Michael Mondavi and Folio Fine Wine

With one of my wines of year! Yes already!

 


This, our third and final installment in the history of the Mondavi family in Napa Valley, (read Part 1 and Part 2) is by necessity the shortest story I have to tell. It’s not that there is not a great story here; it’s simply that it’s a story spanning but a few years.  

Michael Mondavi is, of course, Robert Mondavi’s eldest son, and as such was instrumental in the founding of the Robert Mondavi winery, serving as the winemaker for the first 8 vintages.  Like his father before him, Michael recently found himself at a crossroads in his life. This crossroads had an easy, if unsatisfactory, option, as well as one more challenging, yet less certain. Given the family history, it’s no surprise which path he chose.

The Terroir of Howell Mountain

Wines from Howell Mtn. can be lean and earthy, if judged against most from Napa Valley. The soils here are very poor, and the vines really have to fight for their lives. The stresses the vines face, and the well-drained soils yield small, intense grapes that translate into these distinctive wines, massively structured and speaking of the dirt from which they’ve come. This should not be mistaken for a lack of fruit, however. These wines are well-endowed with perfectly ripe fruit, and perfect balance -- they just lack the jammy edge many wines from Napa exhibit, having replaced it with compelling layers of mineral and savory flavors.
With the sale of the Robert Mondavi winery to Constellation brands, Michael set out on his own, founding Folio Fine Wine Partners in 2004. The mandate at Folio is simple: Make the finest wines possible as a producer, while sourcing great wines from wine-making families around the globe and represent them in the USA.

The portfolio of wines represented by Folio is impressive, but that's not the point here. I bring it up simply to help illustrate the ethos that is one of the fundamental elements of both Folio and the wines they produce. Each of the wineries Folio represents is family owned and operated. The guiding principle of each, the Mondavi enterprises included, is to make the best wines each family feels possible.

Whether the effect of this is universal (and of that I am not sure, but based on my tasting of wines represented by Folio it is more than likely), I have to say that after tasting three wines with Michael I am impressed not only by the wines, but by the fact that they seem made for him, and not for me.

These wines are made to satisfy, first and foremost, the boss and his family. If it seems strange that I am mentioning this you’ll have to consider that many, if not most, wines produced today seem to be made to win tastings and medals, as opposed to hearts and space on the dinner table.

Hear Michael talk about his wines, how they’re made, and what influenced and inspired him.

 


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  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,549

    For anyone that has liked this series I recommend they pick up a copy of the House of Mondavi, an excellent book:
    http://www.amazon.com/House-Mondavi...

    Feb 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM


  • Snooth User: chiropod
    219158 2

    Not sure whether Gregory plans to submit additional articles on the Mondavi family since Tim, Michael's brother has also started a new venture. His winery is Continuum and it is located on Pritchard Hil. The first two vintages are beautiful cabernet blends, receiving glowing reviews from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

    Feb 24, 2010 at 4:16 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,441

    Was hoping you'd get around to MMondavi and Folio, as I asked in one of the comments under your first piece in this series. Thanks for the ongoing closeup.

    And yeah, please do keep bashing away at $200-a-bottle-just-out-the-door pricing. But then again the Mondavis were pretty closely involved with letting that genie out of the bottle (sorry for mixing metaphors) back with Opus One in the Napa of the '80s. Looks like they're having to play catchup now, whether for reasons of simple economics or to garner a certain type of 'respect' is hard to say from here....

    Feb 24, 2010 at 6:17 PM


  • Snooth User: Bellarouge
    Hand of Snooth
    392194 7

    As for the $200 wine bashing . . . you are right that now may not the time to launch a wine in that price range, but I think it's interesting that everyone thinks these retail prices are just pulled out of a hat for ego factor. Having been in the wine industry for 20 years (including working for the Mondavis for 13 years) I can tell you that making a wine of this quality is hugely labor intensive. It involves careful work in the vineyard to obtain the best fruit, the best barrels, the best materials and the most gentle, hands-on care to create wines of this caliber. When you spend that much to make a wine, the economics of that cost sets the price. Not everyone will appreciate them, but they don't need to. They are produced in small quantities and are extremely expensive to market because you have to reach those few consumers who have the palate to appreciate and the wallet to purchase them. You can bash them all you want, but why? Do you bash Ferrari for making expensive cars or Rolex for making expensive watches? I don't think so. So why not let Michael make his luxury wine if he wants to? It's his problem to figure out how to sell it, not yours, and you get to taste it for free! Lighten up and appreciate your good fortune, dude! And, he and his team make other delicious wines that are affordable, so why the attack?
    Oh, and House of Mondavi was not an excellent book, it was a soap-opera-ey saga designed to sell books and make money off of one family's dysfunction and the real enemies behind the fall were not vilified as they should have been, in my personal opinion.

