What’s about to follow is a result of being connected to the wine industry, but not “usual” by most standards. It has to do with a very special group of people, and a personally very enchanting time for me… The Mondavi Lifestyle.
There’s a lot to be said for the Mondavi Lifestyle. Between my husband and me, we’ve worked at so many wineries it makes my head spin. With a profusion of wine companies side-by-side, it’s a natural revolving door industry. The social networking experiences I had at Mondavi were almost not real, as I now look back at that time.
The “it” factor has to do with the quality level of the people with whom I worked, all being hired by Cathy Long, who was in charge the guest services program. She had (and still does in her new job) a gift for hiring really amazing people. This eclectic group was operating at a high level of performance, and an unusually high level of camaraderie.
Had I not found it difficult to be so repetitive with Wine 101, I would have stayed there until they lifted me out with a forklift. Leaving for me was bitter sweet, as I segued into a director of PR position, my true passion. Leaving was also filled with pomp and circumstance, as Kurt Cobbett lopped off the top of Champagne bottle with a sword to celebrate my next adventure. (Well, okay… it wasn’t a “real” sword. It was a kitchen knife, and none of us ever told the chefs what we had done.)
I left a segment of my heart at Mondavi from that magical time, and was reminded of that last weekend, again. The day I arrived at Mondavi for my first day of work, I was entering a period of training with Martine Nicolas, both of us being hired at the exact same time. This was very unusual of them to do, we were told, but I showed up on their doorstep as a result of turning them down a few months before, and that job just didn’t work for me, so I went back to Cathy Long, asking if I could be reconsidered.
Martine & and her daughter Jessica
Without a doubt, you’re now spinning in the revolving door with me, right?
So, Martine and I became very connected. We spent the entire week taking all the educators tours, so we could witness the diverse ways that the same information was being delivered by each of the educators…. Chatting and laughing along the way, because it was quite an experience.
Susan Henderson’s delivery was down to earth and informative. Dana Andrus was refined and detailed. Jerry White was filled with stories, because he was a long-time close friend to Robert Mondavi. (Jerry was also Hugh Heffner’s official photographer during the 1960s and 70s… He had seen it all, and yet was very discrete and stately in his stature.) Bill Cadman’s was hysterical and raw… He is who he is. A winemaking proprietor at Tulocay Winery, Bill is also a friend of the Mondavi family, which meant he could and did get away with just about anything, so he pushed the envelope. It was quite the week.
The following week, Martine and I were thrown into the mix. Within a short amount of time, I had perfected my own version of Wine 101. And, within another short period of time I felt like I had recreated Lily Tomlin’s “Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life” stand-up routine, calling my version, “Why I Want to be Reborn as a Yeast on a Chardonnay Grape.” (I didn’t want to be a red grape, because I would have gotten too dirty in the process.)
All the while, loving the life. We were all allowed to enjoy wine with our lunches. (We did that in moderation, and did it without an evil eye shining down upon us.) We all got together after the work day, and shared a glass of wine before we returned home for the evening with our families. There were also regular visits to local restaurants to have dinner as a group, and social gatherings all around Napa to visit with each other.
Now it’s years later… and yet, we can still find each other, and still celebrate each other, and that’s what just happened. And, although this time we didn’t do it in wine country, we DID gather in the Bay Area, and that’s still part of the wine country lifestyle.
The celebration was Martine’s birthday, and the party was lovingly organized by her daughter Jessica. Born and raised in France, Martine came to Tahoe during the time of Jean-Claude Killy, the alpine skier and a triple Olympic champion. Marine’s brother was part of Killy’s team, and Martine also traveled with the entourage. In the process of being in Tahoe, she met Geri Thayer, and that’s where we all gathered… at Geri and Don Thayer’s gorgeous home in Belvedere-Tiburon, to toast Martine. It was a great celebration of life, and a beautiful day on the bay.
For whatever reason, Robert Mondavi Winery attracted an amazing, highly accomplished group of people, unlike any other group I’ve had the pleasure of working with… And I walked away from that gathering realizing, more than ever, that fact. Perhaps that’s why just having Mondavi on my resume opened so many doors and commanded such respect, I still feel very honored to have worked there.
A company is only as good as its leader. With Mr. Mondavi being such an icon, it had a way of attracting similarly passionate and accomplished people, and Cathy Long could spot them in a blink, with the help of Nancy Hawks Miller (who is now at Goosecross, and
I wrote about last week).
Although these images might not make sense on a wine blog, it’s part of the lifestyle that’s been offered to me as someone connected to the wine business… One that some of us get to enjoy, as a perk to a very fascinating industry. Personally, I have to thank Mr. Mondavi. Had he not had vision for a way of life that involved civility, this blog would not be uploaded to the Internet, because it wouldn’t have happened… for any of us involved in this and many other stories.