Ball point pen on paper napkin

Robert Mondavi passed away yesterday in his home in Napa Valley. He was 94.

My Grandfather Roibal was an amateur wine maker. He immigrated from Spain in the 1930's and settled in New Jersey. Visiting his home as a boy was what I imagined it would be like to go to Europe. Even though he lived in the city of Newark, his back yard was covered with trellises filled with ripening grapes. His cellar, where he made his wine, was a cool, damp place to escape the summer heat. The stone walls and cement floors, having absorbed the years of his toil, gave off the unmistakable oder of wine making. His equipment for mashing and grinding the grapes looked like it belonged in a medieval torture chamber, and large oak barrels in a line held the fruits of his labor. He would give us kids a sip from a tin cup that he had hanging on a nail. He'd wipe it out with a rag before partially filling it from the wooden spickets that tapped the oak barrels. Even though he was just an amateur, he took a lot of pride in his wine and I think he would have been pleased that I've painted some nationally distributed wine labels.

Some of those memories came flooding back this year when I visited some wineries in Napa Valley, California, among them, Robert Mondavi's Winery.

  1. Maisie
    May 17, 2008 -

    Larry, Didn't know that about your Grandfather. Must have been an interesting man. His wine would go great with the homemade Sauerkraut from my family!!!!!

  2. May 17, 2008 -

    Well, I'm not a connoisseur of kraut Maisie, but from what I remember it was a robust wine that would stand up to any bold taste. L

  3. Pat D
    May 17, 2008 -

    Larry, Thanks for sharing your memories. Pat

  4. May 17, 2008 -

    Great sketch - great story! We have a large Italian population here in hamilton and I've been in yards like the one you describe your grandfather's being... covered in trellises and hanging with grapes, yet only a few minutes walk from the steel mills where these same gents put in a lifetime of shifts. Thanks Larry - Leif :-)

  5. May 17, 2008 -

    Thank you Pat and Leif. The thing that struck me most about Mr. Mondavi wasn't just that I visited his winery, like his wine, and that it brought back memories, but that he reminded me of my own grandfather. His face, aged like a fine wine with his proud nose looked like a Henri Matisse sculpture. What a great face. Later in life, he purchased a house "down the Jersey shore". Even though it was on the mainland side of the bay, and had a lawn with grass as opposed to the typical stone or sand, few if any of the homes had basements because of the sandy soil. But he had to have a wine cellar, so he dug down by hand next to his house and built one from cinder blocks. It was just a few steps down, but deep enough to have his barrels of wine underground.

  6. mom
    May 18, 2008 -

    As your mom, I know I'm not allowed to make too many comments, but I have to say something about this one. I am so happy you have such great memories of your grandpa. I loved him too.

  7. May 19, 2008 -

    Don't be silly Mom, your comments are especially welcome... And thanks for making it such a priority that we kids had a relationship with both sets of grandparents. L

  8. Jo
    May 19, 2008 -

    Hey Larry, Thanks for sharing. Reading your blog brought back a flood of memories from our childhood and spending time with Grandpa. He left us with many wonderful memories. Thank you for bringing them back to me again. It has been a long time since I went back to our childhood. Love, Jo

  9. May 19, 2008 -

    Hey Jo, thanks for commenting, That one week a year during the summer we kids would spend down the shore without mom and dad were really special, helping grandpa in his garden while wearing his huge flannel shirts over our clothes so not to get dirty, playing kick the can, going swimming in the bay, staying up later than we were allowed at home watching the Jackie Gleason Show, eating grandma's saffron rice with chicken and sausage, and of course drinking grandpa's wine. L

  10. Bill Graf
    May 19, 2008 -

    Hey Larry, Thanks for sharing the memories of your grandfather, I have a similar memory of my Uncle Alfredo, didn't grow his own wine grapes would make Chianti in his basement. I know this will make parents of shutter, but when I was about 12, he would give me and my cousins a small (Shrimp Cocktail Glass) half filled to taste the wine when it was aged and ready to drink. Now whenever I taste Chianti wine, it's like Proust's Madeline cookies, my memories go back to when I was a kid the smell of the oak wine press in the dark cool basement and more importantly the family!

  11. May 19, 2008 -

    Hey Bill, Thanks for commenting. They were Europeans, and saw nothing wrong with kids drinking wine. My grandpa would give us kids a small glass of wine with dinner but I think he'd cut it with 7up and make a spritzer for us. I think he grew his grapes more for the shade and ambiance. I remember my dad telling me he used to buy his grapes for wine making, if I had to guess I'd say a tempranillo. Funny how smell and taste bring you back so vividly to those memories. Glad to know you had an Uncle Fredo in your life Bill.