He admires honesty and integrity, foresight and success.He respects the Baron Philippe de Rothschild, of Mouton-Rothschild, in whom he sees those qualities. With almost revertenial enthusiasm, he describes the baron as "the man who has done more for French wine than anyone in the last 50 years."
The speaker with the husky voice, strong lined face and graying temples has the same attributes as his friend, the baron. The difference is that, unlike the baron, Robert Mondavi did not inherit his vineyards or the centries-old reputation of his wine region. Perhaps that explains his fascination with the Rothschild legend of a banking empire founded on the trust and integrity of its family members. "They had no patience with double-dealing."
In today's wine world, a Mondavi legend is already being formed. One of the sons of C. Mondaiv & Sons, the firm that made the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif., a post-Prohibition success, Robert Mondavi foresaw the potential for fine wine in the Napa Vally and started his own winery near Oakville in 1966. He has done as much for California wine as anyone in the past 15 years.
It was natural that the self-made man from Napa, who has been called a ceaseless experimenter and brilliant innovator, and the aristocat from Pauillac, who has been called the Medoc's greatest asset, should form an alliance. In April 1980 they announced a joint venture: the production of a premium Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. The first vintage, the '79, has no name, no label and will not be released before late '83, but Mondavi feels that he and his family have already benefited from partnership with the baron. "We have the same philosophy. We want to excel."
Mondavi, the innovator, also understands the importance of experience and continuity. He believes that the combination of French expertise and California resources, natural and technical, will provide the subtley needed to produce a Napa wine comparable with th first growths of Bordeaux.
"Fifteen years ago, California didn't belong to the company of the fine wines of the world. Now, we in Napa can produce outstanding wines, which will give better value than the Europeans, who are limited by classification systems and government restrictions." Warning against overregulation, he hopes that the new administration will not tie the hands of American wine producers. "We should be free to produce fine wines."
Given unrestricted growth, Robert Mondavi forecasts that there will be three levels in the quality wines of California by 1990. At the top, the small wineries will command the same prices as the greats of Europe. Next, the large corporations, whose efficiency of production will provide a larger selection of good quality wines at reasonable prices. Their wines will not have the same consistent superiority of the top producers because "a corporation can't get the dedication you need to make the finest wines. Good wine is a skill; fine wine, an art."
Lastly, the popular wines, which will be made from better grapes and will be superior to those of today. Mondavi has already taken steps to upgrade the blends of his own inexpensive "table" range. The new blends are not yet available in Washington.
As for Robert Mondavi himsef, the next 10 years will see the strengthening of the legend, as he expands his energies into the international market. "I would like my family to handle the best and I'm willing to wait. If you want to sell internationally, you need two generations to establish trust and reliability. We will be growing, but never to the point that the family cannot control the business on a day-to-day basis."