Harvest of Joy – My Passion for Excellence – Review

Philip E. Hiaring

Robert Mondavi, with Paul Chutkow. Harcourt Brace & Co., New York, San Diego, London. ISBN 0-15-100346-7. Illus., 364 pages, including index. $27 U.S. $38 Canada. Reviewed 10/98.

First of all, I must come clean. I’m a fan of Robert Mondavi and have been ever since I met him some 20 or more years ago. What’s amazing about him – Bob turned 85 in 1998 – is he’s got the same enthusiasm he had back when I first met him. If anything, he’s got more enthusiasm. If that were possible.

I recall doing an interview with Robert back in the ’70s or maybe the early ’80s because, among other things, his was the first new winery to open in the Napa Valley since Repeal in 1933; that was in 1966. Also, while at Charles Krug earlier, he made something out of Chenin blanc as he patterned it after the Chenins of the Loire. He also was a pioneer in the use of French oak barrels.

Anyway, I had developed a list of about 12 questions and sallied forth to Oakville with my father.

It was quite an interview, I tell you. In fact, I told then-P.R. exec Harvey Posert Bob was the most difficult interview I’d ever had; not because he wouldn’t talk, believe me! It’s just that he was so excited about what he and others were doing and what he envisioned would happen he’d go off on tangents lasting some 10 or 15 minutes – always something about the soil and climate of the Napa Valley, etc. and what great wines we would produce in the future. And more.

Well, it was a great interview and a pleasure to spend so much time with a guy who, as I learned early on, has a worldwide acquaintance

In fact, during many of my own foreign travels someone learning I was from California would ask, “Do you know Robert Mondavi?”

Anyway, Bob starts when he was 52 in 1965 and eager to set out on a course to make Napa Valley (Charles King) wines equal to the world’s best. He’d been to Europe and seen how the grands crus in Bordeaux made wine, and wanted to emulate these great chateaux.

One thing led to another, he and Krug parted company and things were in motion for him to open up his own shop in 1966. Not that it was easy.

Mondavi does not take it easy on himself, I might add. He acknowledges he loves to talk – still does – and that no one ever accused him “of being quiet or self-effacing.” He also described himself as a “testa dura”, or hard-head, a trait he apparently inherited from his mother.

There’s much more, of course, and it’s all delightful. He reminds us of the days when the Napa Valley lacked a single fine restaurant and when St. Helena was a sleepy, bucolic little place where the local wineries mainly made jug-style wines. Good jug-style wines, mind you, but jug-style, nonetheless.

Bob Mondavi believes in one thing, quoted here: “Excellence, no matter what the cost.” And it’s something he’s lived up to in every way I know.

I remember once thinking that if we didn’t have a Robert Mondavi, we’d have to invent him.

I still think that way.

This book is a must read for every wine fan; I’m not going to lend my copy out because it’s signed by the author. This is for the personal archives.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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