When I was 11, a friend and I attended an in-store appearance by the Beach Boys. This was 1963, Kennedy was president, and the Beatles were still unknown in the U.S. The Beach Boys were hot. They spoke to the crowd, mostly giggling girls, from a flatbed truck set up in front of the store. My friend and I couldn't see a thing, so we ducked inside in hopes of getting a closer look when they exited through the store.
At the end of the event, thinking the place was empty, store employees locked the doors and only allowed the Beach Boys in. As they passed, I jumped up and started following them through the store. I had almost caught up with Brian Wilson, the group's leader, who was trailing the rest of the band. I don't know why, but the only thing I could think to do was to reach out and touch the hem of his coat. Biblical, huh?
Brian turned around and said. "Hey kid, how're you doin'?" To which I replied, "Ah. . .Ah. . .Ah. . ." He said, "Thanks for coming today," turned around and was gone. I hadn't said a word.
Other than explaining some of the beginnings of my lifelong love of rock 'n' roll, what does this have to do with wine? Well, it popped back in mind the other day as I was recounting to a friend some of the legendary wine people I've met in the business over the years.
Back in the 1980's, one memorable day I had Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Chateau Lynch Bages, and Anthony Barton, owner of Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateau Langoa Barton, riding in my beat-up Ford Mustang. Anthony graciously offered to and did put his 6'4" frame in the back seat, which amused Jean-Michel to no end.
I have met Angelo Gaja, Count Lur Saluces of Chateau d'Yquem, the late Erwein Graf Count Matuschka-Greiffenclau of Schloss Vollrads, and Christian Pol Roger of Champagne Pol Roger (who gently reminded me as I let one of the corks from his wine loudly pop, "Young man, when Champagne is opened, it should moan not scream.").
And, there were more. None evoked the Brian Wilson reaction in me, except one.
At this, the one year anniversary of his passing, I've read several tributes to the man, and it brought to mind meeting him in 2001. I was lucky enough to be invited to an event at the winery and had just entered the grounds with my new boss who knew Robert well. As we started to enter the gift shop, I opened the door and there was Robert Mondavi the man.
"Ah. . .Ah. . . Ah. . ." Fortunately, my boss handled the introductions and Robert, as he always did with everyone, immediately put me at ease. "Wine is part of the gracious way of living." he used to say. He, indeed, was a gracious man.
By the time of his death, he and his family were no longer involved in making the wines that still bear his name. Julia Flynn Siler's excellent book The House of Mondavi, The Rise & Fall of an American Wine Dynasty captures the details. Highly recommended. You'll come away with an appreciation of a man whose dream made the U.S. a country of wine drinkers.