Robert Mondavi: On wine, business, and living the good life

Mondavi bookLike many winery tours, the tour of the Robert Mondavi Winery ends by design at the gift shop, where they sell wine and other items. While my wife perused the wine shelves, my eyes migrated to a table with copies of Robert Mondavi’s autobiography, Harvests of Joy, published in 1998 and in its tenth printing. She bought the wine—a rosé and a Fumé Blanc—and I bought the book.

In today’s world, a book that remains in print after 15 years is a notable achievement, and Harvests of Joy deserves its success. This is not the book for those in search of scandal and intrigue about America’s most famous wine personality and his family. But if you’d like to learn a little about Napa Valley history and get a sense of one of the men who helped shape it, this book, co-written with Paul Chutkow, delivers. It provides a window into Mondavi’s optimistic, risk-taking personality, so similar in this regard to other successful entrepreneurs in and out of the wine business.

Another thing I liked about it was how quotable it was. Ever a promoter for his winery, Napa Valley and wine in general, Mondavi by his own admission was seldom at a loss for words (he died in 2008). He proves equally adept in Harvests of Joy, providing insights on wine, life and how to succeed in business. Here are some choice Robert Mondavi nuggets:

Always taste the wine, not the label.

The finer the grapes, the finer the wine.

There is no secret: Great wine begins in the vineyard.

The greatest leaders don’t rule, they inspire.

Always remember that business is, first and foremost, about people.

No one makes wine alone.

No matter what business you’re in, there’s always going to be turmoil.

In life, as in wine, excess and imbalance are no virtues, even in pursuit of a noble goal.

What it took ages for me to learn was really very simple: Don’t be negative, dogmatic or judgmental. Be positive and flexible. —On managing people

Making wine is a skill, fine wine an art.—One of Mondavi’s most famous lines, used as a motto for Robert Mondavi Winery

In the art of making fine wines, the quest for greatness always comes down to this: the artist and his gifts.

My husband always said, ‘If something is good, don’t talk about it. Do it.’  —Margrit Mondavi, recalling one of her husband’s sayings at a Robert Mondavi Winery concert

Always leave time for playfulness and laughter. There is no better tonic for keeping love alive and vibrant than laughter and good cheer.

All things in moderation, with a few glorious exceptions. —Perhaps Mondavi’s most famous line, widely repeated

Operation Bullpen goes into new edition, still generating comment, positive reviews

Kevin Nelson’s Operation Bullpen, the true story of the sensational autograph fraud case that was recently acquired by super-agent Harlan Werner to be developed into a movie, has reached a new landmark: It is going into a new printing. A new edition of the book is now available on Amazon and other outlets around the country. Those who would like a copy of the book autographed by the author can order here.

The author, at left with his back to the camera, watches as the truck unloads the new edition of Operation Bullpen.

The author, at left with his back to the camera, watches as the truck unloads the new edition of Operation Bullpen.

Originally published in 2006, Operation Bullpen has been featured on ESPN, made into a cable TV documentary and won international acclaim. It continues to cause comment and generate positive reviews, such as this one posted recently on Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book You Can’t Put Down: MUST READ For Any Autograph Collector!August 6, 2014 

By J. Mccay (Queens, NY)

This review is from: Operation Bullpen (Paperback)
As someone who assisted the FBI in 1999 with Operation Bullpen, I know nearly all of this story first-hand and read the original FBI Operation Bullpen report in early 2000 soon after it was released. This book was exceptionally well written and was definitely a page turner that I didn’t want to put down. No matter how much I learn about the Autograph hobby, there’s always more to learn and this book did just that for me.
The FBI’s Report is a real yawner to be perfectly frank. Kevin Nelson puts the story in a much more enjoyable context. Any autograph collector of any age must read this book or you are simply wasting your hard earned money. There’s so much truth in this book that you NEED TO KNOW if you collect autographs. Please do yourself a HUGE FAVOR and read this book. It’s not too long, it doesn’t over explain things (something I tend to do), but it gets all the important facts on the table from both sides of the story which is the only FAIR WAY to write a non-fiction book!​

Squaw Valley’s thrill-packed tram ride

Squaw Valley Tram By Kevin Nelson The Squaw Valley Aerial Tram is perennially rated as one of Lake Tahoe’s top ten attractions, and there is a reason for that: It’s big fun. It delivers the thrills of an amusement park ride with tremendous views of high mountain peaks.

Starting from Olympic Village in Squaw Valley, the tram carries you 2,000 feet up the mountain. In the winter it transports skiers and snowboarders into the upper regions of one of the best ski areas in the western U.S., the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics and many ski races and events since then.Riding Squaw tram

In the summer (when we went) there are still plenty of things to do when you reach the top of the ride at High Camp at 8,200-feet. First, relish those views. The sparkling blue waters of Tahoe are to the east with lots of mountains all around. Places to eat are the year-round High Terrace Restaurant and Bar and a cafe next to the swimming pool and hot tub. Families are welcome, with kids, grown-ups and couples swimming, skating at the outdoor roller rink (in the winter it becomes an ice rink), scaling a climbing wall, playing beanbag toss and croquet, and walking on balance beams. Hiking trails take off from there as well.

One must-see is the Olympic Museum, which is free and has exhibits and artifacts (such as vintage ice skates and cable binding skis) from the 1960 Games. There is a pretend awards stand in which you can pose in front of an American flag as if you’ve just won the gold medal for your country.

If all you did was take the tram, however, it would be a worthwhile trip. You stand as you ride, hanging onto an overhead strap (if you care to) as if you were taking an underground subway. The max capacity of a tram is 110 people but ours was nowhere near that full. As you ascend a guide tells you about the mountains you’re seeing and the cable car system that is taking you up into them. When the tram opened in 1968 it was the largest aerial tramway in the world, an engineering and construction triumph that required miles of cable and tons of concrete. The tower terminal alone on the valley floor used 5,000 yards of concrete and 500 tons of steel. It has since been updated with the latest cable and electrical systems. Going up or down, the best place to stand may be in the front of the cab but there are windows all around and terrific views can be had from anywhere. One reason to be up front is that when the tram approaches a mountainside it appears for an instant as if it is going to run smack-dab into it. But alas, disaster is averted every time at the last second as the tram keeps on its upward path.

Squaw Valley Aerial Tram, Squaw Valley Resort, 1960 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley. Summer tram hours: 10:40 a.m.-4:20 daily, Tues., Fri., Sat. open until 5:20. Reservations recommended. Adult tram tickets are $39 per person, with lower prices for children and seniors; discounts for buying in advance. Packages that combine tram with use of pool and skating are $44 per adult. 800-403-0206. The Olympic Village has lots going on too—shopping, restaurants and outdoor activities such as cycling and tennis. See Squaw’s website for more. Vintage ice skates

Meeks Bay Trailhead, Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe

By Gabriel Nelson, Guest Photographer

Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the United States. Located west of Lake Tahoe in California, full of high mountains, forests and alpine meadows, it attracts thousands of hikers and backpackers every year. We asked photographer Gabriel Nelson to explore the area around the Meeks Bay Trailhead, a popular Highway 89 access point into the wilderness, and come back with five images that captured his imagination. Shooting with an iPhone, here is what caught his eye:

A creek near Highway 89 at Meeks Bay, near the trail leading into the wilderness.

A creek near Highway 89 at Meeks Bay, near the trail leading into the wilderness.


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Operation Bullpen makes big news

The announcement yesterday that superstar sports agent Harlan Werner had acquired the movie rights to Operation Bullpen made news around the world. You think I’m kidding? I saw the news reported on Reuters, the famous British news agency. Of course, most of the interest was in and around Los Angeles, which is where Werner’s Sports Placement Service agency is located. In case you missed it, here is a copy of the release:

Top Sports Agent Acquires Rights To Operation Bullpen Crime Story

PR Newswire

LOS ANGELESJune 24, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – Harlan J. Werner, the renowned sports and marketing agent who represents Muhammad AliJoe Namath, Sandy Koufax and many other superstar athletes, announced today that he has secured the motion picture rights to Operation Bullpen, the sensational story of the most notorious and successful gang of forgers and memorabilia crooks in American history.

Werner, who is a long-time sports memorabilia collector and dealer as well as co-owner of a national chain of retail movie memorabilia stores, made the acquisition along with film and television producer Art Horan.

“This story is a cross between ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle,’” said Werner, referring to the Operation Bullpen saga in which a dysfunctional family of con artists, led by a conniving grandma and her pot-smoking son, fooled the FBI for years and ripped off a gullible American public for a cool $100 million. “It’s a great story.  It’s very cinematic with broad appeal.”

Operation Bullpen, by award-winning author Kevin Nelson, is widely regarded as the definitive insider’s account of the explosive case that shook up the $1 billion a year memorabilia industry. The forgers and their accomplices were ordinary middle class people who went wild, living the Vegas high life, indulging in sex romps and spending lavishly, all the while churning out hundreds of thousands of fake autographs that were sold on TV, the Internet and in stores across the U.S.

Werner himself actively participated in the FBI’s undercover investigation of the gang, as did his client Muhammad Ali. (The FBI’s dramatic bust of the gang was the largest one-day takedown in Bureau history.) Ironically, Ali, Namath, Koufax, John Riggins and Jim Brown—all clients of Werner’s at his Sports Placement Service firm—had their autographs forged and sold by the crooks.

In addition to his personal knowledge of the memorabilia and autograph industry, Werner executive produced the movie “Tyson” and consulted on “One Night in Vegas” for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

Horan, a former Warner Bros. executive, was president of WMG Film Group where he was Executive Producer of “The Usual Suspects,” a two-time Academy Award-winner. Horan recently was Executive Producer of “Ring Girls,” also for ESPN, directed by academy award nominated director Amy Berg and is co founder of Undisputed Champion Network, a digital channel dedicated to the combat sports.

For more information, please contact Harlan Werner, SPS, 330 West 11th Street, Suite 105,Los Angeles, CA 90015. Phone: 213-744-1308. Email:

SOURCE Harlan Werner

Muhammad Ali’s agent acquires Operation Bullpen film rights

Harlan Werner, sports agent for Muhammad Ali and other celebrity superstar athletes, has acquired the rights to Operation Bullpen. Read about it in Reuters right here.

Muhammad Ali, seen here in a fight with a wrestler late in his career, is represented by sports agent Harlan Werner, who has acquired the film rights to Operation Bullpen. Operation Bullpen depicts a major scam that sold millions of dollars in forgeries, such as this fake autograph of Ali.

Muhammad Ali, seen here in a fight with a wrestler late in his career, is represented by sports agent Harlan Werner, who has acquired the film rights to Operation Bullpen. Operation Bullpen depicts a major scam that sold millions of dollars in forgeries, such as this fake autograph of Ali.

Police detective weighs in on Bullpen

Bullpen resized
Just received this text message from a police detective, who served 30 years on the force, after reading Operation Bullpen:

Read the book. Man you nailed it describing the FBI. Someday we should meet at Starbucks and I’ll give you some background info. I went to DEA school in Quantico with FBI geeks. Truly believe it would be a great story on screen.

Agreed. More news forthcoming soon on Operation Bullpen, the movie.

What do Merryvale Vineyards and Bouchon Bakery have in common?

Macaroons and other delights at Bouchon Bakery.

Macaroons and other delights at Bouchon Bakery.

“Quick,” I ask. “What do Merryvale Vineyards  and Bouchon Bakery have in common?”

“Well,” you answer, “both are in Napa County. Merryvale is in St. Helena and Bouchon in Yountville, and they are both off Highway 29. And both produce, in their own respective ways, excellent food and drink—Bouchon the former, Merryvale the latter.”

“Yes, yes,” I respond impatiently, “all that is true. Anything else?”

“Can’t think of a thing,” you say.

The full and complete answer is that both Merryvale and Bouchon were recently profiled in two delightful pieces by the person who is writing this blog and who is supplying both sides of this imaginary conversation. Have a macaroon at Bouchon Bakery here and sample a Merryvale red right here. You won’t regret either.

Ansel Adams in Napa

Some of the best shots of one of the best photographers of all time can be seen at one of the best makers of sparkling wine in Napa Valley. Read about it right here.

A visitor strolls the gallery at Mumm Napa looking at Ansel Adams photographs.

A visitor strolls the gallery at Mumm Napa looking at Ansel Adams photographs.