Friday, April 19, 2024

Sentium, a white wine from Continuum

Seeking to establish a throughline from the groundbreaking Fumé Blanc of her grandfather to her current generation, Chiara Mondavi has introduced a Sauvignon Blanc-based wine called Sentium through her father's Continuum vehicle. The vision for this wine pictured a "vibrant, mineral-driven white wine inspired by the family's history as well as the great wines of the Loire."

Fruit for the wine were sourced from "small, family-owned and -farmed old vine vineyards" which shared Chiara's "affinity for nature and organic winegrowing." Such fruit and conditions were discovered in selected vineyards in Mendocino's Redwood Valley AVA.

Fruit source for Sentium

Redwood Valley is an upland valley where the climate is cooler than surrounding appellations due to a coastal ridge gap which allows cool Pacific air currents to penetrate inland. The area is also known for its characteristic red soils which impart character to the region's wines.

Grapes for the wine are hand picked and then gently pressed. The grapes are fermented in small lots in equal parts concrete, neutral French oak barrels, and small stainless steel vessels. The wine is aged on the lees for 9 months with regular, gentle stirring throughout fermentation and aging. The wine is racked off the lees prior to bottling.

The 2022 version of this wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (93%) and Semillon. We will be tasting this vintage during our upcoming Continuum tasting.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Robert Mondavi: Introduction of his Fumé Blanc

Based on Clark Smith's interpretation of wine history, the "tools of 20th century winemaking" were stainless steel, inert gas, refrigeration, and sterile filtration (a product of nuclear energy) and this "modern winemaking revolution exploded out of Germany" in the form of Rieslings that were fresh, sterile-filtered, and completely without oxidative characters. According to Smith: "the idea of a light, sweet, fresh, fruity wine like Blue Nun was as world changing as color television." 

These tools and techniques were adopted by Peynaud and other scientists in France and, from there, migrated to the US. According to Smith, prior to the 1960s, 95% of California wines were either port or sherry styles. With the introduction of Blue Nunn, and the adoption of the associated technologies in Bordeaux, US winemakers followed suit such that, by 1970, the majority of California wine contained less than 14% alcohol.

It was in this environment that Robert Mondavi introduced the groundbreaking Fumé Blanc in 1966-67. I explore the lead-up to, and construct of, this rockstar-of-its-time US dry Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc has its origins in France (Nancy Sweet, Sauvignon Blanc: past and present, FPS Grape Program Newsletter, October 2010) but had made its way to the US by the second half of the 19th Century:
  • It was imported to the Santa Clara Valley in the 1870s by J-B. J. Portal
  • It was present in Napa (H. W. Crabb, Gustav Niebaum) and Sonoma (J. H. Drummond) collections in the 1870s and 1880s.
Sauternes was held in very high regard in California  and Charles Wetmore -- CEO to the Board of State Viticulture Commissioners -- felt that it was important that the constituent varieties -- Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc -- be available for distribution to winemakers. Towards that end, he travelled to Chateau d'Yquem in the early 1880s with a letter of introduction. On the basis of the letter, he was able to obtain cuttings -- old vines on their own rootstock --  of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle du Bordelais from the d'Yquem vineyard. 

The US consumer preference for Sauvignon Blanc prior to the 1960s was as a part of a sweet-wine blend. It was not well-regarded as a varietal wine because, according to, the resulting wines were too sweet, too grassy, too acidic, and poorly made. This was the reputational minefield that Robert Mondavi had to navigate if he was to successfully launch a Sauvignon Blanc varietal in the domestic market.

White Winemaking in California in this Period
The dry white wine of choice in California at this time was Chardonnay. Vines had been procured from Burgundy but there was very little contact with the Burgundian vignerons so the US winemakers had to figure it out on their own.

