Experience the Mondavi legacy

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Top of the line: Two world-class wines from Robert Mondavi are his Fume Blanc and Cabernet. | Supplied photo

To Kalon in ancient Greek means “the beautiful” and, within the boundaries of Napa, the To Kalon vineyards are recognized as one of the prized possessions of the Valley.

The original vineyards were planted in 1868 by H.W. Crabb, with others sharing in the ownership over the decades. This unique parcel of land was the inspiration for Robert Mondavi, who founded his winery in Napa Valley in 1966 at the age of 53. Intent on making wines in the company of the great wines of the world, Mondavi initially purchased 11.6 acres of To Kalon property. Its importance in producing wines of pedigree was recognized early on by Mondavi. He chose this site to craft his world class Cabernet and signature Fume Blanc. It has become known as Napa’s first growth real estate.

A jewel within the Oakville AVA extending from the Mayacamas Mountains on the west to the Vaca Ranges on the east. The soils are gravely and well drained along the hillside with a clay and sandy loam base on the valley floor. Water from the Mayacamas Mountains feeds into a creek, which nurture these vineyards. Currently there are 440 acres of Mondavi To Kalon, separated into 66 blocks, which under vine. Seventy-five per cent is dedicated to the production of the Robert Mondavi Reserve, Oakville District and To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

Within To Kalon a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc is cultivated. Mondavi’s early passion and inspiration was Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley of France. He sought special labeling for his California expression of this varietal and designated it “Fume Blanc.” There are four tiers of Sauvignon Blanc in the Mondavi portfolio: Oakville Fume Blanc, Reserve Fume Blanc, Napa Valley Fume Blanc and I Block. The five-acre Mondavi I Block was planted in 1945 and remains one of the oldest Sauvignon Banc vineyards in North America. A retrospective tasting of older Fume Blanc shows that these wines develop well with age, exhibiting an exotic character that is laden with yellow fruits and an oily viscous quality.

In order to understand Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon from To Kalon, you must analyze it in the context of other dominant Cabernet regions of the world. Then narrow down the similarities in styles of Cabernet Sauvignon grown along the West Coast and finally the influence of the soils and the winemaker’s individual expression on the wine.

In Oakville, grapes are exposed to intense heat during the long summer days, while the evenings are cooled by ocean breezes creating a Mediterranean climate and preserving the colors in the grapes. The characteristics of the soils can vary dramatically in To Kalon, producing flavor profiles ranging from a savory red berry spice with finely integrated tannins to briary boysenberry overtones from grapes grown in sandy loam soils.

Mondavi winemaker Genevieve Janssens believes that “vineyards are like persons and need to be balanced” with each other. “To Kalon tells a story ... there is a uniqueness of fruit profile from here.” This is the art of wine growing. Janssen’s techniques include picking of the grapes early to avoid dried fruit flavors, wild yeast fermentation and careful selection of barrels. Fermentation occurs in 16-ton oak barrels with extended warm maceration, which enhances the complexity of the fruit and softens the tannins. “Mr. Mondavi wanted wines of finesse and elegance that matched with food ... he wanted his wines to whisper and not shout,” she said. This remains the identity behind the Mondavi wines from To Kalon.

In their youth, the profile of the wines from To Kalon can be powerful and aggressive but these tannins integrate with time, yielding a supple quality and elevating the mid-palate of the wine with a red fruit quality that is enhanced by fresh acidity. The 2010 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet, which is sourced solely from the To Kalon Vineyard shows expressive components of black licorice, tea and olive. It has a full mouth-feel with great length and with finely integrated tannins.

Renaissance man

June 18 of this year commemorated what would have been the 100th birthday of Robert Mondavi. He created a renaissance in California focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon and leading the way in acknowledging wine as a civilized mealtime beverage and part of life’s experiences. Mondavi will be remembered as a pioneer and visionary who placed Napa Valley and the wines from To Kalon on the viticultural map in an effort to craft world-class wines. His legacy is realized in these vineyards.

The 2011 Robert Mondavi Oakville Fume Blanc is 91 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 9 percent Semillon that is barrel fermented in French Oak Barrels. The pale yellow color reveals aromas of spice and pink grapefruit. There is a hint of white peach and lemongrass leading to some melon cream in the middle. This vintage speaks of elegance in Fume Blanc.

Suggested Retail: $31.99

The 2010 Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 percent Cabernet Franc, 4 percent Merlot and 1 percent Malbec. The Cabernet Franc in the blend compliments the core of this wine adding refinement and complexity. There is a hint of soy in the nose giving way to generous amounts of black fruits and cedarwood. The edges of this wine are well polished with fine tannins in the background. This is a youthful wine possessing the typical Oakville expression with richness, power and restrained acidity.

Suggested Retail: $ 45.99

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits. Email him at wphoyne@att.net.