Our Friend of the Week – Rob Mondavi, Jr.
Rob Mondavi, Jr. and his wife Lydia are friends and neighbors of Amy’s in Napa. Rob, whose grandfather was the legendary wine maker Robert Mondavi, is carrying on the family legacy as head winemaker at Fourth Leaf Wines, a collaboration with his cousin Angelina. While he carries his name well, Rob is passionate, down to earth and his generosity is legendary. If the end of the world comes, we know whose cellar we’ll be hunkered down in.
Your City: Napa Valley, CA
Rob’s Whats – “Personal wine picks outside of my own…from Napa Valley I have a three great treasures to share. Venge Bone Ash Vineyard. Kirk is a remarkable and thoughtful winemaker whose insight into Napa Valley is captured in every bottle he crafts. Macauley Wines. Mac Watson’s wines are intense where needed and subtle where they ought to have softness, exciting equilibrium is a great theme I find in his wines. The Cabernets are exceptional and the Pinot Noirs have great silkiness. The next Napa Valley pick is from Kelham. Ron Nicholson has excellent vineyard holdings in Oakville and with these grapes he vinifies and then ages his wines longer than any winery I know of in Napa Valley. For those who are looking to find wines with perfect providence that have been aged by the vintner, Kelham is by far the hidden gem of the Napa Valley.”
“Outside of the Napa Valley I love Italian reds and decadent Champagne. For Champagne my picks are from Charles Heidsieck either the Brut or Rose. These Champagnes are what my winemaking friends drink because of their true expression of fruit and freshness. For Italian red, Ornellaia is the gold standard of international silky excellence coupled with balanced opulence.”
FRIEND OF THE WEEK: 11 QUESTIONS
WEBSITE: FOURTH LEAF WINES
1. Nickname: Rob, Robby
2. What’s your short story? I am a super engaged husband and father who is absolutely crazy about fishing and savoring life. On a business and passion level, I am the winemaker of our family wines with a mission to innovate and inspire my team and wine lovers with the natural and organic vineyards we farm and the wines we craft. The long and short of it is, I was born into a remarkably cool wine-centric family. My father and forefathers were central figures in creating the Napa Valley wine industry; they have inspired me to find focus and create exceptional wines. It was quite daunting at first to consider their accomplishments and to then factor out how I was going to fit into that company or make my own mark, yet once I realized that you can’t step in the same river twice I was liberated from the pressure of trying to repeat something that can’t be repeated. My goal is simple: craft thoughtful wines that belong in the company of the world’s most exceptional, and inspire my team to an ongoing and continually higher level of passion and dedication for wine.
3. What’s your jam? This is a fun question as my musical tastes are varied. I grew up attending great jazz and blues concerts at our winery summer festivals. I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with nearly every jazz and blues legend one could imagine, so my jam varies on mood. For a sultry night, I am all about Etta James. For a comfortable evening with friends, I am all about the silky yet powerful voice of Chris Pierce. Road tripping and driving in and around the vineyards it’s all Jenn Nettles – either her country music, or the hard to find bluesy bootlegs. As for two top jamming songs, Led Zeppelin’s Traveling Riverside Blues, and Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.
4. What motivates you? There are a couple big buckets from which my motivations in life stem. What inspires me most of all is my family. The way my wife looks at me and the great conversations we have motivate me to continually find ways to be a better husband, father and winemaker, and to always have ample time for her and our kids separately and together.
Then there is the wine motivation that is engrained into my core to find the “wow” factor of wine. For me, finding the “wow” factor of wine is when you taste a wine and your entire body and mind are moved. This sensation is likely different for all but when the moment hits me my entire being is calmed, my shoulders drop and a sense of peace and inspiration wash across my palate and body and I can feel the soul of the wine. Selfishly I want to share that “wow” factor in every bottle of our wines!!
5. Who do you think you’d have great friend chemistry with? At the top is Winston Churchill. From what I have gleaned, this man had a rapier whit and ability to tell a tale and he loved his cigars, wines and cocktails. Along with these fun traits he possessed a trailblazing strategist mind that led him and the world out of a dark time. A more modern figure is Ben Stiller whose interviews I find fun and clever, and Michael Bloomberg whom I met once and wanted to spend a few more hours with.
6. What qualities do your favorite friends have in common? Loyalty, humor and brains.
7. What’s the smartest, most inspiring, awesome thing you’ve read, watched, or listened to? As a former board member of WildAid I have been awakened and surprised at humanity’s aggressive consumption of endangered and threatened species. WildAid uses film quality high impact HD quality clips and trailers created with the world’s most positive and influential athletes, celebrities and politicians to educate consumers how their choices can literally make or break a species with a direct messaging of “when the buying stops the killing can too.” WildAid is led by Peter Knight, his passion and analytical versus fanatical approach to educating and teaching the world that we can make a difference is compelling and inspiring WildAid together with Yao Ming has curtailed the consumption of shark fin products in China by 50-75% in under 10 years, literally moving the needle commencing to stem the extinction of sharks. I have also recently been inspired and enlightened by Shawn Heinrichs whom I met through WildAid. Shawn was involved with the film “Racing Extinction.” WildAid and Racing Extinction are truly moving, and inspiring, and what I enjoyed most was that these entities educate in an approachable way and demonstrate where and how we can make a difference through the simple act of saying no.
8. What whets your appetite? Food, wine and my gorgeous wife!!! For cuisine, grilled meats, a well-aged steak seared on the wood grill and finished with a drizzle of freshly pressed cloudy olive oil and sea salt, served with sliced tomatoes from our organic garden. I also can’t seem to ever eat enough pasta prepared with a simple basil pesto. As to wines, almost always reds. White wines are amazing, but for me, they don’t compare to the enjoyment of great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
9. What’s next on your To Do List? It’s fall here in Napa Valley and that means harvest and fermentation. Today, it’s a vineyard walk to check grapes for maturity and then back to the winery to check on and taste the individual small lot fermentations. To finish the day it’s all about some playtime with the kids. For the short-term I have so much to accomplish with my vineyards and wines that it is my primary focus. In the long-term (ie: 25 years) I would like to create a distilled product. I have looked into it casually for about 10 years and it is intriguing, but maybe something for my retirement from wine, when I hopefully pass the baton to our boys.
10. How are you friends with Gina + Amy? Amy and her family moved in next door to our dear friends the Eusers. They got to know each other and essentially set the two families up. Meeting Amy, Alan and their son Hudson was amazing. Our boys were born within one month of one another and each one of us run our own business and share many of the same values both personally and professionally. We hit it off instantly and became fast friends who understand each other’s traits, we are all joyful and a little quirky so it works. We share the many of the same business celebrations, challenges and goals so we can talk shop and also understand that some days you just want to hang out with a friend and have a drink. It has been very cool developing a friendship and raising our kids together.
11. What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received? I can’t pinpoint one piece of advice so here are two, one for life and one for wine. My mom and dad have taught me to be respectful, kind and firm. Perhaps I’ve added firm to what they have instilled into me yet in any personal or business situation I have been in, starting with a foundation of respect and kindness for any individual or group provides a great foundation to build from. My winemaking mentor Tony Coltrin and my Grandfather Robert Mondavi both taught me to “never let making good wine get in the way of making great wine.” It’s true, I push myself and my team to fine tune and look for new solutions to create great wine. It is much easier to be satisfied with something that is good than to take something that is good to the next level of great. It’s about the extra effort and attention to detail and looking for new opportunities to succeed beyond what you think is possible.