    Feb 24, 2010 at 8:19 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    I understand that many of the costs associated with the luxury priced wines are attributable to the production factors, but do they really come out at 4 or 5 times the cost of other excellent wines? And even if they do, which I frankly don't believe, does the marginal difference in quality warrant the price?

    I say no, others say yes. There is not a right or wrong answer, just ones with varying degrees of popularity.

    I think there is simply too much great wine out there at more affordable pricing to warrant spending these sorts of monies on wines.

    The Oso vineyard is a prime example. $45 a bottle and the wine is exactly what I want in my Napa Cab. End of story for me. I prefer it to the M, and while I recognize that the M is a better wine in many ways, it's not a wine that is a natural fit at my dinner table, which is really the biggest consideration for me.

    And as far as why the attack, which I think is a mis- characterization, why not?

    You really think $200 wines serve a higher purpose? You've already admitted that the market is tiny. So where is the great benefit?

    So we're dealing with a group of wealthy people who have a palate (which is the biggest stretch but OK, whatever). How do they help the wine industry grow? How do they extend the reach of the industry and foster the notion that wine is for every man and every meal?

    Yes I got to taste the wine for free. I am very fortunate and feel that part of the price I pay for all of the access my job affords me is that I tell folks what I honestly think. I'm not telling Michael not to make his luxury wine. I am saying I don't see the need for it, I am not going to buy it, and I am not going to tell people it offers good value.

    Feb 24, 2010 at 9:25 PM


  • Snooth User: Bellarouge
    Hand of Snooth
    392194 7

    Ah, but is everything we spend our money on always about "value?" Don't you sometimes want to splurge on luxury? Is it necessary to spend $500 on a meal at the French Laundry? Of course not, you can get a great meal across the street at Bottega for under $100. Is that Dolce Gabbana dress worth $1500? When you put it on and it fits like a glove and is made of the finest materials and style and you feel like a million bucks in it, yes, it might be. Unfortunately not all of us can afford these luxuries. But there is an art to what Thomas Keller does with food that is unmatched and there is an art to making the best possible wine you can, but it comes at a high price. Yes, actually, these wines do cost 4-5 times other wines to make. I do understand that your role is to provide guidance to wine drinkers and I respect that, but what about your readers who can afford the $200 bottle? I suppose that what ruffled my fur is the comment about "taking Michael to task." The Mondavi family, and Robert in particular, was the leader in bringing affordable wines to the American table with Woodbridge for many years. This is a family with deep roots in this business, and if they want to make a $200 wine, so be it, I don't think they should be scolded. Luxury products have always been with us and always will be with us and that's okay. Just because many of us can't afford them is no reason to bash them. The marketplace will ultimately decide anyway, and despite all the complaining, there will always be wines selling for $200 and someone out there will be happy to buy them. Just because our economy is in the pits, let's not lose the artistry of making the best (wine, food, car, computer) you possibly can. It drives excellence and I for one, would be sad if all there was to choose from out there were wines that offered "value." Having said that, I respect your opinion - this is the beauty of blogs/comments, right? Go drink a lovely glass of wine, and no, the price does not matter as long as you love it.

    Feb 24, 2010 at 11:27 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    Great response Bella.

    Let me first say that I have yet to find a Dolce Gabbana dress that fits me like a glove, but that is a story best left undiscussed.

    Perhaps taken to task was the wrong phrase but let me just say that I by no means want to single out Michael's wine. I am against this luxury pricing of wine in general.

    I think that one of the reasons a used the taking to task phrase was simply because of the power the Mondavi name wields. If they made a statement people might listen.

    The flood of $200 Napa Cabs is simply ridiculous, and my point is that past a certain price level wine quality really doesn't go up, and certainly not for the vast majority of wine consumers.

    You are absolutely right that people with fine palates and enough money are buying the best experiences possible, but the wine industry has seemed to slide down this slippery slope where price and production figures are easy substitutions for quality.

    For the vast majority of people who enjoy wine there is little or no difference in quality between most $40 wines and many $200 wines. In style no doubt but that isn't my point.

    I have been on the buying and selling side of wine for over two decades and I know that it takes a long time to be comfortable with one's own opinions. I want people to know that they are not missing out when they can't afford to buy some wines.

    And even if they can afford to buy the wines, I am not convinced that they would prefer them. It all depends on a persons preferences but it takes a specific palate to enjoy each style of wine.

    There are great wines all around us that everyone can afford, too many for anyone to have tried all of them, so I'll continue to try and steer folks towards those wines. Having said all that, if you ever find yourself in NYC, please let me know.

