AWG Correspondent

James Houston

Robert Mondavi Winery Photos

Robert Mondavi Winery Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, Oakville AVA, California

Reviewed: September 23, 2012 by James Houston
Published: December 2, 2012

With a late lunch winding down at Oakville Grocery, a companion suggests visiting Robert Mondavi before heading back to San Francisco.

I flinch. It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, harvest season, and the Valley is swarming with tourists. Every parking lot is a perilous game of Frogger. It took Green Beret-worthy tactical maneuvering for our group to snag this table ahead of ten other parties anxious to inhale their expensive sandwiches. Surely Mondavi, the iconic property that exists in my mind as a sort of wine Disneyland, will be an utter mob scene.

But I don’t object. While I’ve drunk my share of Mondavi wine—from $7 Woodbridge to $100+ Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon—I’ve never set foot on the winery grounds, dirtied my fingernails with the famous alluvial soil of the To Kalon Vineyard, or taken time to really consider Robert Mondavi’s impact on the California wine industry.

This isn’t the place to split hairs over whether “The Patriarch” invented “California Wine” as we think of it today or merely elevated it from another agricultural product to a multi billion-dollar lifestyle industry. Let’s just agree that his legacy in this part of the world will always tower as high as the Mayacamas mountains.

Which is reason enough for anyone who cares about California wine to visit the house Mondavi built—the site of the modern Napa Valley’s Big Bang. Something would be amiss canvassing the rest of the Valley without coming here first.

Off we went.

Yes, there were a lot of people there. But the facility is built to handle a lot of people, with a labyrinthine parking lot, an expansive grass quad in the center of the Mission-style building, and at least three distinct tasting areas. We wander towards the closest, in the intimate Appellation Room. The selections here are from Mondavi’s Napa Valley label. (In the To Kalon Room, you can spring for the more expensive Reserve Tasting).

We start with Fume Blanc 2010, paired with the familiar anecdote about Robert Mondavi inventing the name after intuiting that “Sauvignon Blanc” was too hard for the wine-drinking hoi polloi to pronounce. The 2010 is mellow, a little grassy, with flavors leaning more towards ripe fruit—melon, fig—than sharp citrus.

It had been a while since I had Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay, and for some reason I remembered it as being a big buttercreamy monster. Not so with the 2009 Chardonnay, which is restrained and fruity, highlighting delicate spices and food-friendly apple and lemon characteristics.

The 2009 Pinot Noir has the weight one expects from Carneros grapes, deeply-colored and oozing with black cherry and red berries. An earthy finish keeps things interesting.

I finish with the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. At exactly 75% Cabernet with the rest divided among Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, it just barely qualifies for a single-varietal labeling. It is easy-drinking with classic blackcurrant and licorice stuffing and a velvety texture. I suspect the bottle was just opened and that with some oxygen more flavors would emerge.

A note on tours. Some wineries don’t give them. It can be a headache for the winemaking staff—for whom an instant of lost focus can cause hundreds of gallons of wine to end up in the drain—when a meandering group of people stumbles through the slippery production area, tripping on hoses and asking uninvited questions.

Mondavi is not one of these. Mondavi gives lots of tours, all day, every day. And the tours range from the standard look inside the winery to a walk through the hallowed To Kalon to a seminar on the connections between wine and music.

You’ll never do it all in one visit, so the entire Robert Mondavi experience is one you have to return over and over for. Smart marketing, in the tradition of its founder.

Address & Contact Information: 7801 St. Helena Highway Napa, California 94558. Telephone: 888-766-6328, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00.

Overall Rating:  

Red Wine White Wine Service View/Ambiance

More information about Robert Mondavi Winery

Explore California wineries

Explore Napa Valley AVA wineries

Explore Oakville AVA wineries