Last Friday, Tim Mondavi was ready to show me the first Napa Cabernet Sauvignon he's worked on since leaving his family's Robert Mondavi Corp. in 2003. He poured a barrel sample of his new wine, the 2005 Continuum—a dark, rich, supple youngster that proves he hasn’t lost his touch with Cabernet.
A blend of Cabernet (60 percent) and equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the wine is dense yet fleshy, with rich currant and black cherry-laced fruit. It has the signature Mondavi style that combines elegance and finesse. It's powerful yet restrained and graceful, a style Tim has mastered during his 30-year career as a winemaker.
This wine is every bit as good as Mondavi's finest efforts, and it reminded me of the 1987 and 1997 Mondavi Reserve wines when they were this young.
As the wine evolved in the glass over the next hour, Tim talked about the new venture that he formed a year ago with his children, his sister, Marcia Mondavi Borger, his father, Robert Mondavi, Robert's wife, Margrit, and Marcia's children.
The way Tim sees it, he's merely starting over, just like his father did when he launched Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 after being ousted from Charles Krug winery, which his family owned.
It's a bittersweet return to wine for Tim, 55, and Marcia, 59, not to mention Robert, who is 93. The Mondavi family lost control of their wine empire, Robert Mondavi Corp., in 2003 amid internal strife over whether the wine company could remain true to its Napa Valley heritage, or whether it should continue to push case volume to meet Wall Street’s earnings expectations.
In the end, the board of directors voted to sell the company to Constellation Brands, which left the Mondavis out of the wine business for the first time in decades.
It took Tim time to get over the shock and disillusionment of losing his family's namesake winery and company. But he says he never had any doubt that he'd stay in the wine business.
Tim and Marcia, along with Robert, regrouped and formed their own company, which goes by the name Continuum to reflect their family’s ties to wine and their ongoing passion for it. There are 1,300 cases of the '05 vintage, but Tim says he would like to build the brand to 8,000 cases and maybe even construct a winery.
The grapes came from two vineyards in Oakville, Marjorie's Vineyard (named after his mother) and To Kalon Vineyard, both long mainstays of Robert Mondavi Winery's Reserve Cabernets. Tim says he is hoping that Constellation will allow him to purchase 36 acres of the two vineyards; land in that area currently sells for around $300,000 per acre.
Tim says that he is also pondering making Pinot Noir and Syrah—two grapes that excite him—from the Sonoma Coast. Stay tuned.