Robert Mondavi Winery is one of the Napa Valley’s most iconic and visited wineries; it is located on the busy “wine strip” on the west side of Highway 29 in Oakville just north of the Oakville Cross Road. It is one of the few wineries in the valley that draws people from around the world from a diversity of cultures. Stand near the entrance on a busy summer weekend and listen to all the languages being spoken. Want to take bets to see if Mondavi is the most photographed winery in the Napa Valley? It is certainly one of them.
One enters the main driveway through olive trees – but it wasn’t always this way. One used to enter the winery past rows of vineyards planted all the way to the edge of the driveway with the main parking lot on site of the present day round-about. Both parking lots (on the left and right side of the main driveway) are surrounded by rows of grapes and gives one a good chance to see a grapevine up close. An excellent garden is situated on the north side of the main building. Like other often visited wineries in Napa Valley, they maintain a good sized gift shop.
No appointment is necessary for several general wine tasting options.
A great place to relax and taste wine is on the benches and stone walls near the main lawn. On a busy weekend with good weather there are always plenty of people tasting outside overlooking the winery, the vineyards and the expansive lawn. Art plays a prominent role here – as you wander the grounds you will see statues, paintings and other works of art. Robert’s wife Margrit played a critical role in this regard by introducing various works of art to the winery from a number of artists.
Robert Mondavi was well known in wine circles and had a role in founding the Copia Food & Wine Center (re-opened in 2016 as the CIA at Copia) in the town of Napa and the performing arts center at UC Davis is named after him. Almost single handedly the Mondavi family has played a huge role in promoting the Napa Valley to the world – improving the standards of vineyard management, wine-making practices and marketing not only their own winery but also the region as a whole to the world.
Robert was born in Minnesota and grew up in Lodi California where his father Cesare Mondavi worked in the grape business (buying grapes and shipping them to clients). Robert’s family purchased Charles Krug Winery in 1943 and Robert worked there until 1965 when he parted ways and founded Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966. Many of the late 20th century Napa winemakers got their start from Robert Mondavi including well known winemakers Warren Winiarski and Mike Grgich. Mr. Mondavi’s influence was great – just look at all the winemakers who have gone out on their own after stints working for him.
Be sure to visit the intimate Vintners Room and also view the displays and photos that show Mondavi’s history in the Napa Valley. Mondavi offers some of the most well-rounded wine educational seminars, tastings & tours of any winery in the Napa Valley. We highly recommend the Signature Tour & Tasting. Allow at least 90 minutes for this very informative tour and make advance reservations if possible. It caters to all levels of education in regards to wine.
Case in point: on one of our tours, someone asked if Mondavi puts cranberries and cherries into their wines to give it those particular flavors. Our guide patiently answered this question. Before any tour, you are given a small colored token which indicates you have paid for the tour; then you meet your guide on the walkway or grassy section near the entrance. On one of our tours, after the guide arrived the first words out of his mouth were “grab your cameras, turn off your cell phones and lets go”.
Robert Mondavi’s philosophy was one of openness and to always to share his winery operations with visitors – to bring visitors into the heart of the winery and explain the various processes. And while most wineries in the valley now have gates, Robert Mondavi Winery still has no gate. This philosophy of sharing information continues today; the 90-minute Signature Tour & Tasting provides an informative overview of the winery, it’s rich history and general information about the region including the Oakville sub appellation (where Robert Mondavi Winery is located). Questions are encouraged throughout the tour.
You will then proceed out to the vineyards (weather permitting) for a quick vineyard overview followed by a visit to the massive fermentation room. Fifty six 20,000 gallon tanks were assembled in France, then dissembled for the journey to the winery and then reassembled on site. The tanks are used for fermentation (not aging). Each tank is equivalent to approximately 339 59-gallon wine barrels. A production video is shown at this point
During crush the fermentation room becomes a hive of activity especially with employees doing pump overs (mixing the fermenting juice with the cap – seeds and skins that rise to the top of each wooden tank). Over the years the Mondavi staff have devised a simple communication system between the employee on the top of the tank and the employee hooking up the pump to the bottom of the tank. The employee on top simply drops down a soccer ball hanging from a net to let the other employee know that he is ready to start the process – and then the pump can be turned on!
The barrel aging room located below this giant tank room is a sight worth seeing. Mist released from ceiling misters combined with the romantic play of light helps create a unique ambiance in this, one of the largest and most seductive barrel aging rooms of any Napa winery. Two private tasting rooms anchor each side of this barrel room.
In 1966 Robert Mondavi created what he called the first Fumé Blanc from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. This wine is sourced from what is called the “I-block” located in the To Kalon Vineyard (featuring old Sauvignon Blanc vines – up to 60 years old). Along with Semillon this is the only white varietal planted in the To Kalon vineyard. Today there is a barrel aging room devoted entirely to this wine. You will pass by it before you enter the primary tasting room.
There are numerous reasons why Mondavi has become one of Napa’s most well-known wineries and one of those is they consistently produce a quality product that people enjoy. Producing wines of this caliber each year helps when they source from premium vineyards including their own well-regarded To Kalon Vineyard on site. In our opinion this is an example of a winery with a large sized production (by Napa standards) that has not compromised quality in their wines.
The winery is large by Napa standards but in the real scope of the wine world they are just medium sized. And note that the Robert Mondavi wines are their flagship wines and are produced in much lower quantities than their Woodbridge label.
The 2006 Fume Blanc is a crisp wine with citrus aromas and flavors and some interesting minerality characteristics.
The 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve which is mostly from the Carneros growing region in the southern Napa Valley is one of the nicer Pinot’s we have had from Napa. Dijon clone perhaps? It shows plenty of cherry and cranberry aromas with layered flavors and well structured tannins.
The 2002 Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (one of Napa’s top vineyards, also located in Oakville) has rich aromas of blackberry, violet and chocolate which also carry into the palate. This is a good example of a premium California Cabernet that people come to Napa seeking.
The Moscato d’Oro (Muscat Canelli) is a light, sweet crisp wine very popular for summertime drinking or for pairing with spicy foods. These are just a few of the wines we have sampled at Mondavi during multiple visits as as they produce a wide diversity of wines.
Visiting in the summer? Mondavi’s Summer Music Festivals (held annually since 1969) are extremely popular. Their website has a plethora of information. For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.robertmondavi.com