A major point of departure for California Chardonnay was signaled by the work of Hanzell. Hanzell began planting Chardonnay vines near Sonoma in 1953 and is credited with creating the world's first temperature-controlled stainless steel tank. As regards winemaking, Hanzell (Elaine Chukan Brown, The Story of Chardonnay,
  • Picked for acid retention
  • Passed the grapes through the crusher with sulfur and then went straight to the press
  • Fermented the wine in stainless steel tanks.
Mondavi's Fumé Blanc
Mondavi loved French wines and knew that Sauvignon Blanc made glorious dry wines in the Loire Valley. He intended to make "a more distinctive, complex wine, using primarily the Sauvignon Blanc grape" but, in order for this wine to be accepted by the drinking public, drastic changes would have to be made. Mondavi implemented a number of initiatives on the technological and marketing fronts in order to advance his goal.

Technology Initiatives
Robert Mondavi launched his new winery in 1966 and, as such, was in a position where he could implement some of the technological initiatives that were seeing success in the Valley. 

By the 1960s, Hanzell had perfected the use of the stainless steel tank but the winery was still small. Mondavi took the technology and applied it on a larger commercial scale to the wines in his portfolio. The use of temperature controlled tanks allowed the winemaker to favor fruitier aromas and flavors (colder temperatures) or earthy and herbal notes (higher fermentation temperatures). The Sauvignon Blanc was one of the early beneficiaries of this technology transfer. 

In addition to fermenting in stainless steel, Mondavi aged the wines on the lees in new French oak barrels. The lees-aged wine is enriched by the compounds released during the constituent-degradation process.

The initial fermentation and aging strategies allowed Mondavi to mask the herbal notes of the variety while displaying rounder, more melon-like flavors. 

In subsequent iterations of the wine, Mondavi began fermenting and aging the fruit in used French oak barrels. In a study on barrel-fermentation of white wines (S. Herjavec, et al., The quality of white wines fermented in Croatian Oak, Food Chemistry, 100, 2007), the authors stated thusly:
Wines produced by fermentation and maturation in oak barrels have different flavor characteristics to those which have undergone barrel maturation only after fermentation in stainless steel. One reason for this is that actively growing yeasts are capable of transforming volatile flavor components, extracted from oak wood, into other volatile metabolites.
This metabolite transformation results in what Zac Brown, Winemaker at Alderlea Vineyards, describes as "better integration of the oak and softer mouthfeel when compared to a white that is finished and then transferred into oak barrels to age."

Marketing Initiatives
Mondavi felt that Sauvignon Blanc would not be a good name for his wine due to it (i) being difficult to pronounce and (ii) the negative historical associations. He called his wine Fumé Blanc instead. This was, first of all, a play on the name blanc Fumé in use in the Loire Valley and, secondly, an acknowledgment of some of the notes that accompanied barrel aging.

Mondavi did not trademark the name Fumé blanc, opting, instead, to leave it open for other winemakers to use and, thus, create a new class of wine based on the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Further, he petitioned the ATF to register Fumé Blanc as a synonym for Sauvignon Blanc.

Where Sauvignon Blanc wines had not been well regarded by the drinking public, by 1968 there was "tremendous demand for this wine."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, April 1, 2024

Continuum: Vineyards and winemaking

In my most recent post I explored the pedigree and genesis of Continuum, the estate founded by Tim Mondavi and his sister and designed to extend the historicity of the Mondavi wine brand. In this post I discuss grape sources and winemaking associated with the enterprise.

The first vintage for Continuum was 2005 and a total of 1300 cases were made. In a good-faith gesture, Constellation had allowed Tim to use grapes from Marjorie's Vineyard -- a block in the famed To Kalon Vineyard -- and Wappo Hills Vineyard in Stags Leap District. The To Kalon Vineyard has been covered here while Wappo Hills has the following characteristics:
  • 400 acres
  • Gravelly clay loam soil
  • Cliffs that reflect the afternoon sun
  • Bay breezes maintain cool morning and evening temperatures.
Tim was negotiating to buy the source plots from Constellation (Linda Murphy, Decanter, 5/30/07) but was unsuccessful and began looking for vines on Pritchard Hill. He eventually bought two contiguous parcels on the Hill:
  • Versant, founded by the former Architect Richard Martin
  • Cloudview, founded by the former Marine Biologist Leighton Taylor.

Pritchard Hill
Pritchard Hill has an unsurpassed pedigree in the annals of Napa Valley winemaking. This highly regarded lieu-dit (55 miles long and 20 miles wide) is located in the Vaca Mountains between Lake Hennessey (northwest) and the Atlas Peak AVA (southeast) with the Oakville AVA on the valley floor to the west. Notable Pritchard Hill wineries include Chappellett, Ovid, Bryant Family, and Colgin.

The areas' vineyards sit at elevations that range between 800 and 2000 feet and, as a result, they are bathed in sunshine while the valley floor is still shrouded in fog. Moderating influences on the climate include a steady breeze blowing up from the valley as well as proximity to the lake. With most of its vineyards west-facing (Colgin is the exception), the region is able to direct every last bit of the sun's rays towards ripening grapes. There is less diurnal shift on the mountain which means that the berries continue sugar production well into the evening hours.

The soils are a red clay loam of volcanic origin which is shallow, thin, and boulder-strewn. In many cases the rocks have to be dynamited to provide material for soil. The thinness of the soil allows for good drainage while its lack of depth places great stress on the vines, yielding small, thick-skinned berries which are endowed with intense flavors.

Sage Mountain Vineyard
The parcels bought by Continuum amounted to 173 acres in size, 38 of which had been planted to vine in 1991 and 1996. Additional plantings post the sale has brought the vineyard size up to 62.85 acres. The vineyard -- now called Sage Mountain Vineyard -- possesses the characteristics shown in the chart below.

Grapes for the Continuum Red are hand-harvested, hand-sorted, and gravity-fed into oak or concrete vessels of varying sizes to include: conical-shaped oak vats; Sonoma Cast Stone tanks; Nomblot egg-shaped tanks; and oak barrels. The wines remain on the lees post-fermentation and prior to the first racking. The wine is aged for 20 - 22 months in 83% new French oak barrels after which it is bottled unfined and unfiltered. The combination of vineyard blocks and fermentation vessels provide myriad blending opportunities at the micro-level.

At the variety level, the first three vintages did not contain any Merlot (see chart below). Once Merlot was added to the mix (2008) we see a reduction in the Petit Verdot contribution but we also see a reduction in the Cabernet Franc contribution. The Cabernet Sauvignon surge persists until the 2014 vintage after which Cabernet Franc begin to make more meaningful contributions to the blend.

The first three Continuum vintages were constructed with fruit sourced from To Kalon and Wappo Hills. In 2008, 71% of the fruit was sourced from Sage Mountain Vineyard. By 2010 all of the fruit was sourced from Pritchard Hill but not exclusively from Sage Mountain Vineyard. In 2011, 98.5% of the fruit was sourced from Sage Mountain Vineyard and that number increased to 100% beginning with the 2012 vintage.

The Mondavi Family had made great wines at Charles Krug and Robert Mondavi Winery. Now Tim had put the pieces in place at Continuum to extend that legacy. We look forward to the tasting to arrive at our independent conclusions as to how he fared in this endeavor.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Continuum: Its pedigree

A small group will be embarking on a Continuum tasting in the near future and I have set myself the task of collecting relevant background material. I will provide these learnings herein in a series of blog posts. 

The sale of Robert Mondavi to Constellation left the family members wealthy but adrift. Michael and Tim had been co-Managing Directors prior to the sale, and Marcia (their sister) had been a partner, but the only family member retained by Constellation was Robert; in the role of Brand Ambassador.

