Story by Morton Hochstein
Photos courtesy of Divining Rod wines
Marc Mondavi and Divining Rod Wines.
The man was pacing the floor of the Gotham, an upscale dining palace in Manhattan, arms extended, an oddly shaped copper rod in each hand. One of our party quipped that he was searching for a missing waiter, but waiters do not disappear at Gotham, as they occasionally do at less disciplined restaurants.
The man was Marc Mondavi, a member of the close knit California winemaking dynasty. Marc’s father Peter, brother to the more famous Robert Mondavi, passed away at 101 years in February, after decades of managing the C.K. Mondavi and Family Winery. Marc and his brother Peter Jr. run the show these days and they have been on an expansion trail in recent years.
At Gotham, the program started with Marc’s display of his ancillary avocation as a water dowser, a person gifted with the ability to locate sources of water. Sure enough, the rods twitched and crossed, and Mondavi explained: “I must be over a water pipe.”
Mondavi’s special ability is in demand by grape growers and other farmers in drought stricken regions seeking water sources. After those rods cross on several passes through fields, Mondavi says he is able to suggest sites for exploratory drilling. He often can predict the depth at which water will be found and the volume and strength of flow. The landowners who hire him spend heavily to employ professional drillers to explore those sites and if he did not have a good batting average, he wouldn’t last long in his ancillary avocation.
But the divining water trick, this was only a side show at the Gotham. Mondavi was not in New York to promote his flair as a “water witch,” He was wearing his other hat with us as a winemaker introducing a new line. It is the first new product from the Mondavi establishment in a half century and the new line is called, just coincidentally “The Divining Rod”.
These are what the industry sometimes terms “entry level wines” though three of the four cost a bit more than the “sweet spot” of about $12. They are not from family-owned or managed vineyards in Napa, but are sourced from other areas such as the Alexander Valley or the mountains of Oregon. They come in at about $15, although you may find them discounted down to around $12 or at the suggested list price near $20.
The 2004 Chardonnay shows the typical virtues of wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands, a tantalizing acidity backing up lively fruit notes. The fruit tones cover the southern spectrum, with mango, lemon and pineapple standing out in an oak-shaded blend. Chardonnay prospers in this region, blooming under equal parts sunlight, fog, wind and water.
The Cabernet comes from the Alexander Valley, north of Napa. It is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small doses of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Syrah adding spice and color. It’s easy on the palate, hardly austere in the Bordeaux fashion, designed for early consumption. Black fruit (berries and cherries) show on the palate, sharing space with generous chocolate flavors. SRP is $17. 99,
The baby of the group, The Lodi Divine Red, a true entry level wine, originating from less expensive sources, is listed at $12.99 though I’ve seen it discounted at $8.98. It’s surprisingly complex, deep, rich, red color, exuding scents of blackberry, cedar and cinnamon. There’s a fine mixture on the palate, lithe blackberry and black pepper flavors complemented by hints of plum and cassis. It’s spent some time in new French oak, which adds a pleasant mouth feel, a bit of tannin showing through and a pleasantly long finish. Not bad for a wine at this price level.
Mondavi went to several vineyards in deepest Oregon to unearth the grapes for his top of the line Pinot Noir, $18.99 SRP. This is a true winner with deep earthy aromas typical of good Pinot Noir. You sense cranberry and dried fruits, teamed with hints of black cherry, and spicy cinnamon and clove. Still young, it is already drinkable, but promises to be even more finely developed after a few more years.
With the family’s reputation and skill in making and marketing wine, Marc Mondavi is bound to capture wide distribution for the Divining Rod line. It should not gather dust on retail shelves. Certainly the wine to snap up is Pinot Noir. Only 5,000 cases were made, barely enough to escape from California markets for the rest of us.
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