Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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The Mondavis and the history of winemaking in Napa Valley

Family portrait: Cesare and Rosa Mondavi with their four kids

Last week, I had the great opportunity to be part of an historic event in the wine world: the reunion of the famous Mondavi family. It took place in different Morton’s Steakhouses—inlcuding San Francisco, Las Vegas, Honolulu and NYC. I’m not usually a fan of steak restaurants, but red wine really goes well with meat and the Morton’s people really put together a lovely evening for us. Why was this reunion such an amazing fete? Because the Mondavis, as the good passionate Italians they are, have been fighting for ages and after many disputes, disagreements and lawsuits, the families of Robert (who died in 2008) and Peter (who is currently 95) reunited last week for the first time in literally decades.

Robert Mondavi was for many years the most important name in the Napa Valley

The Mondavi representative in New York was the sweet and nice Carissa Mondavi, one of Robert’s granddaughters, and a partner of Continuum wines. Continuum is a winery that was started in 2005 by Robert himself and two of his children: Timothy and Marcia. Carissa lives and breathes wine and she’s really proud of the Mondavi name and of having been able to expand the business that the family started almost seventy years ago.

The entrance to the Charles Krug vineyard that the Mondavis first bought in 1943

The Mondavis are the royalty of American wine. Robert Mondavi was really instrumental in developing the wines of the Napa Valley as we know them today. He was obsessed with the idea that Napa wines could be as good as their European counterparts. And as we know, he did accomplish his objective and much more.


The Mondavis who opened Continuum: Robert Mondavi sitting on the front with his children Marcia and Tim. On the back are Margrit Mondavi (Robert's wife) and Carissa Mondavi (Tim's daughter)

It all started back in the first decade of the 20th century, when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi arrived from Italy and eventually settled in California. They started trading grapes, and after Prohibition, entered the wine business. Rosa and Cesare had four children but it was the two boys, Robert and Peter, who became enthralled by the fascinating world of winemaking. In 1943, Robert and Peter convinced their father to buy Charles Krug Winery in the Napa Valley and the three men ran the business. Cesare died in 1959 and in 1960, after many disagreements, Robert was exiled from Charles Krug leaving Rosa and Peter in charge.


The entrance of the Robert Mondavi Winery, today owned by Constellation Brands

But Robert, as ambitious as he was, had already greater plans, and in 1966, helped by his three children, opened the Robert Mondavi Winery. This was really one of the most important milestones for the California wine business. Robert and his brood grew the winery, forged alliances and took winemaking in the United States to the next level.


The label of Continuum, proudly designed by Chiara Mondavi

After many, many years of great success and expansion, and again, not without drama and confusion, the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation Brands in 2004. Robert was 90 years old. So what’s the Mondavi legacy today? Michael, the elder son of Robert, owns Folio Wine Partners. His wife Isabel and his children work with him too. Timothy and Marcia, also Robert’s children, own Continuum Wines. Peter Mondavi still owns the Charles Krug winery and his children Marc and Peter Jr. run the business with him.


The Barrel Room of Folio Winemakers' Studio, simply fabulous!

The true legacy of the Mondavis, particularly of Robert, is how he pushed and inspired a new generation of American winemakers to be extraordinary and to elevate Napa Valley to be one of the finest wine regions in the world. The Mondavis truly are the ultimate inspiration and the embodiment of the American dream. Cheers to them!