    I would love to share a bottle or three with you and chat about wine! I'll happily bring the wines!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 9:18 AM


  • Snooth User: Bellarouge
    Hand of Snooth
    392194 7

    This is fun! Love the comment about the dress - I have obviously revealed myself as female, and probably should have said an Armani tuxedo instead, but you got the idea. This is an interesting dialogue and is helping me to understand why I was ruffled in the first place. You are absolutely correct in that there are too many $200 wines coming out of Napa. What irks me though is that a good portion of them are being produced by dot.com/venture capital/investment banker millionaires who have set up shop in Napa. They spend ridiculous sums to hire one of the handful of cult winemakers, pay top dollar to get the best fruit and then chase the 95 point scores from Parker and WS. They have now given Napa a bad name and that is tragic. Having lived there for 10 years (not anymore) I know the heart and soul that built Napa to become one of the best known wine regions in the world and it was not done with fortunes from other industries. It was done by hard-working, smart immigrants like Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Andre Tchelistcheff etc. Now, these people who, in my opinion, have every right to make a spectacular wine to celebrate their family's accomplishments are being taken to task because the glut of new guys on the block has spoiled it for them. Michael Mondavi's winemaker is a relatively unknown, hardworking, talented guy who has been with that family since 1973 and the other person integrally involved in winemaking is Michael's son Rob. Tim Mondavi's new project is being managed by him and his daughter Carissa. Maybe I am being partial here because I did work for these folks, but they are the real deal. I just hate to see them lumped in with the rash of newcomers making too expensive trophy wines, it's not fair. If it weren't for the work of these families, all those new guys would never have been able to charge $200 for a bottle of wine. In any case, the wine market has changed, possibly forever, and that is a good thing. I'm all for affordable wines and this will create a shakeout, but I do hope that when the dust settles, people like the Mondavis can still make a beautiful, small production, $100 wine and have someone out there who will buy it and appreciate it. They deserve that. And, I would be delighted to take you up on your offer to drink and chat about wine. No plans to be in NYC anytime soon, but I'll keep you posted! Thanks for hearing me out.

    Feb 25, 2010 at 12:26 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    Wow that's a big block of text!!

    I am totally in agreement with you about the crop of young, untested, expensive Napa Cabs, or wines from anywhere for that matter.

    The sad part is that people who have built up a following around their wines and make something that is truly special, as well as expensive, have created the marketplace that allows these stupid expensive wines to exist.

    I too think that much of the market has fundamentally changed, at least for the near term.

    I think that if many of the producers of the "good" expensive wines simply stopped making them for a while the other producers would loose their cover. They would be there standing alone with their super expensive wines that were no better than the standard offerings from some of the greatest producers.

    I am tilting at windmills, no doubt, but the romantic in me hope that, one day, we might be rid of these wines, and the people who chase them.

    Are you still in the Bay area? Still working in the wine industry?

    It's been my pleasure, and real fun, besides helpful, to have a back and forth like this. My ideas are more visceral than formed and being forced to stand up for them has helped me make myself a bit clearer. I hope!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 4:20 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,441

    "If it weren't for the work of these families, all those new guys would never have been able to charge $200 for a bottle of wine. In any case, the wine market has changed, possibly forever, and that is a good thing. I'm all for affordable wines and this will create a shakeout, but I do hope that when the dust settles, people like the Mondavis can still make a beautiful, small production, $100 wine and have someone out there who will buy it and appreciate it."


    Bella, with your third post I'm finally in complete agreement with you. Initially I thought I recognized a certain attitude I've often encounterd in Napa and Palo Alto, but I was wrong in underestimating you. This was a very good exchange between you and Greg, who's viewpoints I've always been in pretty close agreement with. Love the dialectic of a good dialog which hacks its way to the essence....

    And yes, I also think life would be considerably more boring without the possibility of meals at French Laundry, Gary Danko and Chez Panisse. Or some of the world's greatest wines, whether from Napa or Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Piedmont. But I still gag at initial release prices for cultwines in Napa or First Growths or DRC bottles from France, and view many as abusively egregious. Here's hoping there really has been a sea change in winepricing thanks to the current depression, though my cynical side says ongoing Wall Street practices are an indicator that this may be just a hiccup and it's all too possible that if the economy recovers quickly enough we may be back to the bad old hubristic ways of doing business before we know it.

    Regardless, let's not, in any case, start a separate discussion on pricing in the rag trade, whether from Italian, French or New York coutouriers... ;-)

    Feb 25, 2010 at 4:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    I buy most of my clothing at Costco.

    So that I can afford to buy expensive wine.

