Megan Schofield, winemaker for Robert Mondavi Winery, joins Tom Simoneau, Dan Berger and Steve Jaxon, who are all excited to have a 2014 Robert Mondavi To Kalon I-Block Fumé Blanc to taste, which is a rare treat.
Steve asks Tom to tell about Mondavi and how Robert Mondavi had a falling out with a brother about the direction of the family winery. He started it in 1966. He brought Napa Valley into the forefront, was the master marketer. Tom considered Robert Mondovi to be a mentor in the business. He brought a class to the vineyard.
The To Kalon I-Block is the particular parcel that produces an astounding Sauvignon Blanc. Dan says it needs a lot of time in the bottle and is similar to the greatest wines of the eastern Loire Valley in France. Most people just don’t put it away long enough, it needs 7 to 10 years. It can only be purchased at the winery, not at retail. Dan says this particular wine is worth the trip over the hill.
Megan tells that she has been at Mondavi for about two and a half years and she is one of three winemakers there. She handles the Burgundian reds and this year the Sauvignon Blanc. They have another Bordeaux red winemaker and their director is Geneviève Janssens. She grew up in Canada in the Niagra region and saw a career path with her college, Brock University, had opened to train Canadian winemakers. She has worked as a winemaker for many years at different wineries including Simi Winery.
Steve tells how Mondavi is known for both technical winemaking and marketing. He promoted labeling wines varietally rather than generically.
Dan knew Bob Mondavi well and says he was dedicated to the overall quality of wines especially from Napa Valley. He encouraged quality above all else. The feud he had with his brother in the mid-60s caused a separation. Part of the reason was that Bob wanted to focus on quality. They were both reared in Charles Krug winery. Bob wanted to emphasize the greatness of the different varieties. He changed the name of his Sauvignon Blanc to Fumé Blanc, which is the name they have always used. He was also into comparisons with the best European wines. He said, “We belong at the table with the best wines.” From 1966 to 1970 they were on the road 300 days a year for four years, selling aggressively.
Tom tells the legend that there was a train that passed by a vineyard leaving a trail of smoke and dust and that inspired the name. Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre are the French names.
Now they taste the To Kalon I-block wine. To Kalon is a very special piece of soil that Robert Mondavi discovered to produce some of the finest wines he was making. Megan explains that it is Greek and roughly means “highest beauty” and the name came from the vineyard owner in 1800s and that Robert Mondavi used the name.
Dan says that it gets less total sun because it is shaded by a hearby hill. Megan says it is only about 5 acres and produces only 250-300 cases per year.
Dan, of course, suggests that this wine needs 6-10 years in the cellar. He tells that it is made with great care. There is a little hazelnut flavor in the wine. Megan says it does get lies contact, so it has more body than other Sauvignon Blancs. This bottle is sold only at the winery and goes for $90. They believe the vines were planted in 1945 and they think they may be the oldest Sauvignon Blanc grapes in America.
Next they taste a Chardonnay. Tom says he told Megan that Steve likes Chardonnay so she brought a special Reserve Mondavi 2014 Carneros Chardonnay. Steve is in love! Dan suggests this would go with seafood, such as fresh Halibut. Tom describes this Chardonnay as creamy, with good acidity, a little bit of lemon, complexity as the finish comes on is mouth-watering. It has just the right amount of toasty oak. Dan says that oak taste is revolutionary. There is more restraint and structure in it. It has good acidity, a low pH for a Chardonnay. 13.5% alcohol is low enough not to be overpowering. Megan says they experiment carefully with which oak barrels to use.
Next they taste the 50th anniversary Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve 2013 To Kalon Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom says he notices that the fruit is very forward. He doesn’t like a wine that is clobbered with oak or volatile acidity. He tastes currant, mocha, black cherry, blackberry, wrapped with oak, and that’s just in the nose. Of course, Dan says it needs about 10 more years. Megan points out that To Kalon is known for its tannins and its power and that year was particularly strong for that. The oak is still prominent because the wine is young.
They also taste a George DuBoeuf Beaujolais, which is meant not to be cellared. “It’s just quaffing wine.” Dan says they are growing these grapes in Oregon and Michigan too. This isn’t Steve’s favorite.
Last they taste a Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve 2015 Carneros Pinot Noir, from two different vineyards. Dan says that if it’s to be drunk now, to decant it.