In 1980, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild officially announced a joint venture to create an ultra premium wine from Napa Valley. One year later, a single case of the joint venture wine sold for $24,000 at the first ever Napa Valley Wine Auction. It was the highest price ever paid for a California wine. In 1984, the ‘79 and ‘80 vintages of Opus One were unveiled as the first ever and released to the market. Five years later, Opus One exported a share of its ’85 vintage to Europe and became the first ever ultra premium California wine to do so. In 1995, Opus One reached its capacity at 25,000 nine liter cases and had solidified itself as one of the greatest wines coming from California. The winemaking team of Patrick Leon and Tim Mondavi had created a magical wine that customers could easily recognize and established as the pinnacle of California wine. Robert Mondavi had created a legacy. Perhaps we might even consider “Opus One” as the original California Cult Cabernet. It was difficult to get and if you found some, you bought it. The Mondavi family’s name became synonymous with excellence.
But the globalization of the company proved to be too much to handle as just a family business (lesson learned). Robert publicly criticized his sons, Michael and Tim for their leadership of the company, citing a concentration on the inexpensive lines of Mondavi, Coastal and Woodbridge. He had stated “We've got to get our image back, and that's going to take time" His eldest son Michael was eventually ousted from the company and Robert sold his company to Constellation Brands in 2004. Now, not a single member of the Mondavi family is involved in any capacity at Opus One, the once proud Mondavi family operation. For many of us in the industry, Opus One is now nothing but a nuisance that very few (and misguided) regard as the benchmark ultra premium wine in California.
True to its stubborn Italian roots (I’m Italian, I can say it), the Mondavi family is a resilient one. In 2005, after the sale to Constellation Brands, Robert founded Continuum with his wife Margrit, younger son Tim and daughter Marcia to produce a single estate wine. The family chose Pritchard Hill, on the eastern side of Napa Valley as its new site for its westward facing slopes and red, rocky, volcanic and loam soils. The inaugural vintage for Continuum was 2005 in which the family produced just 1,500 cases with Tim in the winemaking lead. It sold out almost immediately upon release. It received high accolades from both The Wine Spectator (93 Points) and Roberts Parker (95 points) and prompted Robert Parker to write “Tim Mondavi’s new project continues to display exceptional promise. Kudos to Tim Mondavi for continuing the legacy of his family.”
Those of us in the industry took sharp notice of the new production wondering if the Mondavi legacy had returned to Napa Valley. Could Tim put his family back on top?
My first experience with the Mondavi family’s new venture was with the 2006 vintage. I remember being taken aback by the rich and opulent wine that was clearly new world in style but spoke volumes of the talent behind it. It showed incredible purity and grace. I figured the wine should receive high accolades. It did, garnering 96 points from Robert Parker and 95 points from The Wine Spectator. With a miniscule 1,500 case production, the wine sold out very quickly and customers immediately asked about 2007. The 2007 vintage came in and went out very quietly with 98 points from Parker and 97 points from The Wine Spectator. Whatever came in the door went out so quickly I never got a chance to say “no” to anyone. I never got my hands on a bottle for myself.
So what will 2008 bring? Marcia Mondavi was in the store recently and we discussed the 2008 vintage at great length as we tasted the wine. My tasting notes are below. In a nutshell, it is clear that in just 4 vintages, Robert Mondavi’s children have restored the Mondavi image and put the family back at the pinnacle of California wine. Somewhere upstairs Tim’s father is smiling proudly and saying “Ecco!”
Continuum was the addition of 5% Merlot. Tim does not like to use Merlot unless its quality is ultra high. He believes the fruit he purchased for the 2008 vintage was exceptional and adds a rounded, oily texture to the wine. I tend to agree. 70% of the fruit came from Pritchard Hill with an average vine age of 15 years. The 2008 is supple and round with incredibly soft texture that is both slippery and weighty. Accents of coffee, tobacco, plum and black currant are complexed by just a small amount of graphite and mineral. A big finish that is polished by supple tannins and dusted with just a touch of oak. The 2008 Continuum should have a staying power of about 10 years. Look for it to peak between 2018-2019.