You can tell it's a family business at Continuum. Carissa Mondavi, 37, the newest generation of the storied vintner family, has no official title.
"I don't know how to answer that," she said when I asked her. "All I want to do is tell my dad's story and, in turn, my grandfather's," she added with a hint of wistful pride.
"Look, there's Mount Saint John, which forms the skyline on the label of the Robert Mondavi wines. Down below you can see the To Kalon vineyard, and you can draw a straight line through them to us right here. It all makes sense," she said, tracing the lineage of the Mondavi family as it moved off the valley floor below and up onto Pritchard Hill, where the family now calls a 173-acre estate home (62 acres under vine).
The rolling hilltop property which runs between 1,300 and 1,600 feet of elevation is a stunning setting for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot vines which provide fruit for Continuum, which debuted with the 2005 vintage using fruit from the To Kalon vineyard below. Ensuing vintages steadily shifted over to using the Pritchard Hill estate (though Pritchard Hill is not an official AVA). In 2008 the Mondavi clan purchased the lower portion of the vineyards, following with the upper portion the following year. Fruit from the vineyards had gone into the Versant and Cloud View wines previously, as well as being sold to Chappellet and Lewis.
The estate differs dramatically from the valley floor, first in its extremely rocky, volcanic soils, as well as its position above the fog line, resulting in warmer morning temperatures but cooler afternoon temperatures. Tim Mondavi brings his penchant for Bordeaux to bear on the production, using 38 vats to ferment each of 38 parcels separately, utilizing both cement and wood.
"Everything we're doing here is pulling from the past, but trying to improve it at the same time, while focusing on making just one great red wine," said Carissa as we tooled around the vineyards in a 4-wheel-drive buggy. The dusty red soil comes through in the wine. A possible sample for the 2012 Continuum Napa Valley (the first to be entirely from Pritchard Hill fruit) shows dense, loam-tinged tannins and a long, authoritative fig paste-fueled core of fruit. It's decidedly grippy, but also feels like crumpled velvet at the same time, with a bolt of iron in the background.
"We feel like there's more minerality and pristine focus in the fruit from up here, in comparison to To Kalon, which is the classic dense, broad style of Cabernet," said Carissa.
The comparison to the family's former flagship vineyard makes it seem as if the past still stings a bit. Do they have something to prove?
"No, not at all," said Carissa frankly. "We're proud of our legacy. I grew up at my father's table and he at his, and we're continuing that. There's no chip on our shoulder. Everything we're doing is our dream and coming up here feels like home. It's like catching your breath. It's grounded."