The best way to learn about a wine is to hear its story from its maker’s mouth. The narrative becomes more passionate, more intimate & always more interesting. And this winter, we were lucky enough to hear the story of the RAEN winery from one of its founders, Carlo Mondavi.
You may have heard of Carlo’s grandfather, Robert. The Mondavi family has been in the business of making wine since they voyaged to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. They first opened a bottle shop in Minnesota. However, with the suppression of Prohibition, they could no longer procure wine, so the family moved to California to make it themselves. They bought several small wineries before founding their own, The Robert Mondavi Winery. For 30 years, Carlo’s grandfather produced beautiful, world-class wines with the help of his son & lead winegrower, Tim.
In 1996, Robert & Tim decided it was time to begin imparting their wisdom unto the next generation, Carlo & his brother Dante. Carlo recounted playing in the vineyards as a boy and learning about the grapes. His family was always so passionate about their fields, so involved in the process, that it was impossible for him & his brother not to share the same joy. The brothers then founded their own winery, RAEN, on the western boundaries of the Sonoma Coast in 2013.
The Wine & its Maker
Carlo’s relationship with wine & its natural production can only be described as poetic infatuation. One needs only look at the origin of their winery’s name:
Pronounced “rain”, our name reminds us that wine was rain first. It only becomes wine in our vineyards after being filtered by the rocks taken back up by the vines and sweetened by the sun. The unique spelling is our society and ethos, which is translated to Research in Agriculture and Enology Naturally.
RAEN’s fields overlook the Californian coastline, hailing cooler temperatures with ocean breezes. Here is a wonderful description of their Sonoma Coast field:
On summer mornings pacific fog engulfs the vineyard, covering the fruit with essential ocean mist. The fog recedes back in the late mornings drenching the vines in afternoon sunlight and warmth ripening our fruit.
The terroir of the coastal vineyard yields fruit with depth & character, which gives their wines greater complexity. As Carlo meandered through the profiles of his pinot noirs with us, the elegant verse continued. He would not simply spit out pretty words or fruits or flavors; he would paint a scene.
Take a sip. Imagine a mossy forest floor after a rain, earth wet with fresh water, then the sun slowly warms the rocks & soil, and the droplets begin to evaporate.
Carlo Mondavi’s descriptions of his wines were the most compelling interpretations I have yet heard. They were not mere explanations; they were illustrations. And it made me want to drink more wine.
Perhaps Carlo’s poetic nature stems from his environmental consciousness. RAEN believes in producing wines as naturally as possible.
“In the vineyards our farming is reverting back to what we might have seen when our family began farming and working with pinot noir 100 years ago and perhaps closer to the way the monks farmed it hundreds of years ago. Our goal is not just to honor the fruit we grow but also the nature in which it is growing.”
Carlo & Dante take this a step further by utilizing the environment to make their wines better. They gather their fruit according to the cycles of the moon (and always in the moonlight), and they label every cork with the date and the moon’s phase in which the grapes were picked.
The Mondavi brothers also encourage the cultivation of their vineyard’s natural flora & fauna. Last year, they were able to rescue an abandoned lynx kitten from their fields. They named her Doris. (And unfortunately, we lost the photo!)
Blue Plate’s Bottles
The flavors of the brothers’ wines truly reflect their environmentally conscious ideals, and we were lucky enough to obtain three different bottles:
RAEN Sonoma Coast Royal St. Robert, Pinot Noir, 2016
The Royal St. Robert cuvee is dedicated to our grandfather Robert Mondavi, who taught us to be committed to excellence. Our 2016 RSR cuvee comes from the true Sonoma Coast behind Bodega Bay and is a marriage of special lots that we feel are the best in our cellar. This wine opens with wild strawberries, crushed bing cherries, and rose petals that fill the bowl with sweet resin, white tea, thyme, forest floor and wet rock. The texture is rich, complex and leads to a long sumptuous finish.
RAEN Fort Ross-Seaview Home Field, Pinot Noir, 2016
Our Home Field Vineyard is our pretty lady. Pure elegance. Situated on a remote hillside, planted under two miles from the cool Pacific Ocean and perched at 1,400 feet, Home Field offers a delicate message from its beautiful raw expanse. This wine opens with sweet wild raspberry, orange pith, and rose petals that combine to fill the bowl with sweet resin, coastal moss, green tea, wet rock, and candied orange. The finish is persistent and fades to notes of raspberry and dried herbs as this coastal site lingers on your palate.
RAEN Fort Ross-Seaview Charles Ranch, Chardonnay, 2016
The Fort Ross-Seaview Chardonnay bottling is from the rugged 35-year-old Charles Ranch hillside vineyard, with some of the older pre-phylloxera plantings of chardonnay in California. Between 1,100 and 1,200 feet of elevation, the vineyard sits on well-drained, rocky clay soils. These old Sonoma Coast vines yield naturally shy crops that offer incredible depth, density, concentration, and finesse. Notes of stone fruits, lime blossom, white flowers, wet gravel and rock minerality are delicately laced throughout this wine. Fine, yet focused, acidity balances the rich mid-palate, giving way to a long-lasting finish.
They are Elli-approved, beautiful vintages (and are very limited!). Definitely consider pairing a bottle with your next meal at Blue Plate.
We are so thankful we were able to chat with Carlo and hear his story. He was a very humble, down-to-earth fellow with an environmental conscience. And he makes wonderful wine.