Mondavi talks wine, working with family and secrets to winemaking | Events

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Mondavi talks wine, working with family and secrets to winemaking

Fresh from crushing grapes for the 2010 vintage, third generation winemaker Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery-Peter Mondavi Family comes to Seattle as the keynote speaker at the Taste of Tulalip— an annual food and wine event at Tulalip Resort Casino held this Friday and Saturday, November 12-13.  

Winemaking runs in Marc Mondavi's blood. Born in St. Helena, California, Marc, 56, was raised at the winery— summers for him meant working in the vineyard, climbing empty tanks and packing wine gift boxes. His grandparents Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, Italian immigrants who ignited the passion for winemaking in the family, purchased the Charles Krug Winery in 1943 as its third owner— the same land where wine was made by Charles Krug, a 27-year old Prussian immigrant who played a major role in influencing Napa Valley's development as a world-renowned wine producing region. Marc's father Peter Sr., 96, introduced the French oak barrels to Napa Valley in 1963 to produce wines to match those of France. His brother Peter Jr., 53, manages the winery’s daily operations as its co-proprietor. Not to mention, his late uncle Robert is the namesake of Robert Mondavi Winery also based in Napa. 

Founded in 1861, the Charles Krug Winery is the first winery in Napa Valley and the first to produce some of California's varietally labeled wines. Nearly 150 years later, the winery continues to produce handcrafted red Bordeaux varietals from the Napa Valley appellation under the stewardship of the Peter Mondavi Family. The winery owns 850 acres in Napa Valley— all of which are farmed in agricultural sustainable methods— where most of their grapes come from. 

Here, Marc talks about the family business, the key to good winemaking and of course, wine.

The Charles Krug Winery-Peter Mondavi Family is a family affair with you and your brother at the helm as co-proprietors and your father as the president/CEO. How is the labor divided in the family winery?
I oversee CK Mondavi (label started by his grandfather in 1946)— the brand, the grapes, the winemaking, and sales and marketing. And Pete (Peter Jr.) oversees Charles Krug. We have a family meeting about every 3 weeks, so we share the good, the bad and the ugly between each other. With respect to anything major such as expenditures, change in marketing programs or direction, those all go through family members before we make a decision. My father's not active in the day-to-day operations, but he's very involved in the family meetings. He looks at the financials every month and he works on projects at the winery. 

How are the young Mondavis involved in the family business?
The next generation is just starting to come in. I have four children: one of my daughters is in wine distribution, the other is an assistant winemaker at another winery, one is a paralegal and my youngest is a freshman in college. Pete's kids are still in high school. We encourage all our kids to work outside of the family for a couple of years before they come in.

Is that your succession plan to keep it in the family?

As the Charles Krug Winery approaches its 150th anniversary, what winemaking traditions have you kept and how has the methods evolved in the last three generations?
Winemaking today is much different than winemaking 30 or 40 years ago. Thirty or forty years ago, we didn't have this much technology. Today, it's much more sophisticated. We have a lot more tools now in the growing side of things. The technologies that are available today are better for quality and less invasive on the wines.

This Saturday, you're teaching a wine blending seminar at the Taste of Tulalip modeled after your family's reserve Bordeaux blend. What is the key to making good wine?
In grape growing and wine making, you have to follow some guidelines so you don't make any mistakes. As long as you grow the grapes properly and make the wine properly, you should end up with the best possible wine. Science is a key component, it makes you understand the things going on in the wine process and what the wine is doing. And having a good palette is probably one of the most important. Experience plays a good role too. The more vintages you go through, the more diversity you see and the more understanding you have of wines. It took me 13 or 14 years before I started getting comfortable.

What is the biggest lesson you learned from your father as a winemaker?
Sanitation. Cleanliness is very important in the winemaking process. As long as you maintain a clean facility, you're going to virtually eliminate most of the problems that can occur in the wine.

What do you say to aspiring winemakers who think winemaking is a glamorous job?
Maybe some outside people see winemaking as a glamorous job, but I don't view it as that. During harvest, the work is 7 days a week, 12 hours or more a day. It's very tiring and it's hard work. Probably the most rewarding part is after you get the wines in the barrel, you watch it mature and start the blending process. Ultimately, you get it in the bottle and it is what it is. You've created a piece of liquid art.

As a California winemaker, what are your thoughts on Washington wines?    
There are absolutely phenomenal wines coming out of Washington. I drink mostly red wines, and there are some great syrahs, great cabernets and merlots coming out of this state. Washington's carved a niche.  

Do you see any new trends in the future of winemaking?
The major changes in winemaking techniques have pretty much already taken place. Going forward, we're going to see more subtle changes. The technology will continue to improve, but I think the big jump has already taken place. Now it's just continual fine tuning. 

The 2nd Annual Taste of Tulalip takes place on November 12-13, 2010 at the Tulalip Resort Casino, 10200 Quil Ceda Boulevard in Marysville. Last year's event, which drew over 500 attendees, was awarded the "Best Wine Event Featuring Washington Wines" by the Washington Wine Commission. This year features over 60 Washington and 20 Napa Valley wineries, food pairings, chef demos and wine seminars. Tickets are $45-$170; wine seminars are separate. Info: (866) 716-7162.