‘This guy’s been inside for too long’

Issue #13     April, 2020

Seems to me, the cellar is as safe a place as any to wait for COVID-19 to run its course. While this month it’s certainly not a great idea to encourage visits to the LCBO, but it’s definitely worth mentioning, they do deliver. 

As you know, I had planned to go organic for this get together, but due to the circumstances I’m not going bloody anywhere. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. So, we’ll have to discover some excellent organic wines when times are healthier.

Meanwhile, at risk of having you think ‘this guy’s been inside for too long’, I thought for this month’s get together we should all hunker down and pour a glass of whatever we fancy, (I’m two sips into a tasty Rhone blend that we got to know back in the January issue),

Château Saint-Louis La Perdrix L’envol 2018
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#: 10514

and let me take you on a trip I took in 1968 to one of the world’s great wine regions, when it was just becoming known as such; Napa Valley.

Welcome back to Jim’s Affordable Cellar.

Peace and love transforms San Francisco

It was the late sixties. hippies had descended on San Francisco and my parents, who were wine appreciators, decided we should descend on Napa.  My sweet Aunt Muriel (mom’s sister) lived there; 4,000 kms away from Toronto and in those days, about two hours north and east of San Fran.

Aunt Muriel’s home was a cottagey place with a lemon tree in the backyard. Maybe it was an orange tree. Cut me some slack, I was 12. Anyhow, she was just off the main road that ran through Napa; Highway 29. Now it’s also referred to as the St. Helena Hwy.

Napa had been developing as a wine producing region since the 1800’s but with the arrival of the Mondavi family in 1934 and in subsequent years with the ideas of the eldest Mondavi son Robert, Napa would become the next great region in the world of wine.


The Mondavi’s were one of the first Napa growers to remove their field blends and plant Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other popular, French grape varieties.

In 1962, following Robert Mondavi’s trip to the best wineries in Europe, the Mondavi winery began emulating some of their production techniques. Soon, other California vintners followed their lead and began aging their wine in small, French oak barrels.

As you know, I’m a big fan of California Cabs, so a big shout out to Robert for making that possible.

Robert Mondavi broke away from the family business (the Mondavi’s had purchased the Charles Krug winery in 1943) to set up his own operation down the road in the valley. And in 1966 he released his debut vintage of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon.

First vintage of Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon

Then it was “follow the leader” time in Napa. Because soon other producers jumped into the Cab with him and started producing their own Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back to our trip. At the time we went there, Napa was home to a couple handfuls of wineries situated along Highway 29. Today there are more than 400 punctuating this small and beautiful valley.

The valley is 30 miles long and five at its widest.

Back to our visit with Aunt Muriel. One day (don’t worry, I’m getting to the point of this story) my parents decided we should visit a couple of new wineries they had heard about. Some parents, on a family vacation, would take their kids to an amusement park. We went to the wineries.

The tasting room at Mondavi with views of ripening grapes.

I remember sitting in a spacious room with mom and dad. It opened onto a wide terrace with panaramic views out to rows and rows of lush vines. We were at the Robert Mondavi winery. It had just opened two years earlier.

We must have been in a tasting area. I was probably having some vintage ginger ale or root beer, while my parents sampled wine. No doubt they tried a Cab but I bet they also had Mondavi’s signature Fumé Blanc.

You see Fumé Blanc was actually Sauvignon Blanc. However, Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t popular in California at the time, so Mondavi made it a whole lot different by changing it a little. He oak-aged it and renamed it Fumé Blanc. It was a huge success.

Well whatever my parents were sampling, I think for them, it was just being there in the early days of an important new winery, that mattered most.

The iconic entrance to the Mondavi Winery

A man probably in his fifties, (he seemed old to me) walked towards where we were sitting. He had a roman nose, a confident smile and carried himself like he owned the place. He slowed his pace and with a smile simply said, ‘Welcome’. Then he was on his way.  Like most 12 year-olds, I didn’t really pay much attention to the man. But in later years and certainly, now, I wonder if perhaps he did own the place. Could it have been that it was Robert Mondavi welcoming us, to the house of Mondavi?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think that just maybe while sipping on a ginger ale, I met one of the iconic pioneers of the California wine industry. Robert Mondavi. He was born in 1913. He died in 2008.

Robert Mondavi

So I think it only fitting that we take a moment to admire a bottle of Mr. Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon. I just so happen to have one on a shelf here in the cellar. Dusting it off for this issue is a treat for me and a tribute to him.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  255513

This beauty was a gift to me from my son and daughter and their very significant others. In terms of price, it doesn’t even come close to meeting our under $20 criterion of affordability. But in terms of taste, it’s a silky smooth, bounty of cassis and blackberry with aromas of cedar bark. Thank you, Robert Mondavi.

Well that’s about it for our one year anniversary of meeting here each month. Granted this get together has been a bit of a rambling detour. I hope you didn’t mind travelling back to Napa with me but at the least you got a taste of some of the history behind this great wine region.

We’ll get back to scouring the shelves of the LCBO when it’s safe to do so. Maybe that won’t be too far off. Let’s keep our corks crossed.

See you back here in the cellar in May.

Until then, let’s keep all our courageous and dedicated health care providers in our hearts. As always keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer but for now, keep them on FaceTime.