Say the name Mondavi, and one thing comes to mind: legendary California wine, dating back to the early days of Napa, when winemakers were first discovering the formula for the perfect Cabernet Sauvignon.
But the Mondavi name represents something else: family. That's been a constant since the Mondavi family began making wine, and it remains a key component as generations carry on the family tradition.
Winemaker Michael Mondavi worked with his father, Robert, at the original Robert Mondavi winery, founded in 1966. Now the family business includes his wife and children, who've created a trio of labels, each exhibiting a distinctive personality.
Isabel is named for Michael's wife and reflects her refined sensibility. Emblem is steered by his adult children, Rob and Dina, and features some innovative blends.
"I tend to want wine that 'stops the room'," says legendary wine maker Michael Mondavi.
The Isabel portfolio includes a rosé, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which Michael describes as elegant and understated. "I tend to want wine that 'stops the room'," he says. "But Isabel wants wine to enhance and complement but not interrupt what you're doing."
The old-school M is his own boutique project that revives the glory days of the "big Cab." It marks Michael's grand re-entrance into the winemaking world. The grapes are grown at high elevation and then "gently hand-harvested," with grape clusters picked individually, then de-stemmed and "lightly crushed" into small tanks.
It's a serious venture, with the 2009 Cabernet listed at $199 per bottle, for those who want to make a statement purchase.
Emblem is a collaboration between brother-and-sister Rob and Dina, who gravitate toward different tasks: Rob's the grape fanatic who likes to get into the vineyards. Dina likes to work on the blend of grapes.
The Emblem lineup has two Cabernets. One is from grapes grown on the family's hilly Oso Vineyard, softened with a small percentage of Petit Verdot. The other Cab is from Napa Valley, and is blended with Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Merlot. At $35 a bottle, it's one of their lower priced wines.
Reinforcing the strong role that family plays, Michael, Dina and Rob tour together to share the news of their wines, making an appearance on local television or hosting lunch at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. The only family member missing is Isabel, but they lovingly describe her rosé and Chardonnay, made by Rob to Isabel's specifications.
Made from Cabernet grapes, the rosé is fruity but not sweet. Dina says they like to pair it with Thai food or for holiday meals. "It's perfect for Thanksgiving," she says. At $20, it's their most affordable wine.
Isabel favors screw-top caps over corks, and that's what's used on her eponymous line. It fits with the wine's easy personality and reinforces Mondavi's emphasis on sustainability. The winery has been "green-certified," and observes natural farming practices, including the use of natural herbicides.
Michael shares the trick they use to foil invasions of local wildlife, including deer and bears, by rigging up a speaker system that gets tripped off by movement.
"The black bear knows when the grapes are red," Michael says. "The previous owners of the land would shoot them. All we wanted was a way to keep them off the property."