The To Kalon vineyard was named by its original owner, H. W. Crabb, another of Napa’s true pioneers. In 1868, just 7 years after the Charles Krug Winery was founded, H. W. Crabb began producing wines from 360 acres in Oakville that he eventually named To Kalon, or “Highest Beauty” in Greek.

 Crabb is credited with planting the first Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc vines in Napa valley, and by the late 1880s had experimented with some 400 different grape varieties. The To Kalon label, under which Crabb bottled his wines, won awards around the world and developed into one of the first California wineries with a following outside the state.

 H.W. Crabb past away in 1899, and the To Kalon Vineyard went through the hands of two families before Robert Mondavi purchased almost 12 acres in 1966 to start his own winery. Mondavi was familiar with the great wines that had been made from To Kalon fruit at Charles Krug, which had purchased the lion’s share of the original vineyard in 1962, after making great wines with purchased fruit for about a decade.

In 1976, to finally close the book on the story that had led to Robert’s original departure from Charles Krug, he took control of some 240 acres of the original To Kalon vineyard from Charles Krug. In the intervening years the vineyard has grown to some 550 acres, all called To Kalon.

Exactly what makes the To Kalon vineyard special is a question I do not have the answer to. It’s a broad stretch of land that reaches to the Mayacamas foothills along the Napa valley floor. In doing so it traverses several distinct meso-climates and terroirs. From the rich alluvial soils closest to the river planted to Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, to the well-drained gravels that creep to the hillside, planted to Cabernet, the wines produced from these vines simply tend to have something more, a little finesse and better balance, than many of their neighbors.

The complete story of Robert Mondavi could not be told in the space of this article, and certainly not in the time I have to tell it. If you'd like to learn more about the history of Robert Mondavi I can suggest: The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty For a more complete understanding of Robert Mondavi, hearing him recount his own story is indispensible, so take a look at Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business as well.

For the purposes of this article it’s worth mentioning that Robert turned over day-to-day management of the winery to his sons, Tim and Michael, in 1990. Their commitment to quality has been as deep as their father’s. In an effort to lift Robert Mondavi wines to the next level they undertook a project that embraced the best of time-tested techniques and integrated the best of the new, and they called it: To Kalon.

The project revolves around a distinct winemaking facility that uses upright wood fermenters for the vinification of their red wines, and incorporates as little technology as possible, putting the winemaking back in the hands of the winemakers. The flow of juice, from press, in basket presses, to bottling is all helped along by gravity. The wines made by the To Kalon project stand as testament to the passion of a long line of men with the vision that has turned Napa Valley from fruit orchards and dairy pens into the one of the world's finest source of wine: H.W. Crabb, Charles Krug, Cesare Mondavi,and, last but not least, Robert Mondavi.

The Robert Mondavi Winery is now owned the Constellation brands. They have made a commitment to continue down the path first blazed by Robert Mondavi. Since their acquisition of the winery, completed in 2004, not much seems to have changed. Time will tell whether the wines made today are the equal of those made by the Mondavi’s own hands.

And that, of course, leads us on to the wines! This tasting focused on the wine from Ta Kalon, and in particular the Reserve Cabernet and the truly exceptional Sauvignon Blancs. Who knew they were so special? Read the tasting notes on the next page.