Robert Mondavi: Father of Modern American Wine Culture

MondaviThe French have it, the Spaniards have it, the Italians have it, but does America really have a wine culture all its own? Yes! So much so, that in 2010, for the first time ever, we Americans drank more wine than the French. Fait accompli.

Many think that farmer and founder Thomas Jefferson was the father of American Wine Culture. But from the eighteenth to the twenty first century, there have been many other pivotal moments and evangelists along the way. One critical date in American Wine Culture was on May 24, 1976. That’s when the infamous Judgment of Paris blind tasting took place, and two American wines, a Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars were picked as the top wines, squashing the best of French wines. It literally put Californian wine on the radar.

But as great as that turning point was for the American wine market, it was the wine makers themselves who determinedly carved out this new era of Modern American Wine Culture. One of the greatest American wine trail blazers began his path in 1966, when he opened his namesake winery in Napa Valley. His name was Robert Mondavi. His simple mission was to prove to the world that Americans could make wines as good as, even better than the classic French wines. He built a winery in the California Mission architectural style, and was one of the first to invite visitors to come and taste his wines. I had the pleasure of meeting and drinking wine with Mr. Mondavi many times at his winery and he was ever the enthusiastic wine ambassador you would expect. He was said to even put Cabernet in his coffee each morning! He and his lovely wife hosted numerous special events with chefs, outdoor music concerts, and filled the winery and its grounds with art and sculpture. Mr. Mondavi truly led the way we see art, architecture, music and culture blending so naturally with wine…which created the Modern American Wine Culture we enjoy today. Bravo and grazie!