“The House of Mondavi” Explores the Rise and Fall of a Wine Dynasty
Julia Flynn Siler, a contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, has just released her long awaited book about the Mondavi Family. The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, “is a tale of visionary genius, sibling rivalry, and betrayal.” Siler exhaustively researched her book, conducting over 500 hours of interviews with over 200 individuals.
The Mondavi Family’s rise is truly a great American success story. In 1906, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi immigrated to the United States from the Marche region of Italy. Cesare and Rosa initially entered the wine business in Lodi, where they shipped grapes to home winemakers under a provision of the Volstead Act.
In 1941, the couple purchased the historic Charles Krug Winery for $75,000 as a legacy for their sons, Peter and Robert. The two brothers never saw eye-to-eye; Peter wanted to focus on catering to the bulk wine market whereas Robert wanted to create a high-end market for American wine. The feud came to a head during the 1960s, and Robert left the family business to found his own winery in 1966.
Robert Mondavi achieved his dream of creating American awareness of fine wine, forever changing Napa Valley in the process. The next few decades were a whirlwind of success for the family, culminating in an IPO in 1993.
Robert’s children, Michael, Timothy and Marcia, each took different roles in the family company. Michael became Chairman and wanted to expand the business into mid-range price points, starting such labels as Woodbridge and Mondavi Coastal. Timothy focused on grape growing and winemaking, and advocated that the corporation focus on its high-end products. Marcia moved to the East Coast and ran the family’s business in that part of the country.
Meanwhile, Robert shifted his attention to philanthropic efforts. During the early 1990s, when the corporation’s stock was at an all time high, Robert gave tens of millions of dollars to UC Davis and Stanford. He also pledged millions to develop COPIA in downtown Napa. As Siler explains in her book, Robert Mondavi apparently overextended himself leading to a loss of family control in the corporation. This culminated in 2004, when Michael was ousted from his role as Chairman, followed by the sale to Constellation soon after.
Despite the Mondavi Family’s missteps, they have had an incalculable impact on the development of the California wine industry. For a much more in-depth examination of this story, read Siler’s, The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, which is available in bookstores across the country.