RAEN Turned to Wine
Photo by Erin Cooper
The Mondavi family name has been synonymous with the California wine industry for over 50 years, and the newest generation of Mondavi winemakers is rising to the challenge of not only upholding but growing their family’s legacy. Carlo and Dante Mondavi, sons of Tim Mondavi and grandsons of the late Robert Mondavi, a true Napa Valley legend and pioneer, are pouring their hearts and souls into their pinot noir project, RAEN, on the Sonoma Coast. The brand has quickly become a favorite among the local wine community but with 2013 being its inaugural vintage, it is certainly still in its infancy. We recently spoke with Carlo about this new project, and he shared with us the process of turning rain to wine.
What does RAEN stand for?
RAEN ties back to a story my father told us when we were young. The story goes that rain turns to wine every year in the vineyards. He would tell us, if you think about it each year it rains on the fields replenishing the vines and then transforms into beautiful clusters as a combination of soil, sun and rain. Meanwhile, on the skins of a grape there is a naturally occurring wax that collects the native yeast creating the bloom. So right there you have all you need to make wine. All it takes is a hungry bird or bee to bite open the grape causing the sugar and yeast to come into contact with each other yielding alcohol. Thus, RAIN would become WINE.
From here, our unique spelling dives into our philosophy a bit deeper as it stands for our dedication to Research in Agriculture and Enology Naturally, RAEN (pronounced rain). This is written on the lower part of our neck label and has become our society. RAEN is fermented naturally, we do not fine or filter, and we use almost 100% whole cluster and age in neutral oak barrels. This use of natural yeasts and less new oak is all an effort to allow the micro flora from our vineyard shine as brightly as possible in our wine.
What inspired you and your brother Dante to create these wines?
At first it was the pinot noirs our father made in the 1970s and 80s. Those bottles are just incredible and continue to be impressive and are an inspiration. Now the inspiration is the vineyards we have. Just trying to make them (the wines) and where they are grown proud. I was just in the vineyard all day, and am completely blown away by how beautiful they are in each and every season.
How much control do you have over farming practices and winemaking techniques?
We have complete control over our vision, philosophy and direction but very little control, if any, over Mother Nature and the growing season. I say little because weather is constantly changing, and we as humans clearly have a profound impact on nature. Like in our wine, we want the expression of our farming to be in unison with nature and a part of nature more than anything. We are farming everything beyond organically: implementing permaculture, biodynamic and organic practices. Biodiversity, as we think of it, is not just healthier for us to enjoy but also gives us the chance of making wine that is capable of sitting among the world’s finest. As my father would say, “wine is grown not made.”
What inspired you to move toward whole cluster fermentation?
The incredibly beautiful aromatics on the nose and texture on the palate. Finding the sites, selections and extraction techniques has been one of the greatest journeys of my life.
What has been RAEN’s greatest challenge thus far?
We have been blessed with great vintages, and as brothers and a Domaine we will take quality over quantity any day, but I think the greatest challenge we have had thus far was the shy crop of 2015. Across all sites, we were down 50%. For example, with the 2015 vintage we got 5.3 tons out of our 4.8-acre Home Field Vineyard, which is just over a ton per acre.
Many consumers are interested in wines that are vegan. Does RAEN fit into this category?
Yes. We don’t fine and never will. In fact, I have not fined a wine since I was 18 years old back in the day at Robert Mondavi Winery. :)
What is the most interesting pairing you’ve discovered with RAEN Pinot Noir?
I love all the stereotypical pairings but the best discovery was in Japan with the great restaurants there. They use very little wasabi or soy sauce and basically just serve incredibly fresh cuts of raw fish seasoned minimally with some rice. The other pairing that is kind of opposite of this is BBQ ribs. Try it sometime… just awesome!
What are your long-term goals for the brand?
We want RAEN to be recognized among the finest wines of the world. We have found the vineyards and are realizing this in our wines now. Next steps are building the estate winery and keeping our focus.