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BERGER: Filling Mondavi's giant shoes

Back in the 1980s, I dined with Italian wine impresario Angelo Gaja, a great student of world wine history and as passionate a winemaker as I have ever known.

Hours into dinner, Gaja said: "California has a great history of making fine wine, and Bob Mondavi has been the person who brought this message to the rest of the world. But Bob won't live forever. In decades to come, who will be the spokesman telling of California's great wines?"

The question has lurked in my memory for years, notably since Mondavi's death four years ago. Mondavi's passion for great wine, his vision for California's role in that world, and his quest to link wine, food, and the arts under a single umbrella was a message he touted around the world.

Buena Vista Winery

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The Mondavi Mission, as he called it, had him on radio and TV shows, doing interviews with the world's top newspapers and magazines, and he attended wine symposia around the world, always carrying the message of California wine's greatness.

Not always silver-tongued, Mondavi was such a dynamo that until a few months ago, I had no idea how to answer Gaja's question. You can't teach passion. Last Friday I had my answer. And it was a completely unlikely person who now can accept this mantle, if he isn't too busy doing a lot of other stuff.

Jean-Charles Boisset, French-born and reared, and scion of one of the world's largest wine companies, is really a Burgundy lover at heart. And since Burgundy makes some of the world's finest (and priciest) wines, Boisset most naturally has a passion for French wine.

But starting in a low-key manner in November 2003 with the purchase of De Loach Vineyards in Sonoma County, Boisset has quickly established his credentials as a lover of California wines as well. All great wine, really.

Today his company not only makes of a lot of fabulous French wines, but it has a growing portfolio of prestigious U.S. wines. And his role in the last few years has been to speak of the greatness of various regions of the world, of their history, and of the vinous spirituality of various locations.

Boisset's latest act of wine passion was unveiled for about 200 guests Friday — the rebirth of the old Buena Vista cellars.

Founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, Buena Vista is considered the earliest of California wineries. Friday's look at the renovation of this property in the foothills east of the town of Sonoma coincided with Haraszthy's 200th birthday.


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