Through the Grape Vine: Margrit Mondavi

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Having grown up amidst a vineyard, many people automatically assume that I always knew my life would take me to the winemaking industry, though that was not the initial career path that I pursued. Since my youth, and due to the environment in which I grew up, I always have had a fascination with soil, the art and science of cultivation, and I always have been drawn to the holistic process of growing. As such, geology was my initial educational focus, and it was my father who suggested that I use my fascination with soil and all that grows in it as the foundation for my involvement in the family business.

I pursued my education in France and graduated with a National Diploma of Enology from the University of Bordeaux in 1974. I then returned home to my family’s vineyards, enlightened with an uwinenderstanding of the science of the vine. My father appreciated my newfound knowledge, and he aided the continuation of my winemaking education by allowing me to manage our family-owned vineyards in Corsica and France from 1974 to 1977. We worked amazingly well together, and I have only the fondest of memories of that time. While managing the vineyards, I also owned and operated an enology laboratory in Provence where I served as a consulting enologist to many French Chateaux in the mid-’70s. Though I consider myself to be a lifetime student, this stretch of my life was the most educational; it was when I genuinely came to know, love, and respect the art of winemaking. I wanted to absorb as much information about every aspect of the process and was fortunate enough to have my father by my side for guidance and support.

When I first moved to the United States in 1978 I was honored to work at the Robert Mondavi Winery as a laboratory technician and as an assistant enologist for the crush of 1979, but I could have never foreseen the amazing relationship that I would build with the vineyard and Mr. Mondavi. In the years that followed I worked consulting throughout the state of California and was the director of production at Opus One Winery. In 1997 I left Opus One Winery and decided that the Robert Mondavi vineyards was where I belonged. Since then I have been serving as the director of winemaking and loving every second of it.

 I find the most gratifying part of the job to be walking the vineyard at the end of the day with the manager and our two winemakers.

My father and the late Robert Mondavi shared a similar set of ideals about winemaking, and my belief in their lessons is evident in the way the Robert Mondavi Winery is run today. Mr. Mondavi was one of the most charismatic, passionate, and intelligent people that I have ever met. He had this amazing ability to get everyone at the vineyard to feel as fervent as he was about winemaking, and also to bring everyone under his vision. Mr. Mondavi attributed his success mainly to two things, the first being location. His credo was “great wine comes from great vineyards,” and before deciding to open his first vineyard in 1966 in Oakville, California, he completed extensive research to ensure that the soil was perfect for harvesting his vines. Mr. Mondavi’s second rule to success was surrounding himself with people that could help him achieve his dream of running one of the world’s finest vineyards. Producing the best wine was Mr. Mondavi’s lifetime ambition, and he never gave up on his pursuit, though many may argue he succeeded long ago. His passion was contagious, and everyone working in the vineyard, myself included, adopted his work ethic and positive attitude. As intense as Mr. Mondavi was, at the end of the day, he would always remind me that making wine is most importantly about having fun, and that is something I try never to forget.

It seems that every lesson I learned from both Mr. Mondavi and my father are applicable in every day of my life. With the ongoing economic woes many businesses are currently facing, I find myself heeding my two dear mentors’ advice more than ever. My father taught me to absolutely never cut corners when it comes to quality, and Mr. Mondavi instructed that even in a poor economy, finding ways to innovate and still produce the highest quality will set you apart from those who don’t succeed. Living by these bits of advice, the Robert Mondavi Winery maintains its position as one of the world’s finest wine producers, and it is thriving. I am honored to be carrying out Mr. Mondavi’s dream and am proud to say that after 41 years, the winery still embodies his passion and ideals.

Ever since I stepped foot on the Robert Mondavi vineyards, I’ve felt at home, and the past years have been absolutely wonderful. I find the most gratifying part of the job to be walking the vineyard at the end of the day with the manager and our two winemakers. I love to create, and I have learned through the years that a harvest is one of the greatest natural art forms in the world. In the coming months’ columns, I look forward to sharing with you all the exciting news and developments coming from the Robert Mondavi Winery.

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