Robert Mondavi was always convinced that California’s wines could compete with the European heavy weights and he set out to prove it.
In 1966, Robert Mondavi and his eldest son, R. Michael Mondavi, founded the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California. And today, the company has grown to international proportions, having embarked on various joint ventures with important figures in oenology, such as Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
It all started in the early twentieth century, when Robert’s parents, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, immigrated to Virginia from the Marche region of Italy. Once in the United States, Robert’s father organized shipments of fruits – grapes in particular- which was a high-demand serve on the West Coast.
Robert’s father fell in love with California, moved the family there and began to produce wine. At first, Cesare only produced enough for personal use, but later, as his yield grew, he began to sell it. In the 1940s, Cesar and Rosa bought the Krug Winery and for about 20 years, it was a family business, with Robert and his younger brother Peter working there.
However, Robert and Peter clashed on how the winery should be looking to the future, with Peter being the more conservative and Robert wanting to see the business expand even further. After many disagreements, in 1965, Robert was dismissed from the family’s vineyard and a year later, opened up the vineyard that bears his name.
The Robert Mondavi Winery was the first new winery to open in Napa Valley since the 1930s and set the style and tone for future wineries in the region, with its elegant campanile and low entrance arch that artistically showcased the Mayacamas mountains.
With his vineyard, Mondavi introduced the United States to European winemaking techniques, such as stainless-steel fermentation tanks and French oak aging barrels. He prided himself on delivering an exceptional product and soon the critics were signing Mondavi’s praises, with the vineyard growing into an over $500-million-a year business.
Mondavi passed away on May 16, 2008, at the age of 94. The New York Times described the following bittersweet late collaboration between brothers Robert and Peter, a few years before Robert’s death:
“For all the family strife he had known, there was one bittersweet moment late in Mr. Mondavi’s life, when he went back to winemaking, briefly, with his brother Peter, with whom he had split 40 years before. Together, using equal amounts of grapes from the Robert Mondavi and Peter Mondavi family vineyards, the brothers produced one small barrel of wine, of 60 magnums. It was sold for charity at the 2005 Napa Valley Auction, fetching more than $400,000.”