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Although he is not permitted to use his name, Robert Mondavi, “on a bottle or as a direct sales or marketing tool,” the grandson and namesake of the Napa Valley winemaking legend is now creating iconic wine of his own. Rob Mondavi, Jr. and his wife Lydia launched Rutledge & Vine in 2014, producing only six to eight barrels each year of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, which they mainly sell directly to collectors and friends. Next year they will also release Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Hillside Sauvignon Blanc, the latter a nod to Rob’s grandfather, who “saw something special in Sauvignon Blanc in the 1960s and created the category Fumé Blanc.”

Rob Jr., as he is known, lost the right to use his full name when his grandfather sold his winery to Constellation Brands in 2004, but the experience he gained during the early days of the Mondavi-Rothschild Opus One partnership has stayed with him for life. The Opus One team held competitive benchmark tastings with topnotch Napa Valley and Bordeaux wines, which showcased differences between what Rob calls the “ripe, delicious, identifiable yet wonderful, and approachable” Napa style and the “more elegant, ethereal, restrained, and terroir-driven” wines of Bordeaux.

Lydia’s introduction to wine sounds like trial by fire: “My first experience in Napa was with Rob, his father Michael, his Grandfather Bob, and Genevieve Janssens, the winemaker for Robert Mondavi, was in 2000. We walked into the lab where Genevieve had been working on the master blends for the Oakville Cabernet programs,” she tells Robb Report. “There were honestly about 70 wines each representing different vineyard blocks, fermentation regimes, and oak toast levels and we tasted through them all. It is to this day my most favorite, terrifying, and inspiring tasting.” Several hours and a mouth full of purple teeth later, Lydia says that her eyes were opened to everything involved in winemaking and she “understood then that crafting fine wine is truly an art.”

The two married in 2001 and have consulted on each other’s careers including several wine brands and a home décor and furnishings collection for Williams-Sonoma, all while Lydia had two children, launched a grapeseed extract-based skincare line, and continued her role as a consultant for luxury Relais & Chateaux properties. Meanwhile, Rob and his sister Dina worked alongside their father at Michael Mondavi Family Wines, where Rob heads up winemaking and business operations. And while Rob’s wine country bona fides stretch back to his great-grandparents Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, Lydia traces her family back even further: Her mother’s family is descended from United States founding fathers John and Edward Rutledge, who were signers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The “vine” in the brand’s name pays homage to the Mondavi family’s deep roots in Napa Valley and the wine industry.

Their Oakville Cabernet is made using grapes from a family friend’s vineyard that Rob has been managing since 2010. “This vineyard slopes away from the Silverado Trail boasting red earth and wonderfully drained soils with two Cabernet Sauvignon clones, 337 and 4, providing aromatic opulence, mid body, and a lingering finish,” Rob says. If you think that discussing clones crosses into wine geek territory, you should hear Rob talk about barrels! His tech sheet for Rutledge & Vine Cabernet Sauvignon from 2014 through 2019 goes into detail on what type of barrels were used, including producer, toast level, and the percentage of new oak.

Both Rob and Lydia believe that wine lovers understand the nuances of barrel selection when it is explained and demonstrated through tasting. They recently conducted a barrel master class reviewing two coopers, three forests, and one neutral barrel all with the same Cabernet Sauvignon wine. “The collectors could absolutely identify the unique attributes of individual barrels, yet they most appreciated the mastery of the assemblage, the master blend,” Rob tells Robb Report. “The sum is truly greater than the parts. At this tasting the collectors proved that they can discern the differences and they also quantified that blending these nuances together is the essential artistry for the magic of wine.” Their extremely tight grained oak barrels are sourced from a forest once commissioned by Napoleon, who preferred the strong, straight wood for his ships’ masts.

Besides making wine, one of Rob’s favorite pastimes is hosting private tastings at wine lovers’ homes; he travels to clients’ hometowns to host Rutledge & Vine experiences for them and their invited guests. “We also host our friends in our home and at the One Hope winery in Rutherford, where we make our wines,” he explains. “Lydia and I aim to keep our brand small, growing slowly. We have met and enjoy time with each of our collectors, who are our best ambassadors.”

Lydia Mondavi’s experience has certainly broadened since that first tasting 24 years ago. Today she and her husband balance the responsibilities of their business. She says, “Together we set a wine style target and work with the grapes to respect the vintage while sculpting to our style. Rob drives a bit more in the cellar, yet we truly manage the brand and the entirety of the project together.” The two work alongside their sons, eight-year-old Robert Alexander Rutledge Mondavi and Robert Michael Mondavi III, age 13, at harvest time, picking grapes, inoculating must, and racking barrels, and they believe that in their lineage at least there will be a fifth generation of Mondavis making wine. (There are many Mondavi aunts, uncles, and cousins in the valley and beyond; Rob knows of several collectors who focus on wines made by all the branches of the family.)

Rutledge & Vine 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville is made with 98 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Skellenger Vineyard and 2 percent Merlot from Howell Mountain. Inky purple in the glass, it has an enticing bouquet of black cherry, lavender, clove, and nutmeg. It opens on the palate with notes of flowers and spice that are joined by flavors of Mission fig, Chambord, Luxardo cherry, dark chocolate, and a hint of cedar chest. Plush tannins coat the tongue and gums while spice notes linger into a lengthy finish. Although Rob and Lydia only sell directly to collectors and friends, they always reserve a small amount for those who want to become acquainted with their hand-crafted wines.