Morris Mendelson, Richard’s grandfather, hails from Odessa, a city on the same southern coast of the Black Sea where Old World Pinot Gris and Muscat fortified dessert wines were made famous. Just as the Mendelson family can be traced back hundreds of years in their Ukranian heritage, so the Mendelson dessert wines have their roots in the glamorous and famous wines of the Massandra Winery, founded in 1894 in the Massandra area of the Crimea.
The Massandra Collection of dessert wines has a long and rich history – established by the great czars of the 1800s as the world’s finest collection of sweet wines, concealed and bricked up during the Russian Revolution and Counter-Revolutions, regathered and celebrated by Stalin and his Red Army in the 1920s, evacuated and carefully guarded during the Nazi invasion of World War II and enjoyed in frosty glasses by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin during the Yalta Conference of 1945.
Richard and Marilyn tasted these wines on a trip to the Ukraine in 1989 as U.S. delegates to an international wine conference. They were blown away by the Massandra Winery fortified dessert wines and then studied the process of making them at the Magarach Institute for viticultural and vinicultural research and development within the old U.S.S.R. They returned to Napa Valley, planted their Pinot Gris vineyard, and the rest is history.