Like their father and uncle before them, Tim and Michael had squabbled the business into a tight spot. The father and uncle had seen individual success once unyoked from the bounds of co-management. Hopefully the same would hold true for Tim and Michael. And they both hastily set about to accomplish that goal.

Although it is not a part of our story, Michael, with the help of his children Rob and Dina, went on to launch Michael Mondavi Family Estate, an entity focused on wines from Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. He also founded Folio Fine Wine Distribution Partners, an import and distribution business focused on wines from producers such as Frescobaldi, Bruno Giacosa, Masseto, and Palacios Remondo.

Tim is our story because he, along with his sister Marcia, Robert and Margrit, launched Continuum, an estate whose name was meant to evoke memories of the family's ties to wine and an ongoing passion for all it entails. The depth of the estate's pedigree is illustrated in the chart following the picture below. The picture is one that I took at Premiere Napa Valley 2011 and shows Tim discussing Continuum wine in the Barrel Room prior to the wine auction.

Tim Mondavi at PNV 2011

While Tim's later days at Mondavi found him leaning towards more food-friendly wines, Continuum was slated to deliver "delicious, ripe, rich-styled wines" to the market.

But who exactly is Tim Mondavi. He is Robert's youngest son but, in addition:
  • He is the winemaker of record at Continuum
  • He had worked at Robert Mondavi every summer until he joined the winery full-time in 1974
  • His first full-time position at Robert Mondavi was working in the Lab for the winemaker Zelma Long when he was 22 years old.
  • He helped produce the wines at Robert Mondavi until it was sold to Constellation
  • He had been involved in creating the initial Opus One. He helped to blend the first vintage (1979) with the help of the then Mouton-Rothschild winemaker.
I have written extensively about the To Kalon Vineyard and this vineyard not only served as the background music to Tim's growth as a wine professional but also provided a link to his new endeavor. I will explore that link in an upcoming post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, March 25, 2024

Fattorio Romeo del Castell: “One of the first-wave modern Etna producers”

I recently posted pictures on social media of a 2007 and a 2008 Etna Rosso wines that I had recently acquired. 

I posted the image because older editions of Mt Etna wines are relatively scare on the retail market. Brandon Tokash, my good friend, and go-to resource on all things Etna, reminded me that I had met the vineyard owner at my first Contrada dell’Etna which was held, then, at the Graci winery on Mt Etna. With this memory jogger I recalled this slight woman telling me the story of a lava flow from a Mt Etna eruption almost totally destroying the farm but changing direction before consuming it entirely. That woman was Chiara Vigo and the spared farm was Fattorio Romeo del Castell. I will discuss both in this post.

 Brandon describes Chiara and her estate thusly:
A small in stature young lady who wrote an interesting book on wine labels 18 or so years ago. One of her vineyards finishes up against a 10-foot wall of lava that came down some years ago. It is quite a sight with her 120-year-old vines pictured against the lava wall.
Fattorio Romeo del Castell — helmed by Chiara and her mother Roseanne Romeo — traces its history back to Chiara’s great grandfather who produced wine therein during the first half of the 1900s. Prior to a 1981 eruption of Mt Etna, the farm occupied a surface area of 60 ha. This was reduced to 30 ha by the wall of lava that traversed the land and whose remnants still serve as a testament to the land’s encounter with this force of nature.

One of the attributes that sets the estate apart from other Mt Etna vineyards was also the feature that had wrought the original destruction: the lava wall. The wall creates a unique microclimate for the estate in that it affects wind flows and, in so doing, (i) affects how the wind hits the vines and (ii) modulates the temperature behind the wall.

The current edition of the farm sits at 700 m asl at the confluence of three parks: Etna Park, dei Nebrodi, and Alcantra River Park. Soils on the farm are volcanic ash and sandstone and they serve as the underlying support for 14 ha of vines and olive, pear, chestnut, and oak trees. Thirteen ha of vines fall within the Etna DOC territory and these are planted to Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. The vineyard boasts 3 ha of centenary vines; the remainder were planted in 2004. The vineyard is certified organic.

