in rugby!) But instead of leaping into the financial fray, Robert was soon taking University of California enology courses.

1943—Cesare provides Robert with a learning laboratory by purchasing the Charles Krug winery. One of the first findings was that names are important. They tried rather unsuccessfully to sell their wines under the name Napa Vista. They gave up when their major distributor observed, "Bob, this sounds like a real estate development, not a wine."

Fume Blanc 1967—Robert Mondavi's own winery was a year old, and they had a name problem. They had made a fine Sauvignon Blanc, with added character from time in French oak barrels, low-temperature fermentation, etc. But Sauvignon Blanc was about as popular as root canals. However, Robert had tasted fine wines on the Loire from that grape, where it had been called the "blanc fumé" (foo-may). "So, we decided to Americanize blanc fumé and call our wine Fumé Blanc...When we introduced it in 1968, the name and the wine were enormous hits, and today Fumé Blanc remains one of our signature, most popular wines."


The Wine

1996 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, CA.
Barrel fermented, unfiltered.
Dry and complex.
Has enough moxie to serve with ham or veal, in addition to the more conventional fish or fowl.
Contact—Nancy Light, (707) 259-9463
Price—$12 range


Postscript

Cooking at Mondavi Winery A Tip from the Top
My wife and I conducted a cooking/wine class (pictured), at the winery during the crush on Oct. 27, 1975. While tasting his Fumé, Robert said he prefers the wine several years after release. The added bottle age provides fuller aromas and flavors.

Credits—The source for this article is a new, Robert Mondavi autobiography titled Harvests of Joy, Harcourt Brace, 1998, $27. You might be able to get a signed copy if you phoned Nancy.

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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