Robert Mondavi’s induction into the California Hall of Fame last week recognized his passion and vision for the state’s wine industry, and at times like this, the thought arises: Will there ever be another Robert Mondavi, and who could replace him as an undisputed champion of wine?
There is no correct or easy answer. Yet it seems to me that there is no one who could replace American wine’s elder statesman, and at this point I’m not sure the industry needs anyone.
Mondavi’s role in wine is unique. He is the perfect manifestation of the right man at the right time from the right place with the right personality, charisma and vision to lead an industry that needed direction and purpose.
Mondavi recognized California’s potential to join the world’s elite winegrowing regions, and being in Napa Valley allowed him to steer his colleagues and, in effect, the industry, in the direction of quality.
He also understood that in order for him to succeed, both Napa Valley and California wines had to prove their magnitude. As a natural competitor, he embraced the challenge of setting the goal of making wines that could rival those of Europe and compete with everyone else for that recognition.
That vision and spirit proved contagious. Many vintners worldwide credit Mondavi for encouraging them to focus on quality, so that everyone would benefit.
There were other rallying points. For a time, wine and alcohol were under fire from many quarters. Mondavi’s mission that wine was part of a healthy diet and a gracious way of living is widely appreciated today.
While the wine industry seems to be in a golden age of prosperity, admiration, creativity and acceptance, there will be challenges ahead that demand leaders of Mondavi’s character.
We were lucky that in a time when California needed that kind of fortitude and resilience, Mondavi was there. He led by example and it was easy for everyone to follow.
I don’t think there’s anyone today who is in that position. But I’m hopeful that when the need arises, someone will rise to the occasion.