Profile: Carlo Mondavi of RAEN Winery on the Sonoma Coast

Carlo Mondavi in the vineyards

© photo provided

Carlo Mondavi in the vineyards

Carlo Mondavi in the vineyards

© photo provided

It was Carlo and Dante Mondavi‘s great-grandparents Rosa and Cesare Mondavi who left their native Italy to start a new life in California. Their grandfather, Robert Mondavi, Rosa and Cesare’s son, founded his eponymous winery in Napa Valley in 1966 and the groundbreaking Franco-Californian joint venture Opus One in 1980. Family strife led to the sale of the estate in 2004, but Robert’s children and grandchildren all started over in the wine business. “Every time my family has had a setback, and we have had major setbacks, here’s what we do: you fall down, you get back up,“ Mondavi says when asked about his family history. “When my family sold the Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004, it was not something we had planned. My father and grandfather took everything and began Continuum.“ At the time, Mondavi recalls, his grandfather was the first to ask: “What’s next?“

One hundred harvests

The 2019 vintage of RAEN has just been released. “2019 marks my family’s 100th consecutive harvest – not through the same winery,“ he says, “and we have not missed a year of making wine in one hundred years. Wine is sacred for my family. It’s something that has sustained our livelihood, so I had to get the approval of my family and also have the confidence and know-how to go out there. I spent a lot of time working, learning, travelling and studying – and then searching for the rare vineyards.“

 

A lifetime's task

“We are still beginning; we have a long way to go. I think it’s going to take Dante and I our whole lives to build the foundation for RAEN,“ Mondavi says. “The next generation will hopefully build it to the next level. Not by size but by quality and he measurement of the mind’s eye of the wine world, our community.“ When starting Continuum, his father Tim had asked “how do we elevate this to the next level?,“ Mondavi remembers and answers: “By focusing on a single wine form a single site at the highest level.« This is very much what he and Dante do now: focussing entirely on single vineyard expressions. “You pour everything into what you are doing, it takes your entire life to get it somewhere. This is a slow, long business plan. There is a reason Dante and I have 
no investors.“

 

Continuation

His aim in winemaking, likewise, is long-term: “In thirty years’ time, we will start seeing some of these wines starting to have these really beautiful characteristics you see in mature Pinot Noir,“ he says. So he and Dante have branched out into a new region, with a different grape variety, catering to a different market. And yet they do just what their forebears did: “I’d like to think of it as a continuation – and a new beginning for sure – because in my family’s history in the wine business there has never been a dedicated Pinot Noir project like this. It’s a departure in that regard, we’ve left Napa Valley, we’re on the Sonoma Coast, we are focused on Pinot Noir, but in terms of the qualitative aspirations I’d say there are a lot of similarities.“ 

RAEN Royal St. Robert Pinot Noir 2019

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A departure

In 2005, together with his son Tim Mondavi, Carlo’s and Dante’s father, Robert started Continuum, also in Napa Valley. The brothers, however, started a completely different project on the extreme Sonoma Coast, making Pinot Noir. This is something of a departure from the plush Cabernet Sauvignons the Mondavi name is usually associated with. “I have always been drawn to the Sonoma Coast. I had grown up there, going surfing,“ Mondavi says. “It’s always been a goal to fulfil; a personal thirst that Dante and I both had, our dream of making a wine that could have impact: when you closed your eyes and smelled and tasted it, it had a bigger emotion than just enjoying wine. I just felt this was possible on the coast. Finally in 2013, Dante and I began RAEN, after more than a decade of researching and looking.“