Sunday, May 18, 2008

Winemaker Robert Mondavi Passes Away

It was Monday night at Cleveland Park Wines where I manage the wine department when a customer asked me if I had heard that Robert Mondavi died today? I said I had not. It affected me quite a bit and I have been thinking of it ever since. That was Friday, May 16th, 2008 when I heard this news. It is now Sunday, May 18th, 2008 at 2:06 PM and I have been meaning to write a bog about this ever since. Ideas have come to me and I have composed ideas all the while. I would have gotten to this sooner but the weekend is a busy time with lots of wine sales that are obviously important to our livelihood.
Yesterday, Saturday morning I did get up early to walk our dog and I thought some more about Robert Mondavi and what he has meant to me over the years. I also wrote four poems before getting to work and I will include these here or in my poetry blog called chatpoetry. Anyway, my mind has been filled with Robert Mondavi.
I met Robert Mondavi only once and it was memorable. I worked for a wholesale company here in Washington D.C. called Forman Brothers. When I worked for them they were still a family-run business and I had met both founder Izzy Forman and his two sons. I had even been invited to a special dinner at one of the son's because my sales were so good at one point. Anyway, Forman Brothers had arranged a special lunch for Robert and his wife, Magrit and son Michael at the Willard Hotel. There were perhaps twenty-five or so people that mostly included staff and sales people of Forman Brothers. Izzy Forman himself was there for this luncheon. It was held in the Crystal Room.
I have the menu signed by Robert, Magrit, Michael ans Izzy. I only wish that I had brought my camera with me then to take some pictures. I did get a bottle signed, too : of the 1995 Napa Pinot Noir. Not only is it signed by Robert but also by Magrit that is the artist in the family. She drew on it a Bacchus for me. I have since drunk the bottle because I saw no reason not to. The wine was meant for drinking. I do still have the empty bottle and treasure it. Magrit drew a grape cluster on the menu for me ( 15 grapes, 3 leaves ).
I don't really remember much about the meal. It was good, don't get me wrong : but I was focused on Robert Mondavi the whole time. We ate Maryland lump crab meat with sauteed Shitake mushrooms and a baby Endive and Mache salad. To drink we were served the 1995 Tocai Friulano ( always one of my very favorite wines made by Mondavi, I loved the whole series ). This was followed by a broiled petit filet of beef , peppercorn sauce and some mixed wild rice and seasoned vegetables. With this pepit filet we enjoyed the 1994 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh mixed berries and Sabayon followed with coffee. Sounds good even now ten years later.
There were speeches but the one that really made an impact on me was that of Robert. He spoke beautifully and with warmth and sincerity as he shared many observations and anecdotes with us. My favorite was when he said : " please always remember - common sense - it really is not common ". When I had a chance to meet him later at his table I asked him to write it down on the side of the menu with the two wines listed. He wrote : " To Anthony " ans signed it twice, the first time with his full signature and the second with hid initials RM circled and dated 1/30/98. Michael signed below on the same side. Magrit turned the menu over and drew her grape cluster under her signature , simply Magrit : " To Anthony Quinn ". That's nice in case there is any doubt later to which Anthony were they speaking.
I was ill-prepared for this meeting : I had neither camera of a bottle of wine to sign! So I looked around and saw that a couple of my colleagues had gotten bottles from the Willard staff upon asking. I went right up and asked, too. I was not going to miss this chance and I'm glad that I did. I offered to pay but they would not take my money. I'm sure that both Izzy and Robert were charged for these bottles. Thank you both, thank you four really.
I'll never forget how impressed I was after meeting Robert Mondavi. He impressed me so much, just as did his wife. Magrit sat there by his right side at the luncheon. I remember. I hunched down between the two of them when I met them. I could see a spark - a connection when I spoke to Magrit. We communicated a bit more than I did with Robert. She may have appreciated more my asking Robert to write down part of his speech. I only had a few minutes at most because there was a line of people wanting to meet Robert and Magrit and get bottles signed. I think I was the first to ask to have the menu signed. I think people copied my lead on this. Anyway, there I was so close and I gave it my best because I knew that this was a rare moment for me indeed.
I have another couple of stories to share, one at his winery and one in Argentina when I spoke then with Pedro the assistant wine maker ( it was back in 1995 ) at the Catena winery. I will relate these in the next Mondavi blog to follow shortly.
I will leave you with the part of Robert Mondavi that I carry with me always and share with everyone each and every time that I do a tasting with both white and red wines. I heard from someone that Robert always likes to taste the reds first followed by the whites. I tried it when I heard this and I loved the way both wines seemed to benefit from this order. Since I have almost always followed his advice and it always raises eyebrows and yet the results are always the same : people enjoy the wines immensely and are won-over. Thank you Robert. You have always been a true ambassador of all wines and for that I am in your debt and eternally both in awe and respect of your example overall. I'd like to think that I, too am an ambassador of all wines. Your example helps me still to sustain me and my own drive to share and open eyes to the diverse wonders of wines worldwide, known or not, matters not. Just let me pour us all some wine and thank you and Magrit for all that you have done and have to represent. TONY
P.S. On Thursday night at the National Zoo's annual ZOOFARI event to raise awareness and money for the plight of frogs worldwide two Robert Mondavi wines were being served. My daughter and I were tired from sampling so many foods at the moment I spotted Scott Peters over to my right. I had to go say " hello " and introduce him to my daughter. As we exchanged salutations I spied both a red and a white Mondavi wine that Scott was sampling. I had already had enough wine and so I did not ask to taste these two. Too bad, I wish I had now. I'll just have to buy some more Robert Mondavi wines to put into our store. We'll toast him and Magrit with some of his wines soon. That's a promise. I feel deep in my heart Robert that I owe you.

No comments: