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.


Rock band Train rolls into wine country

Do you know who is a cool blogger? I will spare you the suspense. I am a cool blogger.

Yes, that was me backstage at the Train concert in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, interviewing band members about their new venture, releasing a wine. Here’s the story I wrote about that. It was one of the more fun pieces I’ve done. Side benefit: I had to look up rock star behavior for the story and came across the tale of how The Who were banned from Holiday Inns for life. What rascals.

Catching up with Train was not quite that exciting, although my evening started out briskly when I had to walk down a slightly dodgy street and encountered a fellow who reeled out of an adult emporium with his clothes in some disarray. I must have looked a little dismayed because he assured me, “Don’t worry. I’m not going to take it out.” A few steps on and another gentleman wanted to know if I had plans for the evening. “Yes, and they include men with more than three teeth,” I said.

But not out loud.

Other highlights: Whisking by the line stretching down the block outside the Great American Music Hall. Listening to lead singer Pat Monahan talk about how it’s not so surprising the band ended up being involved with a wine since they started out getting paid in beer. Learning drummer Scott Underwood’s favorite varietal: “Vodka.”

I have since tried two of the wines, a chardonnay and a red, both priced at $9.99.

Calling All Angels 2010 Chardonnay: Light, fresh, a little bit of vanilla in there to keep things sweet, a nice wine that can be sipped alone or served along cheesy, creamy dishes.

Drops of Jupiter 2009 Petite Syrah: This was a surprise, I was expecting something more generic but got a red with a lot of personality. Started with a jolt of black berries and finished very smooth and mellow.

I posted a while back about a video the band made at Shafer Vineyards for their song, “Drive-By.” Here’s a behind-the-scenes short they released about the 15-hour day that went into the video.



Mondavi Mansion Mystery Unmasked

So now we know who the mystery buyers of the Robert Mondavi mansion are _ Jean-Charles Boisset, president of the French company Boisset Family Estates, which owns several California wineries, and his wife, Gina Gallo, granddaughter of California wine pioneer Julio Gallo.

Call me sentimental but I like the idea of all that dynastic family winemaking converging in one spot.

The news was first reported in the Wine Spectator and Boisset confirmed the purchase to the Napa Valley Register, saying the property is a spectacular site with amazing views.

I have no idea what will happen next, but if the renovations at Boisset’s Raymond Vineyards are anything to go by, it could be pretty interesting.

The house is 11,500 square feet on a 56-acre estate with sweeping views, a tower and a 50-foot indoor pool off the living room, under a retractable roof. It originally was listed for $25 million but the price was later dropped to $13.9 million with the recession and all. The house ultimately went for less than that, although there reportedly were two bids that were described as “strong.”

Faithful readers may recall that when the house went up for bid at the reduced price in October, the various descriptions of its fabulous fittings left me with a slight case of real estate envy. After all, the only sweeping views at Chez Vinecdote involve me, a broom and a good deal of dust. So, I decided to spruce up the homestead by fixing the leaking pipe under the kitchen sink.

How’d that go? Good news: pipe no longer leaks. Bad news: I used up an entire month’s swear quota in the space of about 15 minutes.