The thing that always impressed me about Robert Mondavi was that you could talk to him about anything: Art, music, politics. So many winemakers know only winespeak. And, in fact, on the numerous occasions we met, we rarely talked wine.
I first visited the Robert Mondavi Winery in the early 1970s when it was young and I was the young wine buyer for a group of stores in Chicago. I had just finished my Master’s at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I was struck by the design of the winery and vineyards, so I took a lot of pictures. A nice man stopped to chat with me and told me how he had been watching me shoot and he could tell I would get some nice stuff. I thanked him and introduced myself. It was the man whose name was on the front of the winery. We had a lively chat, and then he invited me to lunch with his wife, Margrit. We talked far more about color photography, and its struggle to gain recognition as art than we did about wine.
About 10 years later, when I was the wine critic for the Washington Post, we were chatting over another lunch, this time during a break at a wine judging in Italy. He asked if I was still taking photos. I told him I was. The next week Margrit called and asked to see some of my prints. Within a week she called again and invited me to hang my work in the gallery at the winery. My first one-man show. In a gallery that has hung some really bigtime artists.
The show was a real boost to my career but the most memorable part was the reception. They served the best wine I’ve ever tasted at a photography opening. Then or since.
Mondavi is shown here (left) with his business partner, Baron Philippe Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. Both were fine winemakers, savvy marketers, and patrons of the arts, and I had the honor of knowing them both. Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery.