On Its 50th Anniversary, Robert Mondavi Winery Looks Back – and Ahead

A new tribute wine is launched to celebrate Napa Valley icon’s first half-century

Roger Morris

Margrit Mondavi and Warren Winiarski (who made the first Mondavi cabernet sauvignon reserve) at the winery anniversary fête.

Warren Winiarski was there. So was Zelma Long. And Paul Hobbs. Winemaking royalty all.

But the real guest of honor at the gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley,

was Margrit Mondavi. The late Robert Mondavi’s wife helped him pull the valley’s winemaking business out of its post-Prohibition doldrums — and it is thanks in large part to their collaboration that Napa has become a symbol for wine being celebrated today as a cultural centerpiece.

By the time Robert Mondavi died in 2008, the family had lost control of the company; it was taken public in 1993 and then was purchased by Constellation Brands 11 years later. But the Mondavi touches remain everywhere at the winery – a free-interpretation bust of Robert in front of the facility’s famous arch, Margrit’s prized roses in a nearby garden – and many of the people who shaped the winemaking with Robert and his son Tim Mondavi are still there.

Director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens, who spans Robert Mondavi then and Robert Mondavi now, led off with the tributes given and the stories told during the evening. She was joined by, among others, Hobbs, Long, and Winiarski, the last of whom crafted the first of Mondavi’s famous Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon reserves in 1966 before starting his own famous Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. “The winery building wasn’t finished,” Winiarski recalled prior to dinner, “and we had painters, carpenters, and plumbers working around us as we were making the wine.”

As alumni winemakers, vineyard managers, and grape providers told their stories, Margrit Mondavi often added comments. When someone noted that Robert had wanted to make cabernet with “the power of Pavarotti and the smoothness of a baby’s bottom,” she protested, “That was my line!”

To further celebrate the 50th anniversary, the winery launched the first of a new tribute series, Maestro, a 2013 red Bordeaux-style blend featuring mainly with merlot and cabernet franc. In total, 18,000 cases were made, with a recommended retail bottle price of $50.

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