This is a bit off topic, I guess: a book review instead of a wine review. But probably no name is as intertwined with the ascendency of California wine from generic, misnamed, tanker car, bulk, crap to ready-for-prime-time, and French challenging, as Mondavi. I’ve wanted to touch on the Mondavi story here in my humble blog for some time. Fortuitously and coincidentally, Wife found this book in one of the thrift shops she frequents, and it magically appeared on my nightstand.
If one has little interest in wine, this book should still appeal as a business case study; if one has little interest in business, this should appeal as a drama of intra-family rivalries, disputes, infidelities, and estrangement.
I learned a lot from this book: some of the history of the Napa valley, and its transformation from a dirt road farming area where walnuts and prunes were the dominant products to the American Bordeaux. And the Mondavi family was among the earliest players in that movement. I learned, in stunning detail, the Cain and Abel relationship between Robert Mondavi and his younger brother Peter. There was no murder by jawbone, but there were some punches thrown, which led to Robert’s banishment from the Charles Krug winery, the family operation that much preceded Robert Mondavi’s namesake winery, as well as the “divorce” between Robert and both his mother, and the Peter side of the clan. I learned how, over 30 years or so, the Robert Mondavi wine business went from cash strapped, struggling-to-survive start-up to a publicly traded behemoth that allowed Robert and his children to live the life of Napa royalty. And, the drama between Robert and Peter repeated, though more like Jacob and Esau, between Robert’s sons. Then finally, I learned how the family lost control of the company, which is now a Constellation Brands property.
As one interested in wine, and the Napa story, it was fascinating to see names sprinkled throughout this book, most as minor characters, whose names now appear on labels on wine store shelves, or are principals in California wine companies today.
If your not lucky enough to find a copy of this book at Goodwill, it’s only 5 bucks at Amazon, so it qualifies as a Cheapskate selection. If it was in a glass, I’d call it a FAVE. So, pour a glass of Woodbridge Chardonnay, and spend some time in Napa with the Mondavis.