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james laube's wine flights

Why There Will Never Be Another Robert Mondavi

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 14, 2007 1:42pm ET

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.

Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  December 14, 2007 6:40pm ET
Great blog, Jim. I don't think you can overemphasize how important Robert Mondavi has been to the California Wine Industry - and probably the entire domestic wine industry as well. I think all wineries above the bulk wine level owe a huge debt of thanks to him.

I was lucky enough to have met him a few years ago - and was able to thank him for all he'd done. He was very gracious, and even asked about my winery. One of my best memories from my time in this biz.
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  December 15, 2007 8:27am ET
I don't know if many are aware of it but Mondavi is credited with being Angelo Gaja's inspiration to realise the potential of the wines of Piedmont. The story (as related by Domenico Clerico) is that Mondavi told Gaja that the winemakers of the Langhe were "sleeping", not realising the great potential of their terroir and the nebbiolo grape. The rest is history.
Monticello Vineyards
Napa, California —  December 15, 2007 11:40am ET
Like Brian, I was also fortunate enough to personally say "Thank You" to Robert Mondavi for all of his positive efforts that have lead our industry to where we are. I agree with Brian that a lot of wineries owe a debt of thanks to him.When my dad planted our family vineyards in Napa in 1969, Robert Mondavi Winery was just a few years old. I know that my dad, as a young vintner in the early 1970s, was certainly inspired by Mr. Mondavi's energy and vision 30-40 years ago. Thanks Robert - from two generations of Corleys !Cheers,Chris Corley
Lisa Andrews
CHATTANOOGA,TN 37402 —  December 15, 2007 12:06pm ET
jimgreat blog on Robert Mondavi and I agree the wineworld would not have been the same without himHope you have Happy Holidayslisa
Dr Dennis R Mangino
Brighon, MI —  December 16, 2007 1:21pm ET
Dear Jim,We're all greatful for the impact that Robert Mondavi's dedication and contributions have had on California's wine industry. What's also important is the objectivity and fairness of your articles, including this one. Thanks for being the professional that you are. Happy Holidays, Dennis
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  December 16, 2007 8:52pm ET
Dear Jim,Thank you for blogging about Mr. Mondavi. He remains the real pioneer of the commercial wine industry in California. Personally, he has inspired me in my career and I know many others who will always hold him and his achievements in high esteem.
Paul Ma
las vegas, nv —  December 17, 2007 4:39am ET
Thanks Jim for great blog! I just finished reading Taber's 1976 Jugdgement of Paris. I think we're fortunate and grateful for Robert Mondavi's influence in the industry...and also his wines. Definitely no replacement for such charismatic personality...cheers to RM!!
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  December 17, 2007 11:00am ET
Mondavi came in a time in American wine history when bulk jug wines ruled the shelves. For the industry to ever advance and realize its potential, quality,from the vineyard through the winery, had to become part of the equation, not just volume. Mondavi brought that vision to the US wine industry. Even some of the cheap jug wines were improved. Today the US wine industry is mostly mature. Some vintners are still forging ahead working on refining clones and terrior and developing wine excellence, others still market and sell bad wine to the masses. A 21st Century Mondavi would never be able to speak for the entire industry today, its too splintered. The Wine Spectators and other such publishers,along with their publications and other wine events, have probably replaced the Mondavis. They have become the champions that provide the bridge from the producer to the customer. I believe that in the future if a new leader, from within the industry, is needed, one (or a group) will appear. That seems to be the dynamics of life. Until then, James, keep up the good work!

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