2017-05-18 / Cuisine

Meeting with the marvelous Mondavis


When Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi moved to Napa Valley in the early 1900s, it’s pretty certain they had no idea their name would become associated with the pioneers of the American wine industry in the 20th Century. And beyond.

A greengrocer by trade, Cesare started buying and selling grapes. Then, in the early 1940s, he started making wine out of them. Soon after, the Mondavis bought the Charles Krug winery from another immigrant family (this one from Germany), and their sons Peter and Robert learned the trade — very well, it turns out.

The brothers parted company in later years, and Robert’s flair for winemaking and promotion made his name the more familiar of the two. But Peter and his sons quietly grew their company into one of the most successful wine brands in America.

Today, Peter’s son Marc runs the Charles Krug winery (along with several other labels he’s established). “I’ve always been involved in wine production,” he recollects, “even in elementary school.” Like many children of Italian parents, he grew up with wine all around. “We never had just one bottle of wine on the table at dinner,” he says.

Jerry Greenfield and Marc Mondavi 
COURTESY PHOTO Jerry Greenfield and Marc Mondavi COURTESY PHOTO Marc Mondavi was educated and trained in the art not only at the family table, but also through the famous wine program at University of California–Davis. “I was there at just the right time,” he says, adding, “I had all the most famous professors.” (Later, when Marc’s daughters attended UC–Davis, they had to use assumed names because everybody but everybody knew who the Mondavis were.)

Today, Marc’s team produces several brands, including CK Mondavi, a value-priced lineup. He was kind enough to pour a few of them for me at dinner a few weeks ago, and I asked him a question that I pose to every winemaker I interview: What’s the most important thing in the winemaking process?

A cork with tartaric acid crystals. A cork with tartaric acid crystals. “Terroir,” he told me. It’s the French word for the soil in the vineyard, but like most French words, it means a lot more than that.

“Terroir creates the end result,” Marc believes. “It’s the dirt that impacts the fruit the most.” Following that philosophy, Mondavi’s winemaking techniques are “true to the earth,” and he’s most proud of the fact that everything the winery uses, from the bottles to the labels to — well, everything — is “Made in the USA Certified.” His family’s commitment also extends to support of veterans organizations such as the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

During dinner, we sampled the CK Mondavi chardonnay and merlot. There are nine wines in the CK Mondavi portfolio, ranging from a lighter pinot grigio to a rich red blend they call Scarlet Five that includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot and the other traditional Bordeaux varietals.

Here’s my evaluation (and a bit of appreciation) for the flavor and value the winery is able to pack into this particular brand.

¦ CK Mondavi Chardonnay California 2016 ($6.99) – A great value, it’s medium-bodied, giving off citrus aromas and flavors, with a hint of apple and oak. It’s 95 percent chardonnay with 2 percent of a grape called Symphony, which was a new one on me, that adds flowery notes to the blend. According to Marc, it’s a hybrid created at UC–Davis. WW 88.

¦ CK Mondavi Merlot California 2014 ($6.99) – It says merlot on the label because the bottle contains more than 75 percent of that grape, but there are also small amounts of several other varietals that add dark fruit flavors and body. A great everyday sipper. WW 88.

Ask the Wine whisperer

Q: Can you address why a wine cork would “crystallize” like this? In the multi-hundreds of wine bottles we’ve opened, we’ve never seen a cork come out like this. The wine tasted just fine. What do you think caused it, and was it OK to drink?

— Annemarie B., Palm Beach Gardens

A: Wine contains several types of acids. What you’re seeing is tartaric acid, which sometimes crystallizes out of bottled wine. It happens more in whites than reds, and you’ll see them sometimes settled at the bottom of a bottle as well as on the cork. They are harmless, and do not change the taste or quality of the wine. ¦

— Jerry Greenfield is The Wine Whisperer. He is also creative director of Greenfield Advertising Group. His book,“ Secrets of the Wine Whisperer,” is available through Amazon and also at www.winewhisperer.com.

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