Fortunately, we both agreed that the 1999 was better. This was his way of showing progress. "Think about those grapes. We are now dropping lots of leaves on the ground to allow more sunlight into the vines. Then we drop a lot of grapes onto the ground to maximize the flavor of the final fruit that we pick. This is our way to attain maximum quality. Quality is everything." The 1999 had more complexity combined with a magnificent layering of flavors. He looked at both glasses and took a sip from each one, giving a little smile afterwards. They were both great wines.
His two current favorite wines are also experiencing a resurgence nationally: fume blanc and pinot noir. "Too many people drink Chardonnay," he says, "because there is a famous name on the bottle. I enjoy fume blanc because it isn't heavy in oak and goes well with many types of dishes. It is gentle, friendly and has elegance a wine that you can enjoy every night." Incidentally, this is the man who in the 1960's single-handedly changed the poorly grown sauvignon blanc into an interesting wine and created fume blanc. The Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, Napa, 2000 ($20.00) is crisp, clean and refreshing.
The Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir, Napa, 1999 ($28.00) represents a lighter departure from cabernet sauvignon. It is more gentle and has a quicker maturity. He has made enormous progress with this notoriously fickle grape. There is both a delicacy and a lingering flavor, unusual in a light-bodied wine.
Can wine be both regional and international in nature? "We can be both at the same time," he says. "Take pinot grigio and sangiovese, the two great grapes of Italy. We plant and grow both in Napa. They will have our character here and theirs there. Both will be different, but both will be very good."
The event in Richmond is part of what Mondavi calls "the good life" wine and food and art, all together, with wine in moderation. "We are finally beginning to live the healthier life in America with fresh, well prepared food and wine in moderation."
His latest project is COPIA, his Wine, Food and the Arts Center located in Napa, planned as an international crossroads for talent and creativity in all three fields.
As we parted he told me of his mother, in the Italian tradition, giving him a little wine and water when he was quite small. His eyes lit up and he was very proud. S