Subsequent to the winemaking exploits of Chiara’s great grandfather, the estate sold its grapes. Chiara had left the farm to pursue her studies, returning after obtaining her PhD. In conversations with Salvo Foti, the renowned Etna wine guru made her aware that her vineyard was truly a gem. She decided to make wine from the estate’s grapes and enlisted Salvo’s assistance in the endeavor. Salvo mentored her by having her work with members of his iVigneri construct and, in the early years, served as her oenologist.

The first vintage produced by the estate was 2007. It utilized fruit from the centenary vines and was named Vigo in honor of Chiara’s Dad. Both the 2007 and 2008 were fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrel. The wines produced currently are shown below.


Etna Rosato Vigorosa

Etna Rosso Allegracore

Etna Rosso Vigo


Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio

Nerello Mascalese

Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio





Farming Technique








Vine Age

100 Years

Planted 2004

Up to 100 years





Fermentation Vessel

SS tanks

5000l tanks

5000l tanks


Macerate for a few hours; indigenous yeasts

Fermentation and maceration 15 - 20 days; indigenous yeasts

12 days; indigenous yeasts

Aging Vessel

SS tanks

SS tanks



4 months

12 months

MLF then aged ifor 12 months in barrique; 6 months in bottle

There have been a number of substantive changes since those initial vintages:
  • Chiara has taken over responsibility for all aspects of wine production
  • The base Etna Rosso wine is called Allegracore (2009) and is made with grapes sourced from the vines planted in 2004
  • The Vigo wine continues to be sourced from the centenary vines but is only produced in outstanding vintages.
Tasting the Wines
I tasted 2007 and 2008 vintages of the Vigo but was so put off by the difference between the two that I ended up tasting three separate bottles of the ‘07 in order to find one equivalent to the quality of the ‘08.

The 2008 was pleasant on the nose with a savory note, grass, earth, sweet red fruit, and a bit of beeswax. On the palate ripe tamarind, spice, good acid levels, and a long, lingering finish. Palate-enveloping mouthfeel with fully resolved tannins.

The initial 2007 was smoky on the nose with red fruit, granny’s attic, and metallic minerality on the palate. Still structured with full resolution in the offing. Markedly different from the ‘08 so I opened another. This showed olives, red fruit, potpourri, and red pepper on the nose. Wood and coal tar on the palate. Still some freshness but astringent. Needs time?

The third bottle of 2007, drunk a few days later, had a portiness on the nose along with black pepper spice. Broad. Slight green on the palate along with non-silky tannins and coal tar. Unimpressive finish.

The wines utilized in this taste test were acquired from EatalyVino in New York City. There are differences between the 08 and 07 vintages which may be weather-related or winemaking-related and the differences within the 07 vintage may be due to a number of factors to include batch differentials, transportation, storage, etc.

Brandon had described Chiara as being among the “first wave of modern Etna producers,” placing her in the company of breakout stars such as Andrea Franchetti, Marc de Grazia and Frank Cornelisen. Her wines have not attained the acclaim of the wines of these giants; why?

These producers all have great plots but, according to Salvo Foti and Brandon, so does Chiara. These guys are all marketing and promotion geniuses with attendant innovative winemaking skills. Chiara depended on Salvo Foti for her early wines and was not in the same ballpark as regards marketing and promotion. According to Brandon, Chiara had a lot of different interests and never really dedicated herself to wine and winemaking. Finally, these first-movers were most likely better capitalized than Chiara.

