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2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc I Block, To Kalon Vineyard Oakville, Napa Valley

The To Kalon Vineyard in Napa Valley’s Oakville District was established shortly after the end of the American Civil War. H.W. Crabb, an Ohio native who had come west to mine for gold but switched to farming after 6 months, bought land there in 1868 and by the mid-1870’s was producing wine from the vineyard he called To Kalon. To Kalon means “the highest beauty” in Greek. [While neoclassicism was winding down somewhat on the east coast and in western Europe by then, references to ancient Greece in names and designs would have lent an air of prestige in the wilds of California. The San Francisco Mint, built in the Greek Revival architectural style, was completed in 1874.]

Robert Mondavi Winery now owns the majority of the To Kalon vineyard, having started buying portions of it in 1966. [89 acres of the vineyard had been purchased in 1940 by Beaulieu Vineyards who sold it to Beckstoffer Vineyards in 1993.] Over the years, Mondavi has expanded its holdings more or less contiguous to To Kalon to 550 acres, 250 of which Robert Mondavi Winery says were part of Crabb’s 359 acres.

The vineyard is focused on Bordeaux varietals with Syrah being the sole exception. Located at the eastern base of the Mayacamas Mountains, the top level of soil is fertile but drains well which encourages a deep root system. Above ground, the vines are kept cool through the morning by fog but are able to get direct sun most of the day. They are, however, shielded from the harshest afternoon sun by the mountains.

The oldest productive vines in the vineyard date back to 1945. These vines survived Phylloxera outbreaks because they are on St. George rootstock which is quite resistant to that particular infestation. Surprisingly, among the 65 year old vines are Sauvignon Blanc. Located in what is referred to as the I Block, it is said to be the oldest active Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in North America. Of course, yield declines as vines get very old. For the 2006 vintage, the I Block yield averaged just 0.9 tons per acre.

Photo of Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard I Block Sauvignon Blanc by Tom Johnson of Louisville Juice

I-Block isn’t the only Sauvignon Blanc vines at Robert Mondavi Winery which are a bit long in the root. There are some 11 acres in the T-Block, also within To Kalon, that were planted in 1964. How are they different? Director of Winemaking, Genevieve Janssens has told me that I Block yields floral wines with great finesse and elegance, whereas T Block is bold, yet austere and rich in minerality. Due to the strong personality of the T Block, it’s juice is blended with others for the To Kalon Fumé Blanc Reserve rather than being used as a single-vineyard wine.

The I-Block is no shrinking violet though. It is pretty, but not reticent. Despite an abnormally cool growing season in 2006, the grapes achieved excellent ripeness due to the winery’s focus on quality over convenience. The small vineyard, roughly 10 acres, was harvested over the course of a week with only those rows that had achieved the desired level of maturity being picked on any given day. There are no unripe flavors in the wine and it’s alcohol is a heady 14.8%.

The 2006 I Block Sauvignon Blanc is bright gold with aromas ranging from white flowers and orange zest to spice and gentle tropical fruit. It feels rich and silky in the mouth, almost creamy. The flavors are unique when compared to typical Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a light nutty characteristic, some delicate lemony essence and the fruit is not boisterous. The finish is quite long and the wine also changes in lovely and interesting ways in one's glass over time.

This is not an inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc, but it is delicious and a glass of history to boot. It's a wine that will reward aging and, if you do age it, a quick decanting. Given the price and ageability of the wine, I’d love to see it under screwcap. While some might argue that would undermine the high-end image of the wine, to me it’s a protection of the winery’s investments and that of their customers. I’ve had the opportunity to taste three bottles recently, one of which was corked. To me, losing any wine from this low-yielding vineyard due to cork taint is dispiriting.

The I-Block Sauvignon Blanc will go very well with light salads and seafood dishes. There’s sufficient zip in the wine to hold up to restrained citrus dressings or sauces. However, my preference would be to savor its complexity by drinking it on its own (and not overly cold). Drink now through 2016. Highly Recommended.


2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc I-Block, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2016
Retail Price: $75, available only from the winery (online or in person)
Fermentation: 100% in 60-gallon French oak barrels, 33% new, no malolactic fermentation

Blend: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Aging: 9 months in French Oak
Alcohol: 14.8%
Closure: Cork

This wine was purchased for review. It was not tasted blind.

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