Margrit Mondavi, 1925-2016

Archway welcoming guests to the Robert Mondavi Winery /Photo Michelle Locke

Margrit Mondavi was not a large person, nor a loud person, but when she was in the room, people knew it.

Instantly recognizable with her broad smile, huge eyes and blonde bob — Wine Country’s answer to Carol Channing — she only had to walk into a restaurant or event to set off a chain reaction of turned heads and smiles. “Oh look! Margrit’s here.” (A lot of people, including myself, never got around to calling her husband, the late, great Robert Mondavi, “Bob,” even though we were assured he wouldn’t mind, but Margrit was almost always Margrit.)

Continue reading “Margrit Mondavi, 1925-2016”

Dog Friendly Wineries in the Napa Valley

You love your dog. You love wine. But sometimes it feels like your pooch just doesn’t fit in to wine culture.

Lucky for you and Fido there are actually a number of Napa Valley wineries where you don’t have to choose between the two.

Click here to see the rest of this story, published by the Associated Press.

Peter Mondavi, an appreciation

Peter-Mondavi-SrThe last time I saw Peter Mondavi he had just turned 100 and was getting over a physical setback that had him walking with a cane. I couldn’t help noticing that it was rather a festive affair — a pretty pink with a riotous floral pattern.

It didn’t seem quite in keeping with the pioneering winemaker’s classic style and when the interview was over and it was just me and Mondavi’s son, Peter Jr., I couldn’t resist cracking, “Nice cane!”

“Oh, that was Mom’s,” Peter Jr. said with a smile. Why buy a new one, his dad figured, when there was a perfectly good cane sitting at home.

It was a minor detail but an illuminating one. The Napa Valley he helped create might grow ever more glitzy, but Mondavi hung on to his old-school values and down-to-earth approach to life.

News that Mondavi had died at his home in St. Helena, Calif., on Feb. 20, got me thinking about the handful of times I met the Napa Valley legend, and what a deep impact those few meetings had. Continue reading “Peter Mondavi, an appreciation”

Shafer Vineyards

Shafer ChardonnayI first visited Shafer Vineyards in 2002. Back then, I knew even less about wine than I do now. For one thing I wore a floaty skirt and flip-flops. Just the thing for walking through the vineyards. For another, as I recall, I merely smiled vaguely when offered a glass of Hillside Select.

OK, so now I know it’s a hugely sought-after wine. But no major gaffes were committed and I got what I came for, an interview with winemaker Elias Fernandez, a talented and determined guy who has a Shafer wine named after him: Relentless.

(If they were naming a wine after me I think it would more likely be Hapless: Somewhat acidic with notes of coffee and despair.)

The winery was founded by John Shafer in 1972 after he left a job working for the Chicago schoolbook company that put out the “Dick and Jane” readers. (Remember them? Run, Jane, run!) Shafer bought the property and planted cabernet sauvignon.  In 1994, he handed over to son Doug Shafer, now president. Father and son recently won the “Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional” award from the James Beard Foundation.Shafer wines get a lot of sunshine and they show it in big, bold flavors. They’re not for everyday drinking, with prices currently ranging from around $50 to $240 for the flagship Hillside Select, which is allocated to customers who’ve already signed up on a mailing list.  Take that, recession.

This is a great spot to visit, but not the kind of place you roll up to on a Sunday afternoon drive. Tastings are by appointment only and cost $55 per person. On the other hand, it’s not every day you get to visit one of the world’s top wineries. Try doing that in France. Or rather, don’t.

At Shafer, your visit begins with a hearty welcome from one of the winery dogs. Then you’re ushered into an elegant dining room with a breathtaking view of the Stags Leap District, which is where the Shafer grapes come from. There are no gift shops or snack bars here; the emphasis is on wine. I recall one visit where our group was lucky enough to have winemaker Fernandez present. He was the perfect host, listening to the various opinions and giving us a bit of back story on growing conditions for the vintages we tried. It wasn’t too long before we had a conversation going.

And that, Fernandez pointed out “is the beauty of wine. It allows people who never met to communicate about something.”




Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook Winery

The Inglenook winery is a triumphant tale of loss and restoration, directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. And it’s a fun place to visit when you’re looking to entertain and impress your in-laws.

Coppola has moved most of his movie memorabilia over to his Sonoma County property, the Frances Ford Coppola winery. What you’ll find at Inglenook is good wine and some interesting history — the winery goes back to 1880 when it was founded by sea captain Gustave Niebaum, and has gone through some ups and downs.

The winery is on Highway 29 in Rutherford, opposite the Rutherford Grill, and features a gorgeous chateau with an imposing façade softened by tendrils of ivy. If you happen to be a fan of “This Earth is Mine,” the soapy ‘50s wine movie, you’ll spot some  familiar landmarks since this is one of the places the movie was filmed.

Inside, there’s a dramatic staircase and exhibits from the winery’s past. The grounds are elegant and there is a wine bar, Mammarella, which also serves coffee drinks and has indoor or courtyard seating around a fountain that comes complete with wooden sailboats for younger guests, or at least the young at heart.  

You can sign up for a vineyard walking tour, which is a great way to learn about the wines. Tastings start at $45 per person and last one hour.

The Coppolas were looking for a simple summer home when they first came across the property. It had gone through a succession of owners and had fallen into disrepair. Many of the original vineyards had been sold and the name Inglenook, once associated with California’s earliest premium wines, had been slapped on bottles of plonk. The Coppolas decided to buy the place, embarking on what turned out to be a 25-year project as they reunited the original vineyards and restored the winery in the chateau.

They called the property Niebaum-Coppola and then Rubicon Estate and it soon established a reputation for fine Napa cab. A few years back, Coppola brought the winery full circle when he bought back the Inglenook name.


Address: 1991 Saint Helena Highway, Napa, CA
Phone: 800-RUBICON (782-4266)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Don’t miss: The vineyard walking tour.