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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Continuum...The New Spectacular Mondavi Family Legacy




Wednesday, June 11, 2014
“Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living.” - Robert Mondavi

The quote above, by Robert Mondavi, resonates deeply with my personal credo about the role of wine and culture.  It commanded a place on the homepage of Decantress Wine Diary at it’s inception and seems a fitting primer to the recent visit I had to a new magnificent Mondavi winery venture, Continuum Estate. Tim and Marcia Mondavi, along with their children, started this project to maintain a “continuum” of excellence, innovation and tradition of four generations of Mondavi family winemaking at their new estate, high on Pritchard Hill.  Their mission: “One purpose, one estate, one family” epitomizes the Mondavi family’s ongoing passion for excellence in winegrowing by creating a singular wine that they hope will one day be recognized among the finest in the world. Continuum currently produces just this one red “Bordeaux style blend” red wine. The winemaking team is focused on the art of “balancing the vine to the site, the fruit to the vine, the winemaking to the fruit and ultimately the wine to the table; all for the purpose of enhancing a great meal to be shared with family and friends”.  

I selected Continuum winery for a special visit with my father for its familial focus, it’s breathtaking ambiance, and it’s beautifully ageable wines.  It was my father who first inspired me to learn more about wine after watching him farm his own small vineyard and produce his wine, Rex, at our home in Los Gatos and celebrate the harvest with bottling parties complemented by wood-fired pizzas in our outdoor kitchen.  After pausing in Yountville for a wonderful Italian meal at Bottega, we embarked on our visit to meet the Mondavi children, Carisa, Carlo, and Chiara, (and Carissa’s beautiful winery dog, Bayla) tour the vineyards, and taste their proprietary wine. 




Great wines begin with a great site, and Continuum sits on one of Napa’s prime locations, Pritchard Hill.  While not yet officially its own appellation, Pritchard Hill has been likened by Wine Enthusiast as the “Best grape-growing region in Napa Valley” and by Wine Spectator as the Beverly Hills 90210 of Napa.  Continuum may as well also be named for the long, winding road that leads you to an elevation of 1600 feet - but when you reach it, it’s a destination worthy of losing GPS and perhaps getting a bit disoriented on the way up the windy road. Most winemakers on Pritchard Hill cite soil and elevation as keys to their wines’ quality. The dirt is red, volcanic clay loam, and littered with huge boulders. Pritchard Hill sits above the fog line - so the wineries wake up to bright sunshine, while the valley below is blanketed in white. That extra sunshine “allows us to have a photosynthetic capacity that’s enviable,” quoted Tim Mondavi.  The result is the best of both worlds: Oakville complexity and sophistication with the extra intensity of hillside fruit. The result? Wine with great structure, focus and agebility.

The ideal growing conditions and their fruit are rivaled only by the unparalleled sweeping views of Oakville and Lake Hennessey. We toured the vineyards in a Polaris 4-wheeler, rambling over hillsides so steep I had butterflies in my stomach like a roller coaster ride.  Huge, dramatic red boulders bordered the mountain vineyards, (41 acres in production with new vineyard development under way bringing the total to 60 acres). Current vineyards are made up of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot.

Our scenic jaunt through the vineyards overlooking sweeping views of the valley, alighted at the new winery and cave, specially designed by architect Howard Backen to function in harmony with this magnificent site. Our wonderful tour guide, Kaitlin, explained how the winery’s design is tailored to protect the integrity of the fruit coming in from the vineyard, sorting each individual lot, to further enhance the purity of the fruit and showcase each block’s unique character.  All fruit is selectively hand-harvested, sorted, then gravity fed into a combination of specially designed small French oak and cement tanks, with a small amount going to French oak barrels for fermentation. Post-fermentation, all lots are drained, and transferred to 85% new small French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation. The lees are kept in barrel with the new wine for an extended period of stirring, to “enrich the body, nourish the wine and polish the tannins”. Continuum’s team also seeks to be stewards of the land and farms with organic vineyard practices designed the winery to maximize their resource management capabilities. They’ve incorporated water conservation protocols that allow the winery to be 100% self sufficient on its water needs, can self-heat through the use of solar thermal panels, and evacuate carbon dioxide produced during fermentation from the winery to allow more efficient heating and cooling.

After tasting the 2011 Novicium in the beautiful winery, we strolled through Robert’s Grove, a grove where 100 year old olive trees are planted in honor of Robert Mondavi on the way back to the main tasting room, where a bottle of the 2011 vintage has been decanting all day. A rustic chic table has been set for us with a three-cheese pairing, and as we enjoy sipping and savoring the Continuum, Carissa returns and jovially sits down to join us and chat about travels, wine, and life.  The wine is wonderful. My father notes it’s ageability and I am in love with the silky mouthfeel and integrated complexity of the flavors.  If this isn’t family and friends enjoying the essence of civilization and the art of living...


Tasting notes below:

Continuum 2011 - The 2011 has a primary aromas of black cherry, mulberry, rose petal and Ethiopian coffee develop greater nuance as the wine breathes, revealing red cherry, chocolate, fig and cardamom. On the palate, ripe damson plum, savory aged beef and allspice infuse the wine’s silky tannins and rich velvety texture. The 2011 is full yet supple, with a long and complex finish and a vibrant core of minerality. Decant the 2011 and enjoy today or hold and cellar it for an additional 10 to 15 years.
Composition:75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot

Novicium 2011 - This wine was dry and full bodied with the perfect acidity. The tannins are soft on the mid palate, and there are hints of minerality. The wine is flavorful and tasted rich with notes of dark chocolate, cocoa and a hint of cherry and blueberry. A long, smooth finish.
Composition: 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc.
 

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