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Kevin Yee

Reader Feedback: Questions, Comments, and Corrections

Questions and Comments

Since many of you have great questions and observations of interest to everyone, this regularly updated section will try to address your restaurant concerns.

In this edition of your feedback, for the most part we continue to discuss the Mondavi Winery located inside the new California Adventure park.

Feedback for 3/21/01:

Hi Kevin,

I really enjoy your columns and wrote you a few weeks ago about our experiences at Disneyland's Rancho del Zocalo, The Plaza Inn, DCA's Hollywood and Dine, and Hook's Pointe and The Storyteller's Cafe in the hotels during the grand opening week.

What I didn't mention was our experience at Mondavi since it occurred during a DCA preview day on January 19 and isn't a Disney restaurant.

Your splendid piece on Mondavi and it's numerous problems prompt me to write you again about our dinner there. Being guests of the sales division of Disney Hotels and with $10 in Disney Dollars given each of us for food purchases in DCA, our party of four decided to try the Vineyard Terrace. I bought a $6 glass of Coastal Merlot at the wine bar while we waited to be seated (this particular wine can be bought for $8 per bottle at Bristol Farms stores) and thought this was quite pricey but ok for a decent glass of wine until I saw the small portion I was handed in an undersized plastic glass. I'd say it was about half what you would receive at any good restaurant or bar.

Mondavi

Upon being seated on the Terrace we were shocked at the wine prices on the wine list. One of our party actually thought that the "wines by the glass" list were whole bottle prices. The $6 glass of Merlot from the bar downstairs had jumped to $8 upstairs. Our wine "expert" (she was probably 20 years old) was there in a flash to answer any questions and take our drink order. I was still sipping my mini glass carried from downstairs and the rest were so turned off by the inflated wine prices that they ordered soft drinks.

Prices seemed high on the dinner menu but we expected that and placed our order for various dishes. My minestrone arrived in a large bowl that was 1/3 filled and was so overly salted it was nearly ruined. I then had the mussels which turned out to be a generous portion and were superb even though they were priced at $9.50. The rest of our party had a Caesar Salad, the Meat Platter, the Risotto and the Pasta dish. The rice and pasta arrived with great flourish in large bowls that turned out to be half-filled or less. The Meat Platter was equally stingy. The bread was good and plentiful and rounded out the meal which came to $72 plus a $15 tip. We all discussed our meal at length and everyone found the staff well trained and professional, the food pretty good to very good but we felt totally ripped off overall. None of us would dine there again although several of us are curious to see what $50 for the Prix Fixe menu with wines gets you.

I wrote a letter to Mr. Mondavi in care of the restaurant on January 26 in which I praised the staff, restaurant design and ambience but told him exactly what we thought of the meal, prices and our disappointment overall. We have not received a reply so far and don't expect one at this point.

It was with great interest that I read your column this morning. I'm curious to hear what feedback you get from others who've eaten there and am especially interested in reading what they felt about the food and serving sizes at those 5 star restaurant prices.

All the best!

Frank
  

Dear Frank:

I reiterate my hope that Mondavi can find a way to make this work; I think the location is a neat idea and I like the way it looks. I do admit the concept seems flawed, especially at inflated prices.

But wait: I have news. Prices have shrunk apparently this week at Mondavi: word is, the deli sandwiches and the Terrace have begun some price tinkering in an effort to lure more visitors.

This is a very positive sign.

On the other hand, apparently the deli is lowering prices but reducing portions. Uh, this makes little sense to me. Reminds me of stock splits: twice as many shares but each only half as valuable (in other words, exactly what you started with). In Mondavi's case, the problem wasn't giant portions and giant prices - it was giant prices and normal portions. But we'll see how this works, I haven't witnessed the new prices or portions myself yet.
 

Kevin,

I found the Mondavi wine I enjoyed at the winery at a local shop. They sell it for a few dollars more than buying it at DCA. Interesting finding something *cheaper* at a Disney park than in the real world, eh?
 

Howdy,

Indeed, this is a good sign that not everything at Mondavi is overpriced relative to the wine market.

Someone elsewhere in email chastised me for quoting the $5 - $8 wine glass prices, since this is apparently quite normal in the wine world. Well, that may be. But to exaggerate my point (hyperbole anyone?), it is also normal to pay thousands of dollars for an Eyvind Earle painting (oh how I pine for one), but that doesn't mean a gallery of them would sell out at DCA. The audience / market just isn't right at this venue. Possibly.
 

Kevin,

I think people are confused. "Wine tasting" generally means just that -- a tiny taste to see what its like, and its usually free. (At "Wines of Texas" in Dallas they charge a few bucks for four tastes, but if you start buying the tastes get free real quick.) At Mondavi they have little plastic tasting cups they will give you samples of. So, their wine tasting is free, though I don't think they do it so people can just walk up and sample for free all day.

Pricing is not too bad compared to what I remember at Epcot -- in fact, Disneyland has always seemed *cheaper* that WDW in all areas. DCA seems right up there with the Epcot prices, but I hope someone comes out and posts specifics. (My girlfriend had a $6.50 "shot" at Epcot, for instance... OUCH.) At the Kansas City Renaissance Festivals wine is about $5 per glass (and its cheap stuff too -- Arbor Mist which is only $6 for a big bottle!). A beer at LAX is much more than you'd pay at DCA.

In perspective (airports, festivals, WDW) their prices aren't really out of line at all. Still too much, though -- makes you wonder how much more they'd make in volume if the prices were less :)

Allen
 

Thanks Allen for the WDW perspective. My business instincts agree with yours: sell it smaller, cheaper, and in greater volume, and then everyone is happy.
 

Kevin,

You missed the point I think. There is no doubt that $5 to $8 for a full glass of wine is a good price. The problem is that for a wine tasting they should be offering small half or quarter full glasses of wine, four to six, for $10 to $12. The idea is to get people to try a lot of different wines for a little money so they will buy a bottle (or two) of the one(s) they really like.

Having to buy a full glass of wine is NOT wine tasting, it's wine drinking, and if you don't particularly like the one wine you've chosen, you either pay another $5 to $8 for a different glass (and waste what's left of the first) or you walk away with a bad taste in your mouth and no inclination to buy a bottle of wine.

The Wine Cellar at the Disneyland Hotel used to have a real wine tasting option, which they enhanced with cheese and crackers, and still the price for 4 partial glasses of wine was $10 (a couple of years ago). We forgot to visit this spot last September, so I don't know if this is still an option.

Leonard B
 

Dear Leonard,

I remember the wine tasting at the Wine Cellar. I seem to recall that some version of wine tasting still goes on at the Disneyland Hotel, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

In any event, I agree with you taking them to task for their choice of words: an expensive glass of wine is indeed drinking, not tasting. And by expensive I do not mean relative to the wine market, I mean relative to the prices of entire McMeals elsewhere in the park.

DCA was designed to lure out of state visitors, right? Folks on vacation seem to want McMeals, not Mondawines (OK I admit that pushed the limit of acceptable word contraction).
 

Kevin,

I really enjoyed your article on the Mondavi Restaurant. However I must disagree with you on one point. Particularly your take on why the Grape vines keep dying. I live in the Temecula Wine Country, and have 5 acres 3 of which are planted in Merlot vines. As you probably know Temecula gets much hotter on average than Anaheim, yet there are about 4,500 acres of various varieties of wine grapes and 14 wineries.

Mondavi

In addition, Anaheim in the 1880's was a wine producing region! There was an insect that infected the vines and wiped them out. (an interesting side note, an Australian scientist, introduced a natural predator to the insect in 1902 in Anaheim, the predator? The Lady bug, which has since spread all over North America) After the loss of the vineyards, the farmers went to citrus, and Anaheim became famous as a citrus region.

I think the reason the grapes might have died was the shock of the hot weather just after planting as you said (which was unusual) but had they been established, this would not have mattered. Also Napa and Sonoma frequently get into the 90's and even 100's during the summer. Just thought you would be interested.

Adventureland Dave
 

Dear Dave,

I got a few letters like this one, rightly calling me on my lack of wine history.

As it turns out, I'm glad you wrote that, for it gives me a chance to air what I have learned recently: apparently the real reasons the vines are dying is that Disney is over-watering them. Seems the landscaping department did not adjust for the special needs of grapes.

The vines were being watered nightly just like any other trace of shrubbery at the Disneyland Resort, and that plus the nasty rains we had combined into a fatal mix for them... or at least this is what I've been told.
 

Dear Kevin,

I read with interest your article about Mondavi's problems. I went to the passholder preview on Saturday, February 3 with several friends. We are from San Francisco and Napa, and pretty into food and wine. We were delighted to discover the Vineyard Room option, and immediately signed up for dinner that night (which sold out quickly).

We thought the room was lovely and comfortable. I really wouldn't worry about being too cold, even if it's raining.

As to the cost, I think $50 is reasonable, given the quality of the food and the nice wines. But we were shocked to discover that we all had to order the same thing for each course. What on earth were they thinking? They claimed it was "family style", but family style usually means they bring a big bowl or platter to the table and everyone helps himself (and it doesn't usually cost $50 each).

Mondavi

Instead, each course was brought to the table in silly and pretentious copper pans and then spooned out onto our plates. After we'd started on our second course, they brought around the third and added it to our plates, which made rather a mess. We asked to have the third course held, but were told "this is how we do it".

One tip: If your party pays separately you can order more than one thing -- one choice for each bill. We discovered this by accident after asking to have the bill split between two credit cards. Evidently everything is keyed off the bill.

Most of the food was pretty good. The best items were the two types of antipasto platters (it appears from your menu listing that they've narrowed it down to one type, which is a pity). But after our nice but unprofessional server told us a long story about how Mondavi has its own fishing boats and everything is first quality, etc., etc., we were surprised to find that the snapper had a definite "off" (old) smell and taste. When we mentioned it to her, she said "I think it tastes good" and showed no further interest. No offer to replace it.

On the plus side, the wine guys were great. On finding that our party included a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, one brought us a beautiful Pinot Noir that wasn't on the menu. He was extremely knowledgeable and very charming. The other one was learning, but was terrific too, with a wonderful personality. We predict he'll go far.

My problem with the restaurant is that it's schizophrenic -- they appear to be aiming (and charging) for a high- end experience, which should attract people who care about food. Yet they force everyone to eat the same thing. Perhaps we're odd, but we always share tastes and compare dishes when we eat out. And it's incredibly difficult to get more than two people to agree on what to order! This requirement will probably prevent me ever from returning to the Vineyard Room unless they change it. And I'd really rather get my food on a plate instead of the elaborate spooning- out ritual for each course. And each course should be served separately!

We liked the look of the Golden Vine Terrace and thought we'd try that next time. But what really thrilled us was discovering the deli. Yes, the cost is rather high (though about what we pay at home for similar items), but the food is fantastic! You can order a glass of wine and get a few takeout items and sit on the lovely patio under a tree (one of the few shady places in DCA). It's terrific. I just wish we'd discovered this BEFORE we spent about $7 or $8 each on tasteless wrap sandwiches at the "Bountiful Valley Farmer's Market." For this privilege we stood in line in the sun for 30 minutes, and then discovered there was absolutely no place to sit down (nor shade), either there or at the Pacific Wharf area. So we stood in the hot sun and gobbled it down. By contrast, the Mondavi deli is paradise.

(In fact, on a side note, I liked it so much (though the rest of DCA under- whelmed me) that I figured I'd go ahead and upgrade my passport for both parks just so I could have lunch there. The next morning I went to renew and upgrade it while my friends went into Disneyland. That's when I found out about Michael Eisner's Friday-night decision to stop passport sales. I hadn't renewed in December because I wasn't sure whether to upgrade, and figured I'd decide after the preview. Since this meant I'd have to pay $43 to enter Disneyland for a couple of hours (we were driving home at noon), I asked if my friends could be paged. Thank God for the cast members; a very nice person working the gate just let me in, for which I'll be forever grateful. I was sorry to hear how frustrated the person was by the decision, since the cast members were the ones getting the brunt from upset passholders. I think it was an incredibly stupid decision, especially as we were given absolutely no warning. Nothing like alienating your biggest fans.)
  

Dear Reader:

As I'm sure you know, Annual Passport sales are back now, so hopefully that part of the equation has been solved.

I got several emails complaining about the need for families to all eat the same thing, and as a former restaurateur, I agree with you that a high- end experience should not force you into a low- end type of selection. I'm hopeful that this will be one of the first things they change about the Vineyard room.
 

Dear Kevin Yee,

I appreciated your article on the Mondavi winery at DCA. Please let me help you with some of the facts concerning the wine side of the article. (I have spent the last 16 years working at all three levels of the business in CA; retail, wholesale, and supplier.)

The fastest growing wine category is at $12 to $20 per bottle at retail (grocery stores & wine shops)

When it comes to regulating wine sales this is one of the most regulated areas of our economy, relying on laws to discourage bootlegging enacted at the end of prohibition by the State of California.

$50 per person is in line with dining at a white tablecloth restaurant in Los Angeles (including wine).

You'd written: "What sales there are frequently go to guests of Disney hotels, where they can be sent without effort on the guestŐs part, and then guests have a chance to get drunk in their rooms. I wonder if this is what most people think of when they hear the words Disney vacation?"

Give me a break, moderate consumption of wine has been medically proven to be part of a "heart healthy" life style as reported in numerous medical journals. Your characterization of people getting drunk in their rooms simply feeds into the anti-alcohol hysteria the neo- prohibitionists rally around. Moderate consumption of alcohol is the way the vast majority of responsible adults enjoy this legal beverage, whine which goes back to the bible, is part of enjoying the good life with family, friends, and responsible consumption.

You'd also written: "Seems the Orange County soil and climate, so suitable for orange groves, is not all that well-suited for wine grapes."

Not so before the turn of the 20th century Anaheim (yes Anaheim) was the center of the California wine business. Established by German immigrants Riesling and Chenin Blanc where the mainstay grapes and did very well in our climate (this year's weather has been an aberration). You can still see some of the remnants as you drive on the 15 FWY to Las Vegas near Rancho Cucomonga. The vines were wiped out in Anaheim by the Phylorxia disease that has accounted for the recent loss of over half of the vineyards in Temecula and is currently a multi billion dollar problem in the state.

Doug D
 

Dear Doug:

Thanks for the additional history of vines in Southern California. As noted earlier, my complaint about the prices is not that they are out of line with other wine experiences, but that they are simply too expensive for the kind of visitor DCA is likely to attract.

As a footnote, I am by no means a neo- prohibitionist (they have those?). I enjoy libations all the time. On the other hand, I also do not take bottles of wine with me to hotel rooms.

And my comments about folks doing so to get drunk were not off the top of my head, they were relayed to me as actual comments made by guests who bought bottles of wine and had them sent to their rooms. Just because *you* wouldn't get drunk in your room doesn't mean no one would.
 

Kevin,

As always, I am a faithful reader of your columns on MousePlanet. After reading your most recent, "Feedback for 3/12/01", I had a couple of comments.

First, a reader suggested--and you confirmed with your own opinion -- that it is Disney's "job" to present a rosier- than- realistic picture of returns to potential participants. I'd like to think that you meant that it's important to put your best foot forward in marketing, but as I read it, what instead you have done is endorse what appears to be Disney's blatant disregard for realities that they must know very well. I know that "business ethics" has become something of an oxymoron over the last decade or two, but I can't help but believe that honesty is still the best policy. Be optimistic, yes -- but honest. While Disney may enjoy short- term returns from hoodwinking companies into expensive deals, they do themselves a great disservice in the long run, when Disney becomes known as a company that cannot be trusted.

Mondavi

Second, another reader suggested that perhaps Mondavi (and perhaps DCA as whole) would benefit from more relaxed liquor restrictions, and cited more lax restrictions at Epcot. While I am not aware of the specifics of Epcot's policies on taking liquor outside of the serving area (I assumed they were the same as DCA's), it's important to note that the governmental entities controlling these sites are radically different. Epcot, as part of Walt Disney World's "Reedy Creek Improvement District", enjoys the benefits of government that is essentially "by Disney, for Disney." Reedy Creek implements its own liquor licensing, so unless there are overriding State or Federal mandates, they may set the implementation of licensing and consumption however they see fit. The California property does not enjoy this same freedom.

--Keith
 

Dear Keith:

I cannot argue with your comments on business ethics, and I thank you for pointing out that Disney is being short- sighted here. This is one of the points many of us here at MousePlanet agree upon: Disney is all about short- term profit right now.

With this economic downtown and sliding stock market, I *shudder* to think of what's coming next for the theme parks.
 

Kevin,

Don't you think it would have been better to actually wait for the weather to improve and a holiday attendance period to happen before blaming the poor performance of the facility on the idea or price point? The whole park is way off attendance so it is natural that the high end offerings would be off even more.

The Blue Bayou wasn't instantly busy until it built its own audience and I expect Mondavi to be similar. It was easily the best thing at DCA on my visit and was a great relief. It is pricey and not a mass idea.. but that IS the idea. I hope they didn't over project the performance of the place.

As with the rest of the park, patience and a more balanced season will determine the long term value of this unique offering. I hope it stays too.
 

Dear Reader:

To my mind, the article I wrote doesn't try to claim that Mondavi is dead in the water, just that they are in trouble and that the prices are too high. I'm hopeful they can fix the problems... by settling on a much lower revenue stream than they had anticipated (and therein lies my pessimism: you don't sign an expensive lease and build a $12 million complex if you suspect you will have to lower prices a month after opening... they are still in trouble).

On the plus side, this weekend when I visited, the place had some life! There were about 10-15 tables occupied on the lower level with folks drinking wine, with a constant 1-3 people in line for more wine. I temper my enthusiasm with the knowledge that this was the first weekend after annual passport sales were renewed, and I'm betting a good chunk of those visitors were AP's that might only be visiting Mondavi this one time. On top of that, the second wine bar was still closed. You don't build two wine bars, close one, and then proclaim financial success when the remaining one has moderate sales....

I'm curious to know where you heard that the Blue Bayou wasn't instantly busy. This contradicts what I've always been told and what I've read on the subject.
 

Kevin,

In your March 12th reader email column, reader Joeybats commented about wine tasting in Temecula, which is something that Kevin and I enjoy, as well as wine tasting in the Central Coast / Paso Robles area. I agree with Joeybats; the so-called "wine tasting" at DCA is not a "wine tasting" experience.

In both these areas and in parts of the Napa / Sonoma wine country, wine tasting experiences are similar. You may pay a small fee; $1 - $5 depending on the winery and where you are geographically (in relation to the tourists.) In return, you get a selection of tastes (not full glasses.) Usually there is a list of wines and vintages being offered (typically ten to twelve) and each person is offered about four to six tastes. My husband Kevin and I will often "divide and conquer"; each of us will pick different varieties from the list and then we'll share and compare. (By the way, this is not discouraged by the wineries. Often the people pouring the wine will make recommendations to us which wines should be tasted side- by- side.)

We've been to the Mondavi winery in Napa once and we won't go back. Granted, this was over five years ago but it was the most "tourist trap" wine tasting experience we've ever had. Even at their winery, they charged by the glass for tasting, not one fee for multiple tastes. Although I don't remember the actual prices, I do remember that Kevin and I thought they were *quite* overpriced, especially compared to wineries right across the street and down the road from them! Basically, when we were at Mondavi, we got out of the car, looked around for three minutes, and left.

When Disney initially announced the Mondavi winery at DCA, I was not very optimistic, based on this experience we had in 1995. I was not the least bit surprised when I saw the prices at the winery. I think it's unfortunate because it really does not offer visitors an authentic California winery experience, however, I think it does offer an authentic Mondavi winery experience!

$5 to $8 for a glass of wine is not an outrageous price if you were to go to a fine restaurant and order one glass of wine to accompany a meal. It is not an appropriate price (nor portion nor variety of wines) for tasting. I think that it would be better to describe the Mondavi experience at DCA as "Wine Sampling," rather than "Wine Tasting."

Adrienne Krock
 

Dear Adrienne:

Thanks for the rundown on how other wineries do wine- tasting. It's interesting to hear you echo the other reader who commented that the Mondavi offering is more wine drinking than tasting: there seems to be a good deal of agreement out there about this.

Would even more people be willing to pay $2 for very small (quarter- glass or less) portions of wine? I might.
 

Hi Kevin,

What do you know about the optional Disney Dining plan on the travel packages offered by Disney Travel? What eating establishments accept the vouchers? Is there a $ limit or special menu? On a four day plan is it worth the $90 or so that it costs? Thanks for any input.

Dave Z.


Hi Kevin,

Interesting article on the Mondavi situation. My husband and I live close to Woodbridge winery (in Northern California) so we've been curious as to how it's doing.

I have a follow-up to the pre-paid meals question posed by one of your readers. We plan to visit DL / DCA this fall and are planning to purchase these tickets (it will be the three-day plan, which is $64 each)?

Do I understand that the restaurants are already picked in advance (in other words, you don't have a choice where to dine)? I have also heard that you must use specific "coupons" on specific days / mealtimes or you lose them? Since we love a few restaurants in the park, we thought this would be cost effective this time around, but I agree with you, part of the fun is discovering what's available.

Thanks, and keep up the good work,

Sandi
 

Dear Dave and Sandi:

I'm getting this question a lot. The Disneyland Resort recently rolled out a package deal that mimics what they have over in WDW, where you pay a set price and get your meals more or less taken care of. In reality, what it means is that you get various coupons and vouchers to take with you to the park that you then use like cash.

I'm fairly opposed to this style service for the vast majority of folks. It is really only good for those who are decision-impaired or want a literally carefree trip. 

It does not save you money. You can buy a set deal for a set amount of days. Take the 3 day deal, which costs $66. That's $22 a day, per adult, to have your meals paid for, right? Well, it really means coupons worth that much which are only good at certain locations. So you don't really save that much.

In general, you end up saving but a few pennies and losing much of the freedom that comes from deciding you are hungry NOW and boy does that restaurant right there look good.

Personally, I would never do one of these meal deals. Why sacrifice spontaneity for convenience, which manually choosing a restaurant isn't that convenient in the first place?

Watch this column in the near future for more of a breakdown on the Meal Deals... I'm working up a feature story on it as we speak...


Mondavi

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