by Fred McMillin
for January 19, 1998

Martin Luther King Day


New York Times: Martin Luther King 3rd will become the fourth president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His father, its first leader, was assassinated in 1968.

The Wine World when Dr. King Left Us:

We're fairly serious about selecting a wine to serve on each American holiday. Since Dr. King left us in 1968, what was the wine scene at the time? The late Leon Adams stated it clearly: "1968: American table wine became reliably palatable for the first time in its history, setting off our domestic wine revolution. In 1968, for the first time since Prohibition, consumption of table wine exceeded that of dessert wine in the U.S.A."

The revolution was no more obvious than in the Napa Valley. Dr. King gave his "I have a dream" speech in 1963. That year the value of the Valley's wine grape crop was three million dollars. By 1968 it was six million!

The big varietals hadn't hit yet. The leading Napa white was the timid French Colombard with Chenin Blanc very close behind. Chardonnay acreage was a distant eighth, ranking below such behemoths as the Burger and Palomino. As for the reds, there were but five acres of Merlot. At the upper end, Cabernet Sauvignon had slipped by the Gamays into second place, but the leader by a wide margin was a surprise, Petite Sirah.

The landmark Napa wine of 1968 was hailed by critics Hannum and Blumberg as "among the two or three best dry Bordeaux-type white wines we have ever tasted." Harry Waugh ranked it with the best of the Loire. Sales shot through the roof. It was a Sauvignon Blanc, which for sales purposes, Robert Mondavi had sagely labeled Fume Blanc. I recall lunching with him about that time. He advised leaving it in the bottle two years to develop complexity. I must confess. I couldn't wait ... too delicious.

So, my Jan. 19th toast to Dr. Martin Luther King will be made with a Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc.

About the Mondavi name, the family in Italy and then America pronounced it "mahn-DAVE-ee." Only in 1966, when Robert founded his own winery, did he change the pronunciation to "mahn-DAHV-ee."

Note: For more about the Robert Mondavi Winery see the Sept. 16, 1997 WineDay titled "Barbera Oompah-pah," or contact Nancy Light (707) 259-9463.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the WineDay Annex

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