I have tasted the early wines of the estate herein. I will follow up with a comparison of some of the more recent vintages in a future post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Tasting selected Constellation Brands' To Kalon Wines

I have tasted all of the estate wines grown in the Collective To Kalon Vineyard, and a number of the wines made from fruit purchased from Beckstoffer To Kalon, but have not tasted any of the Constellation To Kalon wines. I sought to partially address this shortcoming by organizing a tasting of the following wines:
  1. Robert Mondavi The Estates Fumé Blanc 2021
  2. Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2021
  3. To Kalon Vineyard Company Eliza's 2019
  4. To Kalon Vineyard Company H. W. C. 2019
  5. To Kalon Wine Company Highest Beauty 2019
  6. Robert Mondavi The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
  7. Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
The lineup -- tasted from right to left

The tasting team

Robert Mondavi The Estates Fumé Blanc 2021 -- Fumé Blanc was the name that Robert Mondavi bestowed on dry-fermented, high-quality Sauvignon Blanc in a period when most Napa-built SBs were sweet. His inspiration was the Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley. The 2021 version of this wine was made from fruit sourced from two blocks of the I-block clone and is mostly Sauvignon Blanc with "a dash of Semillon."

The wine presented as older than its actual age. Earthy, with tropical fruit notes, faded lychee, and crushed-stone minerality on the nose. Medium weight with great acidity and a lengthy finish.

Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 -- Introduced in 2001 as a Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée with fruit drawn from top Napa Valley sites, the wine was placed on hiatus in 2016. It was brought out of cold storage in 2018 using To Kalon fruit.

The 2021 version was fruit-forward and dominated by notes of dark berry fruit, chocolate, cassis and spice. On the lighter side. Disappointing finish.

To Kalon Vineyard Company 2019 Eliza's -- Named after Elizabeth Yount, the widow of George Yount, the founder of Yountville. The 2019 edition of this wine was a 63%/37% blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The winemaker at To Kalon Vineyard Company was Andy Erickson from the inception to 2022. In 2022 he shared winemaking responsibility with Tony Biagi, the torch-bearer for subsequent vintages.

Complex; especially apparent when following the Double Diamond. Broad-based with red and blue fruit, smoke, forest floor, and spice on the nose. Rich and thick on the palate but with a soft mouthfeel. Ripe fruit. Lengthy finish.

To Kalon Vineyard Company 2019 H.W.C. -- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon named after the original founder of To Kalon Vineyard. Sourced from Heritage clones originally planted by Robert Mondavi. 

Intense red and black fruit, smoke, baking spices, and neutral shoe polish on the nose. Rich on the palate with good length on the finish.

To Kalon Vineyard Company 2019 Highest Beauty -- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruit from the 2016 harvest constituted the first wine of this label.

Rich black fruit and baking spices on the nose with a full body and velvety tannins on the palate. Long finish.

The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has historically included 10% - 15% fruit from Macdonald Vineyard. The 2015 version is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, and 2% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. That vintage showed dark fruit on the nose along with plum, tobacco, cedar, and baking spices. Lengthy finish. The 1988 edition showed dark fruit, dark chocolate, graphite and leather on the nose. Fully resolved tannins and a long finish.

I was excited to taste these wines because I have come to the conclusion, based largely on the Detert and Macdonald wines, that To Kalon wines are some of the most tasty in the Valley. I was not blown away. With the exception of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons, the wines tasted were relatively young and will probably show more of their pedigree with the passage of time. That being said, the To Kalon Company wines stand in the shadow of the MacDonald Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Constellation Brands: The "Bigfoot" of To Kalon Vineyard

The title of this post refers to Constellation Brands as the "Bigfoot" of To Kalon Vineyard and the relative size distribution of the various players in this space, illustrated in the chart below, is one factor that bears out this characterization.

Another factor was the legal decision handed down by the courts in the Vineyard House Winery suit to allow its use of the To Kalon name on its labels. One of Vineyard House Winery's claims was that To Kalon was a place name and, as such, not "trademarkable." Constellation, which had received the To Kalon (registered by Mondavi in 1988) and To Kalon Vineyard (registered by Mondavi in 1994) trademarks as part of the proceeds of the Robert Mondavi purchase, contested this claim vigorously.

