He has one of the most iconic last names in the wine world, and yet fourth-generation Napa Valley winemaker, Rob Mondavi, Jr. made sure he got out of the family vineyard and learned on his own before returning to work with them.
So he hosted mountain bike tours after college; he worked in sales at Southern Wine & Spirits, the largest wine and spirits distributor in the US; he even started a premium cigar import business from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and the Canary Islands.
But no surprise, the family business called. In 1999, Rob, along with his parents, Michael and Isabel, and his sister Dina, purchased a plot of land and founded Michael Mondavi Family Estate (MMFE). In 2004, Rob was appointed President of Winemaking so now he’s back in the vineyards making wine, carrying on the Mondavi name.
Oh, but he’s also an duck hunter, likes to fly fish and no surprise, he reaches for one of his family’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons at the end of the day.
Read on to learn more.
1. What trends are you seeing in winemaking?
The biggest trend I am seeing, and embracing, is a return to “low impact” in both grape growing and winemaking. This minimal intervention approach requires far more work in the vineyards to ensure [vine] canopies are balanced, the soil is in good health and fruit is in the best possible condition, but our belief at MMFE is that we can obtain all that we need from the vineyards though careful management and organic farming before fruit arrives at the winery.
2. If you were not in the wine world, how would you make a living?
I would be a craft distiller [someone who distills spirits]. I suppose this is a bit of a cheating answer as both trades require fermentation, barrel ageing (at times), and the finished product is again a hand crafted delicious libation!
3. Have you considered re-entering the cigar world since our relations with Cuba are much better?
The experience I had in the cigar industry was fabulous. I was in the industry in my mid to late 20’s at the height of the cigar craze. We were traveling through the Dominican Republic and Central America sourcing tobacco and selling cigars through the US which entailed Cigar Dinners and the occasional late night party. We ran a great business and it was an amazing time and let’s just say that I am thankful that the liver is a regenerative organ!
4. What’s the next up-and-coming wine country?
I see Washington state and Mendoza, Argentina evolving and creating exceptional wines. However, I think the dark horse in the race is actually Portugal, as they have amazing still wines from well-thought family estates that are just beginning to be discovered by wine explorers and the media.
5. What is your favorite wine pairing?
My favorite wine pairing changes according to the season. In the dead of winter, I adore M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon with an osso bucco and a little polenta. In the Spring, I am a fan of fire roasted lamb chops and Animo Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.