In 1999, Michael Mondavi, his wife Isabel, and their two adult children, Rob and Dina, purchased Animo Vineyard in the Atlas Peak region of eastern Napa Valley, with the vision of producing their own wines.
At that time, Michael was still running Robert Mondavi Winery, along with his brother, Tim. Five years later, Constellation Brands became the owners of Robert Mondavi Winery (in 2004), allowing Michael to concentrate on his own endeavor, officially called Michael Mondavi Family Estate, but usually referred to by its primary wine, M by Michael Mondavi. Brother Tim formed his own winery, Continuum, in St. Helena, Napa Valley. The great Robert Mondavi, family icon, passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.
In 2004, Michael also founded his own wine distribution company, Folio Fine Wine Partners, which today has become one of the more important wine importers in the United States. Folio’s portfolio of producers include Champagne Charles Heidsieck, Bruno Giacosa, Marchesi di Frescobaldi, Ornellaia, Masseto, Donnafugata, Arnaldo Caprai, and Dal Forno Romano, to name a few of the big names.
But Michael Mondavi’s main focus has been on his own winery, and its signature wine, the outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, M by Michael Mondavi. Today, Michael and Isabel’s son, Rob, Jr. and daughter, Dina, are actively involved in running the Estate. Rob is President of Winemaking; he is co-winemaker along with Tony Coltrin. Dina is the organizational director, doing extensive traveling to support their sales team. Dina also plays a major role in selecting the blends going into the final wines.
I recently attended a tasting luncheon of the Michael Mondavi Estate Wines in New York, with hosts Michael Mondavi and daughter Dina. (Because of a snowstorm that weekend, Rob was unable to arrive on time.) Michael was as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him, at least partially, I think, because he has total confidence in Rob and Dina running the winery. For example, he said to me, “I could get hit with a truck tomorrow and die a happy man, because I know my winery is in good hands.”
Michael also acquired Rancho del Oso Vineyard in Pope Valley; its grapes are used for some of the other wines the Estate produces. Michael Mondavi actually makes four lines of wine:
--Isabel Mondavi (called I’M) Deep Rosé (made from Cabernet Sauvignon); $20
--Emblem Chardonnay and Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon;SRP for each, $35.
There is also an Emblem dessert wine, Oso Passito, sold mainly at the winery.
--Animo Cabernet Sauvignon; $85
--M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon; $200.
We tasted all of the wines except the current vintage 2013 I’M Deep Rosé. (I have tasted I’M Deep Rosé previously, and was quite impressed.)
Only a very small quantity of 2014 Emblem Chardonnay was made (from the Oso vineyard); it is delicious, soft textured, with lively acidity. It served as a fine entry wine to all the reds that followed.
The 2013 Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon, which Dina Mondavi described as “my cocktail wine,” also from the Oso Vineyard, is fruity and easy-drinking ($30- $35). It was made from 79 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 percent five other varieties.
With the 2012 Animo Cabernet Sauvignon, we started tasting serious Cabernet Sauvignon. It is concentrated and tannic, with good acidity. The 2012 Animo needs a few more years to mature. Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with 14 percent Petit Verdot. An excellent intro to the Ms that followed. ($80-$85).
I have always been a fan of the restrained, balanced Cabernet Sauvignons first championed by Robert Mondavi, starting in the late 1960s. For me, they resemble in style red Bordeaux wines much more than the heavy, overdone, often over-ripe Cabernets that have come to be associated with California over the years. The four M by Michael Mondavi Cabernets that follow, all from Animo Vineyard, have been made in the tradition of the great Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon wines I remember:
2012 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon: Rich, elegant, and velvety, balanced with soft tannins and good acidity. It is a striking wine, destined to be one of the finest Ms produced to this date. Too young right now, of course, but it will be great. 98 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 percent Petit Verdot. My second-favorite of the four Ms in the group. 95 Points
2010 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon: The 2010 M at first jumped out of the glass with its superb Cabernet aromas and flavors of cassis and black fruit, but then closed up. This wine will be long-lived, I am sure. The grapes began harvesting quite late for Napa Valley (October 19th). 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. I would not drink the 2010 for several years; it needs time to mature. 93
2009 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon: The 2009, with some time in the glass, was the most immediately drinkable of the group, and was favored by many tasters. It is rich and a bit riper-tasting than the others, and yet with the traditional Mondavi elegance and balance. A pretty wine, hard not to like. 96 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 percent Petit Verdot. 94
2007 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon: The 2007 is just about perfect, a complete wine. Obviously a great vintage, at least for Michael Mondavi, this superb Cabernet, with eight-plus years of aging, is really tasting extremely well now, but I believe it will have a good life for decades. It displays a rich, velvety texture, an excellent, balanced structure, with ripe, but not overly ripe fruit flavors. 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. 98
The M by Michael Mondavi Cabernets retail for $195 to $200. They are special wines. Yes, they are expensive, but I have tasted some very pricey California Cabernets, more expensive than the M’s, that are not nearly so good, in my opinion. The M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon wines will age for many years, and may prove to be some of the best wines that California has ever produced.