At some point in life, you realize just how much things have changed, and just how fast the world is passing you by. At least if you live long enough you do. Charles Krug's Peter Mondavi, who died at age 101 this past weekend, certainly had.
Those of us on the observation deck come to appreciate the perspective longevity affords. I don't know what number constitutes "old" or even "young" anymore, and certainly not everyone acts their age, but Peter was unique—wise beyond his many years, which somehow never seemed to take their toll.
Knowing Peter these past decades could be surreal, expecting him to live forever but knowing no one can. I felt that way about André Tchelistcheff as he steered into his mid-nineties; Ernest Gallo and Peter's brother Robert Mondavi, too. You wonder what could possibly bring them down when, in reality, time waits for no man (no matter how convincingly some might challenge the notion).
I've thought about that, and about Peter, for some years now. He was the steady, methodical tortoise to his brother Robert's darting, daring hare. Peter rarely changed course, and when he did it was only after carefully considered deliberation. Bob seemed to run on a whim.
I knew both brothers well, Bob ever so slightly better than Peter because of his extroverted personality. My relationship with both of them was that of critic to artist, and there were often times that they professed inability to figure out my palate, not that it mattered: They made the wines they wanted to make.
Time has passed them both by now, as surely as it will you and me. Vintners often recall their lives through their wines and vintages, and if they're good enough and work at it long enough, those wines will live on long past their makers, to carry their message of what it was they thought a wine should be.
Peter loved his wines as much as Bob did, and their wines reflected the similarities and differences in their personalities.
Peter's Charles Krug Cabernets were, like him, relentlessly long agers, charmingly smooth and subtle. Time and again he shared wines from the 1940s, '50s and '60s that were as good as any in Napa Valley. You could never count one out.
Bob's wines were flashier, but shared a similar design. They too met the tests of time, rarely expiring, and hanging on for what seemed like forever.
Peter left it all on the field or, in his case, in the vineyards and the cellar. And he leaves Charles Krug in the strongest position it's ever been; his level-headed, calm but assured decision-making has been passed along to his sons. It's part of the amazing legacy of his sojourn here, and we'll likely never see another quite like him.