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Wine is Passion May 31, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine.

By Alex Sawit

31 May 2008


I never got to meet Robert Mondavi. It’s a sobering realization considering that there were real opportunities in the past when I could have done so through the kindness of Tita M. Trillo, an old friend of my parents who for many years was the official distributor of Mondavi wines in this country. Unfortunately I was never able to avail of any of the offers to accompany her on her special visits to the winery at Oakville, California.

But the thought of a missed opportunity wasn’t weighing on my mind when I read the news last week that the legendary California winemaker had passed away in his sleep, just a month shy of his 95th birthday. No, what immediately came to me was one of his famous maxims.

“Wine is passion.”

It’s a simple yet profound little phrase, which fittingly defines the life of a man who wholeheartedly devoted himself to the making of wine and to sharing that happiness with those who would see the world through his eyes. For all of us who embraced his philosophy, it is simply impossible not to reflect on his colossal contribution to today’s global attitudes about how wine can be made and enjoyed. Because if you believe in what he believed in, you must know how greatly we all are in his debt.

Think of it. Who would have guessed a mere decade ago that Americans would make a dramatic shift from being beer drinkers to being wine lovers, with wine now surpassing beer as the nation’s most consumed alcoholic beverage? Who would have predicted just a quarter century ago that California winemakers would be producing great wines that would routinely be judged as better than those of their glorified French counterparts? And, last but not least, who would have thought only a generation ago that today’s global consumers would be as spoiled for choice as they are now, with so much quality wine at more attractive prices than ever before? Before Mondavi, experts would have told you that it was impossible, unthinkable even, for a respectable winery to attempt to make more than 50,000 cases of an excellent wine without making a significant sacrifice in quality. Yet today there are talented winemakers everywhere who can consistently make hundreds of thousands of cases of wine that is not only very good but which even the average buyer can often afford.

All these things that we take for granted today were made possible largely through the vision and passion of one man. More than any other individual before him or since, Mondavi enthusiastically strove to banish the intimidating image of wine, especially in America, helping the public to see it not as an elitist accessory for status-conscious snobs but as the delicious everyday beverage that it really is. Allow me to let Robert say it himself, with words taken from his 1998 autobiography, Harvests of Joy.

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the Art of Living… When I pour a glass of truly fine wine, when I hold it up to the light and admire its color, when I raise it to my nose and savor its bouquet and essence, I know that wine is, above all else, a blessing, a gift of nature, a joy as pure and elemental as the soil and vines and sunshine from which it springs.”

I don’t know if there will never be another Robert Mondavi; forever is a long time, after all. But I do know that he left each of us with a little bit of his own light to keep us from losing our way. Having opened my eyes, I know that I can never see wine any less honestly or any less wonderfully ever again.

Cheers to you, Robert. Thanks for everything.





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