Appropos of not much, when my daughter was about nine months old Robert Mondavi stopped by our table at Mustard's, beside his winery in the Napa Valley, and offered to buy her. His sense of humor, I guess. Mondavi, perhaps the last giant of the California wine life, died today at his home in Yountville. Here's the Associated Press obituary, and an excerpt from Shawn Hubler's in the L.A. Times:
The son of an Italian-born grape wholesaler from the Central Valley, Mondavi was, at the end of his life, one of the best-known figures in American viticulture, with a name that was almost synonymous with California wine. His cabernets and chardonnays have been served at the White House and sold by the glass at Disney theme parks. His Cain-and-Abel exile from his family business after a fistfight with his brother was the source of legend.
His Mission-style winery in Oakville is a landmark and wine label icon. Though he had little formal training in winemaking, he is credited with the invention of fume blanc in the 1960s, and with popularizing chardonnay, in the words of the Wine Spectator, "as the great California white." At a time when the phrase "fine domestic wine" was considered an oxymoron in the United States, he insisted that California wine could be positioned as a status symbol -- a strategy that cleared the way for the modern era of $2,000 cult bottles of Screaming Eagle and trophy wineries.
When Chateau Mouton-Rothschild of Bordeaux approached him about a Franco-American collaboration -- the equivalent, in the words of wine industry consultant Vic Motto of "Goliath coming to David to learn how to throw stones" -- the resulting Opus One cabernet sauvignon not only sold for a then-unprecedented $50 a bottle, but validated his vision for the industry.
Photo: AP Photo / Eric Risberg