Hubert Burda Media

Robert Mondavi: Continuing a Legacy

Timothy Mondavi, son of the late Robert Mondavi and founder of Continuum Estate in California, tells us about his new beginning after four decades in the world of winegrowing.

One fine afternoon, Prestige sits down with an important figure in the American wine industry in the cosy ambiance of Monty’s Restaurant. Timothy Mondavi, 66, is visiting Jakarta to introduce Continuum, a Napa Valley label he founded with his sister Marcia in 2005. They are the children of the legendary Robert Mondavi, the late founder of the highly successful winery that bears his name. “We are a century-old wine family in California,” he says. “We have not missed a harvest since 1919. For more than four decades, I have been growing and making fine wines. More than 10 years ago, Marcia and I conceived the idea of Continuum with our father.

“I thought Continuum would be a great name for us because we wanted to carry on with the best of what my family stood for. Four of my five children, who make up the fourth generation, are working with us. Recently, my sister’s son also joined the company. Continuum Estate is a new beginning for us after so many years in the winegrowing world.” The story of the Mondavi family started when Cesare Mondavi came to the United States from the Italian hill town of Sassoferrato in 1906. In 1943, Cesare’s sons, Peter and Robert, convinced him to buy the Charles Krug Winery. In 1965, Robert left the family business after a feud with his brother.

A year later, he started his own venture in the Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi Winery, along with his sons Timothy and Michael. His goal was to produce wines that could compete with the finest from Europe. Timothy Mondavi led the winemaking team at Robert Mondavi Winery from 1974 until 2004. He has a degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University of California at Davis. “I have many interests, but my life has been mostly involves with wine,” says the founding member of the Oakville Winegrowers Organization and the Stags Leap District Winegrowers. “I grew up at Charles Krug as a small boy, playing in the cellar and the vineyard. My professional career began when I was 15 at my father’s winery in 1966. I think the most important lesson my father taught me was to have respect for oneself and others. Also, a commitment to constant improvement in what we raised.”

Mondavi prefers the term “winegrower” to “winemaker”, to identify his belief that the personality of great wine is a manifestation of the soil, climate and the people involved. He pioneered the concept of “natural winegrowing”, developing significant environmental programmes in the vineyards that go beyond the organic. “For me as a winegrower, the site is the most the important thing because it is what determines a great wine,” says. “You can transfer technology easily, but you cannot transfer site easily. Napa valley is a very small area and produces only 4 percent of Californias wine. So it is very rare and that’s what makes this site very special. “Secondly, Napa Valley – our estate is on Pritchard Hill to be precise – is gifted with good soil and climate. We are very close to San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, so temperatures are moderated by the cooling influence of the ocean. We lie between 1,300 and 1,600 feet above sea level, where moderate temperatures from day to night encourage fruit of particular character and nuance. Our volcanic soils are ideal for Cabernet family varietals.

We grow 56 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 26 percent Cabernet Franc, 14 percent Petit Verdot and 4 percent Merlot.” Mondavi brings the conversation to an end by paying tribute to his children: “My eldest daughter, Carissa, is the family ambassador and spokeswoman for Continuum Estate. My youngest daughter, Chiara, who went to California College of Arts, designs our labels. Dante was our Cellar Master. He and Carlo have founded their own winery, RAEN. Now, I also hope that Prestige can carry out our stories to the world.” The veteran winegrower smiles and raises his glass.

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