You will have read it elsewhere first, so the news on this screen is not so dramatic, yet it is still so fresh in my mind.
Robert Mondavi, known as Bob to his friends, has died today at the age of 94.
If it weren’t for Bob, I wouldn’t live in Napa Valley and you wouldn’t be reading this.
He built this...
… but he did so much more. Bob Mondavi influenced EVERYONE in Napa Valley wine circles and is the Dean Emeritus of Wine in Napa Valley, if not America.
Bob called in 1980, urging me to come report on a new promotion, The Great Chefs of France Cooking School. He wanted to prove that American wines were every bit as good as classic French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy and that his Mondavi wines paired exceptionally well with great food.
I was then Food Editor and Restaurant Critic of the largest newspaper in Canada (The Toronto Star, one of the five largest daily circ papers in North America), Bob stated his intention – that he wanted to convince food writers like me that his wines were on par with the Great Wines of France.
Exactly 28 years ago this very week, I flew to Napa Valley to cover the cooking classes of Jean Troisgros, whose family ran – and still runs – what is considered by many the single greatest restaurant in the world (Restaurant Troisgros, in Roanne, France).
We cooked with Jean for three days in Oakville, at the epicenter of Napa Valley and late into the night, I sat with Bob and Jean in the winery’s Vintage Room, swirling and sipping the greatest Bordeaux and best young Burgundies and Bob put his own Cabs and Pinot Noirs up for comparison.
Jean and I were incredibly impressed at the quality of Bob’s wines and I was so overwhelmed with the three-day writing assignment that I called home and told my wife that “one day we are moving here to Napa Valley.”
The place, the people – and particularly Bob Mondavi – had shook me to the core; I was not a greenie off the boat, struck by big lights or celebrity. I had traveled the world, been a foreign correspondent for years in Africa, had enjoyed dinners at the homes of world leaders and had spent time with some of the world’s top chefs, researching and writing profiles for various media.
No, what Bob introduced me to was a lifestyle, a persistence for “excellence,” and Napa Valley resonated within me in a way that no other place had ever done before, or since.
It took me 17 years to make the move to Napa Valley happen; we first had to get our kids to and through college but when the coast was clear, we upped and moved and became permanent fixtures of Napa Valley in 1997.
And I owe my life today to Bob and his dedicated and wonderful wife Margrit Biever Mondavi, who invited me to this valley, who became friends over the years that we have lived here, and who showed America how wine could become an instrumental part of the dinner table. And how good wine could be made in this nation.
Tonight, the wine industry mourns a fallen leader, a giant, an icon. But I mourn the loss of a friend and mentor.
My first glass at dinner tonight will be raised in Bob’s memory. He showed me – he showed us all – a way to live our lives; to not give in, to follow one’s passions and do it kindly and with humility.
I already miss you, Bob. Big time.