    Of course!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:09 PM


  • Snooth User: Bellarouge
    Hand of Snooth
    392194 7

    Greg, and Dmcker thank you. This has been great, and I could go on and on "hacking our way to the essence" (love that) which is that yes, there are too many pricey wines, but I think we need to be careful where we lay the blame, and that is a whole other chicken and egg style topic. The American consumer must take some responsibility as in our early days of embracing wine, we put it on a pedestal and did not consider it the "mealtime beverage" that the Europeans do, but rather something to be adored. It's a shame the internet does not offer data from the late 1980's when Robert Mondavi launched his Mission program to encourage people to consider wine an everyday beverage. That's what he believed and wanted, but unfortunately the RMW IPO in 1993 brought in wall street and corporate America and shareholders and on and on and hence, one story of how Napa became the enemy, which of course, it is not. Anyway, yes, I am still in the Bay Area, still in the wine biz and unfortunately, must run to go pour wine at an event tonight - would love to explore more sometime . .

    Feb 25, 2010 at 5:59 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    You are of course right. the consumer needs to accept their role in this mess and stop feeding the frenzy.

    truth be told I think we'll be back to mailing list hyper expensive wines in short order. We've been trained to equate cost with value and Robert Parker's palate with good wine.

    I see alot of movement away from these orthodoxies among younger consumer, which is exceptionally promising, but like Dm I lament the fact that as a student 25 years ago I could actually buy a bottle of DRC once a year. Heck the 99 first growths were almost cheap.

    What happened? I don't know for sure but I do know I am, almost, done with supporting these prices.

    I've stopped buying several of my favorite wines because of insulting price increases. many have come almost back down to earth, but not quite.
    '
    Good luck pouring. I won't ask the producer but Cabernet? Pinot? Zin?

    See you soon!

    Feb 25, 2010 at 6:20 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,441

    Just saw that Nielsen has reported a greater than 5% increase in dollar volume sales for wines north of $20, for January over one year ago. Not a good sign for what we're talking about, I suppose.

    Bellarouge, you should join the discussions in the Snooth Forum when you have the time.
    http://www.snooth.com/talk/

    Feb 25, 2010 at 8:20 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,441

    And then there's the Christie's forcast for this year's premium wine auction market:
    "Overall, the prognosis for 2010 is good, with exceptional wines coming to market and an active market with firm prices and rising demand."
    Guess the Chinese won't be helping our cause...

    Feb 25, 2010 at 8:28 PM


  • Snooth User: Bellarouge
    Hand of Snooth
    392194 7

    I will check out the forum when I have a chance, this has been an enlightening experience. I don't know what the answer is to the ridiculous pricing. Being on the producer side, I can say that it is very difficult to make quality, handcrafted, small lot wines at reasonable prices and "we" get the blame for the high prices, but there are many elements that contribute to this issue, namely the 3-tier system. So many people have to "take a cut" before the wine gets to the consumer, it inflates pricing in a big way. Shipping is expensive, distributors don't want the small brands, it's really all a bit of a mess and we continue to operate under antiquated post prohibition laws and attitudes. Check out this article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/artic...
    Now the CA ABC is not even letting bars who are making beautiful cocktails infuse their own alcohol! It's madness.

    Feb 26, 2010 at 12:34 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,441

    ABC needs to do something else to justify their budget. Assume they'd have a field day with Chinese medicine shops steeping snakes, etc. in liquor, but far more to the point is what's with the criminalization of creative, tasty-making-yet-safe bartending? Are people illegal at home if they want to make their own infusions of orchard fruit in distilled liquor?

    Feb 26, 2010 at 1:38 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 214,212

    Funny, I was having a long heated discussion about entitlement, the greater good, and personal responsibility. While that conversation had nothing to do with wine, except of course it fueling the debate, the lessons are much the same.

    There is blame everywhere, there are systemic problems, and nobody is willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

    I have, in a n admittedly very minor way, done a bit by forsaking some of my favorite wines in protest over the ever increasing prices being asked.

    Unfortunately I don't see much traction on that front so we are were we are.

    Fortunate in that we have the experience to have this discussion, are well stocked with wines that we like, and with the time to have such civilized and probative discourse!

    As far as the ABC goes. I'm glad I am no longer in the restaurant business, well not always, but I do miss the wall of infused vodkas we kept behind the bar. I certainly had my problems with my first restaurant, but looking back at the craft beer list, all domestic wine list, market driven menu, and crazy infusions behind the bar lets me at least enjoy the knowledge that I was adept at identifying lasting trends 20 years ago.

    I can only hope that that skill is somewhat intact today.

    Feb 26, 2010 at 4:54 PM


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