I just finished reading the article published in the “Cooking and Eating” section of the Wall Street Journal titled ” Making the Mondavi Legacy New Again” (“On Wine”, by Jay McInerney, March 24-25, 2012). An enjoyable article that shows very neatly why the Mondavi story is so emblematic of Napa’s winemaking history.
After a trip that Robert Mondavi made to to Europe in 1962 he was inspired by the wines he encountered, especially the great growths of Bordeaux. This made him very passionate to the idea that the Napa Valley could produce wines to rival the greatest of the Old World. “After Robert founded his own winery, his drive, his technological innovations an his proselytizing helped raise the bar for Napa Cabernet and to create the market for premium California wines, his partnership with Baron Phillip de Rothschild in the creation of Opus One being perhaps the ultimate validation of his vision”.
Students of European viticulture know that many of the greatest wines come from hillside vineyards. The most successful of the wineries that went to the hills in Napa for their grape production became known for their cult Cabernet wines. With relatively small productions, the wines of Harlan, Colgin, Bryant Family and Screaming Eagle achieved extraordinary quality and price. They also …”pushed the envelope of ripeness and power to new extremes, inspiring raptures from the critics”. Tim Mondavi moved to the hills for his new venture, the Continuum Wines, in areas close to where the Cults Bryant Family, Chappellet and Dalla Valle have their outstanding vineyards. From its first vintage, Continuum has been composed of a relatively large percentage of Cabernet Franc. “Tim is a fan of the Merlot-and Cab Franc-based wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux, inevitable softer and more supple than the Cabernet Sauvignon-centric Left Bank Medoc wines, and eventually intends to include more Merlot in the blend when his Pritchard Hill Merlot wines mature”. See this great video about the Continuum State.
The great bottles of the Continuum State go for about $165 per bottle for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages. The 2008 Continuum is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc , 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Merlot. Compare this to the 2007 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon that goes for about $175 a bottle. All of these wines are perfectly balanced and although they are ready to drink now they will improve for years.
This way, Tim realized his father’s dream: to create a Napa Valley red that could stand alongside the best of the Old World wines.
On the latest issue of Wines and Vines (April 2012), Roger C. Bohmrich wrote a nice Guest Editorial tittled “Deconstructing Wine Myths”. In one of his key arguments he states that “The story of single varietals vs. blends is a perfect example of the intersection of historical influences, commercial motives and consumer responses. Bordeaux has been a potent influence in the New World – most prominently by spawning widespread plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In large measure, the allure of these grapes originated with the reputation of Bordeaux as a paradigm to be emulated ... As it turn out, California’s emphasis on varietal nomenclature is a clever strategy since it serves to diminish competition from Bordeaux”.
It seems to me that what Tim Mondavi is doing for Napa is bringing competition with the best that Bordeaux has to offer without trying to hide the fact that the secret to Bordeaux wines success is precisely due to the blends that give this wine their very complex and balanced flavors.