In the decision handed down in January 2021, the judge ruled that Constellation could use the term To Kalon both as a brand and " a reference to all of their alluvial fields in Oakville." In addition, a permanent injunction was granted preventing non-Constellation use of To Kalon without the trademark holder's permission.

Hence ...

I have detailed the history of the To Kalon Vineyard elsewhere; a summary is provided in the chart below.

Constellation Brands came into the To Kalon frame with its purchase of Robert Mondavi in 2004. The Mondavi family had sold 2.5 million shares in the company to the public on June 10, 1993 but retained a controlling interest post the transaction. At this time Michael and Tim were co-Managing Directors, Marcia (their sister) was a partner, and Clifford Adams was the COO. 

The now-public company flourished until it experienced slowing business performance in the early 2000s. The board thought that a reorganization which sold off the high-end portfolio (Mondavi Winery, Ornellaia, and its ownership stake in Opus One), while retaining the inexpensive offerings (Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Private Selection) would return the enterprise to profitability. Constellation countered this reorganization plan by offering to buy the enterprise for $970 million, an offer which the Board members seemed to ignore. Shareholder lawsuits, and a sweetened offer of $1.03 billion) from Constellation, resulted in the Board considering -- and accepting -- the offer. The deal, closed on 12/22/04, resulted in the separation of the Mondavi family from the business, with Robert retained as a Brand Ambassador.

Constellation's Leveraging of the To Kalon Vineyard
Constellation bought Schrader Cellars on June 16, 2017. This company's brand was, according to Tim Carl, "built on the marketing prowess of Schrader, the winemaking reputation and skills of Thomas Brown, and the quality of fruit and name recognition of the Beckstoffer Vineyard." Subsequent to the purchase, Constellation has introduced two new wines under this eponymous label: Heritage Clone To Kalon Vineyard and Monastery Block To Kalon. The latter, first released with the 2017 vintage, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 169 from the vineyard's Monastery Block. The former, initiated with the 2018 vintage, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 39 from Block N2S of the vineyard.

Schrader has a second label called Double Diamond which it had placed on hiatus in 2016. This label was first introduced in 2001 as a Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée which drew its fruit from top Napa Valley sites. With access to To Kalon fruit, the label was brought out of cold storage with the 2018 vintage as an Oakville cuvée with the bulk of its fruit sourced from the home vineyard.

In May of 2019, Constellation announced its Fine Wine Division's launch of To Kalon Vineyard Wine Company, a label helmed by Andy Erickson and using fruit sourced from the To Kalon Vineyard. The initial offering -- named Highest Beauty (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) -- utilized fruit from the vineyard's 2016 harvest.

Subsequently, To Kalon Vineyard Wine Company has introduced two additional wines: (i) H.W.C.  Cabernet Sauvignon (Initials of the To Kalon founder; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage Clone) and (ii) Eliza's Red Wine (Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend named after Elizabeth Yount, the widow of the founder of Yountville). The 2019 edition of this wine was a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Cabernet Franc.

Beginning with the 2022 vintage, the winemaker of To Kalon Wine Company will be Tony Biagi. He will share that responsibility with Andy Erickson for that vintage and will then have sole responsibility going forward.

Organic Certification
The Constellation Brands portion of Collective To Kalon has been farmed sustainably for a number of years under the Napa Green certification regime but the company has been hard at work over the past three years readying To Kalon Vineyard for organic certification. Constellation currently manages 497 acres of the combined historic To Kalon Vineyard plus the non-Opus portion of the Stelling Extension and, of this, a total of 331 acres have attained organic certification. Younger vines and buffer blocks remain uncertified at this time. The first vintage of organic fruit will come with the 2023 harvest.

I have tasted, and written about, all of the estate wines from Collective To Kalon, as well as selected wines from Beckstoffer To Kalon, but have not so treated the Constellation To Kalon wines. I recently organized a tasting to address that shortcoming and will report on it in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme