A visit to Robert Mondavi Winery

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Many people stop by Robert Mondavi Winery and never really experience the winery the way Mr. Mondavi intended.  It is an impressive place, especially on a first visit to the Napa Valley, but to get a better experience, try pre-booking one of their tastings, or one of their food and wine experiences as I did on this visit.

What Mondavi wanted to share was not only his wines, but his passion for the “good life” by combining wine with food and art.  So on my visit today, I wanted to try their signature lunch and tour, the Harvests of Joy.

Robert Mondavi Winery is one of the few Napa wineries with a kitchen and chef on site so it is able to offer lunch experiences that other’s can’t.  I say “experiences” because you can’t just roll up for lunch here, and it’s not really a restaurant as such. Pre-booking a food & wine program like Harvests of Joy enables you to be treated as a special guest, and even feel like part of the family, and hosted on a private tour around the winery.  The lunch is upscale, but not intimidating.  You will experience some of the Napa Valley’s fresh, seasonal farm-to-table cuisine paired with some of Mondavi’s best-known wines.

On today’s visit I was joined by about 10 other people; couples and a small group and led by Eric, a wine educator.  We started off, as you usually do in the vineyard, followed by a tour of the winery, with Eric reciting facts about the Napa Valley.

What is good here is they don’t assume everyone is an expert and start off with the basics:  “Napa Valley produces about five percent of total California wine.  California produces about 90 percent of all US wine.”   Eric certainly was well-practiced and obviously had done the tour many times.

We learned about Margrit Mondavi’s passion for art and viewed some of the permanent collection of Beniamino Bufano’s sculptures, learned about their sustainable practices, as well as the details of the winery’s production in Oakville, about 275,000 cases.  Maybe I’m a bit jaded after so many tours, but it did seem quite rehearsed; there was a lot of information being poured out and it could have had more interaction. Maybe that’s what happens when you give the tour so many times.  Regardless, for a first-timer it would be perfect.

After our tour we headed into the Vineyard Room to find the long banquet table that awaited our group.  The service and food presentation was excellent, as was the timing of the lunch.  It was not too rushed and there was plenty of time to get to know the others in the group.  I love asking others what wineries to visit and this group was very vocal!    It was also nice that wine educators join the groups for the lunch as well and it really feels like you are being “hosted” by the winery.  One of the most interesting things I find about these group experiences is who you’ll meet.  At the end, Soux Chef Suzanne Harrison came to speak to our group. And, we were so fortunate that the lovely Margrit Mondavi was having lunch at the same time.  Much to my excitement she stopped by our table and greeted every person individually.  Truly an honor!

Harvest of Joy Menu:

  • Garden persimmon salad: Mixed lettuces, pomegranate seeds, Humboldt fog cheese and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, paired with Fumé blanc
  • Grilled Niman Ranch Flank Steak: Smashed garlic-red bliss potatoes, broccoli, crispy shallots and sauce Bordelaise. paired with Oakville Cabernet
  • Deconstructed Cheese Cake: Lemon Curd, house-made graham crackers and caramelized meringue, paired with Moscato d’Oro

Overall the experience was excellent.  For first timers to Napa Valley, or if you have been to Mondavi before and want to try something new I highly recommend considering one of their food and wine programs.  We all left with a contented belly and reading material; Robert Mondavi’s 1998 autobiography, “Harvests of Joy” – a nice memory of my visit.

Expert tips:

  • Before visiting Robert Mondavi Winery take a look at all the experiences listed on their website and reserve in advance.  You’ll get a lot more out of it than if you stop in with no reservations. This can be a very busy place at most times of the year and it gets overwhelmed by tourists, and a lot of people without a great deal of interest in wine.  To get the best experience definitely pre-book and you will avoid the crowds.
  • If visiting during summer, they have an annual concert series you should be aware of and it is well worth getting tickets, or planning your trip around it if you are going to be in Napa during that time.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

10/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

10/10 Other experiences:  Large selection of tastings, tours, food and wine programs and curated experiences.

9/10 Friendliness of staff

10/10 Signage & ease of access

8/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: You don’t need an appointment for a tasting, but to do any of the food and wine programs or other tours you should reserve in advance.

Address: 7801 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, CA 94562

Tasting fees & experiences: 

Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

  • $30 per person – Signature tour & tasting
  • $20 per person – Discovery Tour
  • $20 per person – Wine Tasting Basics
  • $40 per person – The To Kalon Room
  • $55 per person – Exclusive Cellar
  • $50 per person – Twilight tour
  • $115 per person – Harvests of Joy (Wednesdays & Saturdays)
  • $150 per person – Garden to Table
  • $45 per person – Wine & Chocolate
  • $45 per person – Pairing with Cheese
  • $350 per person – Four Decades

Good for:  Groups, families, newcomers to Napa Valley, foodies

Wines produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis, Merlot

What’s nearby: Opus One, Oakville Grocery, Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel, Cakebread Cellars

District/Appellation: Oakville, Napa Valley

Contact for appointments:  Tour and Tasting Page at the Robert Mondavi Winery Website or 1-888-RMONDAVI (888-766-6328)

Date of visit: December 11, 2013

Email: mindy@winerycritic.com