In the 1960s and ‘70s, the name Robert Mondavi was synonymous with innovation and fine Napa Valley wines that could rival those of first-growth houses in Bordeaux. In recent years, it has lost its cachet due to brand extensions at the low end of the industry.
Yes, the company that owns one of the most legendary and awarded vineyards in California, To Kalon, also sells wine at Sbarro.
While Robert Mondavi Winery has always produced high-quality wine, it is now on a mission to restore its reputation and regain its place within the top ranks of U.S. wine. In true 2021 fashion, that transformation begins with—what else?—NFTs.
This market this year has been flooded with NFTs in all categories, from digital art and music to trading cards and memes. In the wine world, NFTs can actually serve a practical purpose that combats one of the industry’s oldest and biggest problems: counterfeit wine.
By selling the wine along with NFTs, ownership is recorded on the blockchain, as is the bottle’s provenance. (In the future, this could make a dent in the $3 billion industry of fakes by providing ironclad documentation for individual bottles of fine wine.)
Robert Mondavi Winery created a package of goods tied to NFTs, in collaboration with VaynerNFT. There are 1,966 packages available for purchase, a nod to the winery’s founding in 1966. Each NFT is attached to a piece of generative digital art (art created by algorithms) orchestrated by artist Clay Heaton and to an attractive porcelain magnum of 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed To Kalon vineyard. The purchase also provides access to exclusive winery experiences.
“NFTs fundamentally represent digital asset ownership,” says Avery Akkineni, president of VaynerNFT. “We wanted to add something that was new in the spirit of innovation, and give people a piece of this to have forever. That’s why we decided to pair an NFT with these incredible bottles, and took it a step further to bring in a generative artist to design those NFTs.” The NFTs can be purchased in U.S. dollars or cryptocurrency.
The wine is a new blend called MCMLXVI from the famed To Kalon vineyard. To mark the occasion, Robert Mondavi Winery partnered with Bernardaud, an historic French porcelain house from Limoges, to create custom 1.5-liter porcelain wine bottles for this special vintage.
Fine wine typically comes in glass bottles, so porcelain is thought to be a first for the modern wine industry. While the bottles are certainly beautiful, they’re also well-suited for aging wine because porcelain is opaque, which protects wine from light, and it maintains temperature well, too.
Each bottle takes two weeks to create and requires the skills of 50 different artisans. Bernardaud produced three bottles: a sleek, matte, all-black version, and two shiny Burgundy bottles, one with platinum accents, one with gold.
In a phone interview, Michel Bernardaud says the decoration was particularly challenging, because the Burgundy bottles used a reflective color technique that is difficult to produce, which it developed for a collaboration with artist Jeff Koons. They designed and produced these bottles in just a few months, which was a quick turnaround for Bernardaud.
Once the wine has been consumed, the bottles can be used as art pieces or decanters. Or, since the wine has an aging capability of 30 years, if an owner wants to sell it in 10, the NFT will be there to prove authenticity.
So, what does all of this add up to? Robert Hanson, president of wine and spirits at the winery’s parent company, Constellation, says it’s a first step in a three-year plan to transform the company into a luxury powerhouse. “Our intent is to restore Robert Mondavi Winery’s as the soul of Napa Valley fine wine,” he says via phone. “The brand has atrophied a bit over the last decade.”
He also notes that To Kalon vineyard is considered one of the top vineyards in the world and one of the most important in the U.S. Not only does the vineyard provide fruit for its own top wines, but also sells to Opus One, one of Napa Valley’s most-sought-after wines. (Opus One was founded by Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi in 1978.) Hanson hopes the collaboration turns the focus back to the quality and craftsmanship of To Kalon’s finest wines at an historic site.
One innovative collaboration won’t be enough to fully restore the Robert Mondavi name, but it’s a buzzy way to attract wine and crypto enthusiasts to the brand and shake off its staid reputation. Hanson says they’ll soon be removing the prominent branding of the Robert Mondavi name from its affordable brands, updating packaging and pricing, and completely transforming the winery and business center in the coming year.
The NFT packages are available for purchase now on Robert Mondavi’s website, but collectors will have to wait to acquire their wine, which needs to rest for about a year.
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