Robert Mondavi, the man who almost single-handedly put California
wine on the map, passed in 2008. That same year, Jean-Charles Boisset,
president of the largest wine company in Burgundy, France, purchased his
first winery in California.
In the intervening years Boisset married Gina Gallo of the E&J
Gallo wine dynasty and beefed up his California wine portfolio with the
addition of Raymond Vineyards and Buena Vista Winery to go with his
original purchase of DeLoach Vineyards.
The two men have more in common than meets the eye.
Mondavi converted a skeptical world to the belief that California
wine could compete with the finest wines from France, or anywhere for
that matter. He did it with wit and charm and a bigger-than-life
persona. Mondavi was a man of vision, forming alliances with vintners
around the globe.
He was rightly considered California wine's ambassador to the world.
No one in the California wine community has demonstrated the
personality, vision and personal charm necessary to fill that role — no
one until Jean-Charles Boisset.
Boisset left a huge footprint at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction over
the Labor Day weekend. As one of the co-chairs, he hosted a pre-auction
dinner, he and Gina hosted Taste of Sonoma for 2,500 at the Gallo-owned
MacMurray Ranch; together they donated several of the top auction lots
(the auction this year topped $4.5 million, more than doubling the
previous record) and JCB (as he is often known) stirred the bidders to a
fever pitch with his flamboyant presence.
Much like Mondavi, Boisset is gregarious and engaging, moving easily
through a crowded room greeting everyone along the way with a smile and a
word of praise. Fond of colorful slacks and red socks, Boisset stands
out in the crowd; he is a man comfortable in his own skin.
He explained how he and his sister fell in love with the historic
Buena Vista Winery, said to be the oldest winery in California, on their
first trip to the California wine country.
But he has been a man of more than mere words, restoring Buena Vista
to a glory it likely hasn't seen in more than 100 years. He has
completed a similar transformation over in the Napa Valley at Raymond,
which had slipped noticeably prior to the Boisset purchase.
Together with Gina Gallo they have emerged as the preeminent power couple in California wine.
Some may think it sacrilege to compare anyone, let alone a Frenchman,
to the revered Mondavi. I say a new ambassador of good will is long