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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Reading Robert Mondavi's biography titled "Harvests of Joy," (Harcourt Brace) is like having a conversation of any length with one of America's living wine icons. Mondavi is famous, or perhaps notorious, for repeating himself, a fact which he readily acknowledges.

And if there's a weakness in this truly inspirational recounting of the life of a man with a passion for both business and living, it is that we get retold his philosophy of life a few more times than necessary.

On the positive side, Mondavi (I've known him long enough to call him Bob, be he'll always be "Mister Mondavi" to me), opens up about the famous feud with his family over the ownership and operation of the Charles Krug Winery, including the infamous fist fight with his brother Peter, and yes, Robert threw the first punch.

He does not exaggerate when he talks about his nearly lifelong dream of making Napa Valley wines the equal of the finest wines of the world, and nearly as have them perceived that way. I heard the same pitch, almost word for word as it appears in the biography, more than 30 years ago.

He is very generous in crediting his first wife with very important contributions to the creation of the Robert Mondavi Winery when it was a struggling and fledgling enterprise, and does not ignore the near scandal over his affair and eventual marriage to Margrit Biever, a special events coordinator for the winery. His adult children's reaction to the new woman in dad's life is included.

Mondavi also pays tribute to many of the winemakers who worked at the winery and went on to fame and fortune elsewhere. Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills, Warren Winiarski of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Zelma Long who went on to fame as winemaker at Simi Winery, come to mind.

He did perhaps underplay the importance of the early sales and marketing team that was at least as dedicated and driven as Mondavi himself. They hardly rate a mention.

And I'm a little puzzled that he failed to mention the first event that really gave him national celebrity as a producer of truly fine. Writer Robert Balzer conducted a blind tasting of all the top Cabernets of the day for an article in the Los Angeles Times. Robert Mondavi 1969 came in a solid number one, making it one of the most collectable wines of the coming decade.

Wine geeks will enjoy "Harvests" for all the insights into to both Mondavi and the wine business in general, but folks who never drink anything stronger than sarsaparillas will enjoy it too. It is a story of human passion and dedication to a vision, a grand example of the fact that in America you can pretty much be, do, or accomplish, whatever you set out to.

"Harvests of Joy" is $27 and available at bookstores everywhere.


Some of the best value wines in the marketplace come from countries that are not the most famous for wine production. When we think of wine producers, it's just natural to think of the old world European vintners like those of France, Italy and Germany.

Argentina probably triggers visions of beef, Australia might make you think of the "outback" or a can of Foster's and Romania is more likely to make you think of vampires than vintages.

It should be noted that the above and many other nations of which we don't automatically think, not only produce fine wines but have been doing so for eons.

Among those fine wine producing nations is South Africa. Just when SA wines were making a serious impact here a decade ago, the international trade boycott against SA went into effect and the wines disappeared. American shoppers have short memories. By the time the wines were available again, we had gone on to wines from Chile, Bulgaria and New Zealand.

The South African wines of the Baobob brand are available in California, Nevada, Oregon and New York, with new markets being added regularly. To track down the nearest retail outlet call Global Vineyards at (408) 448-8080 or e- mail:

Baobob 1997 "S.A." Sauvignon Blanc ($8) Classic Sauvignon varietal character: mint-toned herbaceousness and grapefruit-citrus flavors. Rating: 89/88

Baobob 1997 "S.A." Chenin Blanc ($7.25) Fresh melon and citrus. Highly fruited, dry, pleasant all-purpose white beverage wine. Rating: 85/84

Baobob 1997 "S.A." Chardonnay ($8) Lemony citrus fruit with very crisp acidity. It's a lovely food companion wine for those who prefer fruit to wood. Rating: 86/90

Baobob 1997 "S.A. Merlot ($8) A serious mouthful of Merlot. Black cherry and a little chocolate with a pleasantly bitter finish which will hold up to any red meat or cut right through spicy sauces. Rating: 89/92

Baobob 1997 S.A. Cabernet Sauvignon ($8) Soft and velvety, berry and black currant fruit flavors. Round and supple mouthfeel. A wine for dinner tonight. Rating: 87/90


Korbel Chardonnay Champagne ($13) The holidays are coming and that means champagne...and not just for New Year's Eve. A bit of bubbly is lovely to have on hand to toast friends who might pop in throughout the season. And don't forget, sparkling wines, if not too sweet, work very nicely with a wide array of foods. You've probably seen this one advertised, and it lives up to the hype. Extremely fine carbonation and clean, crisp, but not overpowering, Chardonnay flavors with not a hint of an oak barrel anywhere in its perception. What to drink it with? A simple broiled halibut or sole, veal with lemon and capers, or perhaps a fresh-cracked crab. Rating: 87/92


Audubon 1995 "Picnic Hill-Amador" Zinfandel ($8) This limited availability, "Old Vines" production will be worth the effort to track down. Big, ripe, but not overripe, plum and cassis flavors. Spicy, peppery undertones. Simply delicious! Tremendous value! Rating: 92/95

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Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

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