Conversations: Winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr.

2012 Rob Mondavi with glasses HZ - photo credit_Douglas Thompson

Troy Alexander Project: What is the best time of year to visit Napa?  The best time to visit is absolutely and indisputably, October 7-21.  The weather is perfect and the grape harvest is underway. The valley’s aromas are sweet and spiced with the scents of fermentation while the grape vines and surrounding flora begin their metamorphosis into fall colors.  It’s a truly spectacular and magical time of year.

Troy Alexander Project: What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?  There are 2.  The M by Michael Mondavi: I preside over this wine as the assistant to my father, and having a key hand in making this special wine for him warms my heart.  The wine is also quite simply delicious.  But there is also Emblem: here I am the lead winemaker and it really represents my style of wine.  I like to describe it as Scarlett Johansson in a glass – a timeless beauty with divine curves and succulent lips that lead into a wry seductive smile.  This wine, like her, offers a bit of exotic spice, complimented by elegance, supple edges, and the advantages of youth and a structure that will hold the test of time.

Troy Alexander Project: For people who want to know more about winemaking, what do you recommend?  Drink! In all seriousness, pick two varietals, for example Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and drink only these wines, only from Napa, for two months.  Then continue into another region and stick with that for another two months and then to another region for two months.  Then move on to two new varietals and repeat.  The goal is to familiarize yourself with these grape varietals and to explore different expressions of them.  Tasting wine is like exercise: the more you do it, the more finely tuned your palate becomes.  Jot down some notes along the way, and have fun.  There are always wine classes, but get to know a few wines first, the old-fashioned way.

Troy Alexander Project: Why did you become a winemaker?  I became a winemaker because I get to describe wines like Scarlett and because the wines I make are my own personal and artistic expressions.  With every new vintage, I am tasked with harnessing nature to create wines that represent the vines from which they grew, and my own personal influence upon them.

Troy Alexander Project: What do you look for when you make wine?  I personally strive to make wines that taste good and have character, wines whose aromas have the ability to both transport and charm. I look for a wine to express the signature qualities from a particular region while revealing the personal touch of the winemaker.

Troy Alexander Project: Which is better, stelvin (screw cap) or cork?  Ahhh, to screw or not to screw?  Ok, I am all for screwing. Screw cap closures or “twist offs” provide the cleanest and most reliable closure for a young wine.   On average 3-5% of all wine closed with a cork is flawed.  In other words, it’s likely that five out of every 100 bottles taste “off” because the cork failed to provide a clean closure.  Take a look at Jim Laube’s article in Wine Spectator for a great run down on this topic.

Troy Alexander Project: How do you know when you’ve got a good vintage?   A great vintage to me is one in which the weather is tranquil and nothing extraordinary happens in the vineyard, allowing the grapes to take their time ripening.  It’s promising when the dog days of summer come and go without frying eggs on sidewalks, and umbrellas stay in the closet until Thanksgiving.  A good vintage is one that is balanced, meaning that fruit, acid, and tannins are all in harmony with one another, allowing for a balance of familiar and exotic flavors.

Troy Alexander Project: How do you approach getting dressed every day? I make every effort to dress for the day according to who I am meeting with.  In deciding how to dress on a given day, I try to consider not only what will make me feel comfortable and confident, but also what my clothes will communicate. Attire and body language can either set people at ease or create tension, and you can work either to your advantage, depending on what you are after.

Troy Alexander Project: You feel best when wearing? I really feel fantastic when wearing clothing that is properly fitted.  The small investment of having your pants tailored, jackets altered and shirts darted can make your clothing feel extraordinary, and you’ll look polished and professional.

Troy Alexander Project: What is your personal style quirk?  Orange!  It is a sickness, but I love orange, always have. Over the past decade I cannot recall a week in which orange has not made an appearance somehow in my attire, wallet or pocket square.

Troy Alexander Project: What is the most memorable advice from your parents?  My parents have given me two invaluable pieces of advice.  The first was that marriage is wonderful, but finding the right person requires patience, and that give-and-take on issues in a marriage is key (and if possible separate bathrooms or closets or preferably both!).  The other important advice was to follow my heart and to be engaged and thoroughly passionate about my career.  Fortunately I have taken both pieces of advice to heart.  I’ve been married nearly 12 amazing years and my wife, Lydia and I have a 2 year old boy who lights up our life, and I am thrilled to be head of winemaking for my family’s winery.

Thank you
Twitter: @alexxtroy
Special Thanks + Photo Courtesy: Folio Wine Partners


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