The name Mondavi is synonymous with wine, there is no denying that. Peter Mondavi, Jr., son of Peter Mondavi, Sr. and nephew of Robert Mondavi, heads the Charles Krug- Peter Mondavi Family Napa Valley Winery. Part of the Mondavi vision, and one that he believes only a successful family-owned and operated business can make, is the investment of $25.6 million made to replant the 850 acres of their Napa Valley vineyard land, renewing the winery’s focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals and converting to sustainable farming methods. In 2010 the winery received the California Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of the winery’s historic structures.
What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career, and was there ever a thought about leaving the family business for something else?
My original intent was to pursue some form of engineering, thus the BS in Mechanical Engineering. But my experience working in virtually every aspect of the winery during my summer vacations since I was 8 years old was too strong of a draw. There are way too many draws and positive aspects to living and working in the Napa Valley and in the agricultural business of winemaking.
Describe your winemaking philosophy.
Fundamentally be true to the variety and land, be minimally invasive, have balance and honesty, to produce a wine that is to be enjoyed at the meal, with food.
Much has been written and debated about the 100 point rating scale. Has empowered consumers, distorted wine prices or actually changed the quality of wines being produced? What do you see as being the long-term impact of the 100-point rating system?
In some ways it is an oversimplification of a very complex and subjective product. Some believe it has homogenized wine styles across borders as winemakers are now more focused on manipulating fruit to achieve a pre-determined style rather than expressing specific vineyard sites. But in its defense, it has taken what is a confusing topic for some and made it easier to understand. Anything that makes consumers feel more comfortable with wine is a good thing. The 100-point scale provides a score representing the opinion of one person, which can be useful information. But consumers must also continue to explore and discover wines, building confidence, a frame of reference, and the ability to decide which wines are right for them. To complement the 100-pointt scale, I’m hoping the Internet and social media will offer additional insight as to the complexity and nuances of wine. I have yet to see a 100-point scoring system for art. I feel wine is an artful expression and a very personal love.
Rising wine alcohol levels in U.S. and foreign wines are a hot topic these days in wine circles. What are your thoughts on the subject?
I long for the days of “normal” alcohols. With that said, I feel the vineyards and wine styles will keep elevated alcohols in vogue for years to come. Given that inevitability, a wine must be balanced. If it expresses its elevated alcohol with heat or burn in the aroma or flavors, it’s off the mark. I do not chase numbers in winemaking.
Your father, Peter Mondavi, Sr., transformed the Charles Krug Winery into a Napa Valley icon, with its flagship Cabernet Sauvignon. Is Napa Cab a tough sell given the plethora of excellent Cabernets on the market from a wide variety of regions?
It is no more difficult or easier than it was years ago. Napa Valley Cabernets have the luxury of being fairly limited since Napa Valley represents only 4% of the total U.S. wine production. It is also geographically constrained so there will be very minimal growth of production coming out of the Napa Valley. Because Napa Valley has become such an icon, it can support a myriad of Cabernets that can coexist in the marketplace.
As a winemaker with the last name Mondavi, is it more or less difficult to make wine?
The vineyards, grapes, yeast and barrels don’t care who is making the wine. With our heritage, there is a certain external expectation of success but there is a stronger internal expectation to carry on our unique heritage for generations to come.
Charles Krug founded his winery in 1861, when the Civil War was already raging, and there are historic structures on the Krug property you have fully restored. What is it about that history that made you spend millions of dollars to bring them back to life?
We felt an obligation to preserve this great placeholder that we have in the Napa Valley as an icon of the Valley’s history. There are few that can boast his heritage.
Fundamentally, how does your winemaking style differ from that of your father, Peter Mondavi, Sr.?
Fundamentally, our style is rooted in Dad’s decades of winemaking wisdom. We have gotten considerably more sophisticated and refined over the years, especially when it comes to planting our vineyards. We are very sensitive to the soil, rootstock requirements and the proper representation of the various clones available. Our wines remain balanced and destined for the dining table, but they have adapted to the more fruit driven styles of today.
Have you ever wished that the Charles Krug Winery was named Krug/Mondavi so as to keep the Mondavi name a consistent compelling force in the wine world?
I am very proud that we aggressively maintain the Charles Krug brand name since he was the first to successfully commercialize the wine industry in the Napa Valley. In recent decades we have incorporated the Peter Mondavi Family into the label to educate all as to the family ownership of our winery.
All your wines come from either Napa or Sonoma, which certainly limits what you can produce. What specific varieties would you like to make that you’ve not had the chance to, and why?
Our focus, Bordeaux wines, are all Napa Valley. Personally I’m more interested in further consolidation and focus of our winemaking efforts to refine our wines amongst fewer varietals. We do source some Sonoma fruit but it is a small portion of our harvest. We are not looking for unbound growth, so the constraint of our Napa Valley vineyards is more of an asset. It gives us focus and purpose.