Last week was a exciting time for Snob Free Press: Constellation Brands, which owns Robert Mondavi Winery purchased books for many of its locations!
While you have likely heard of the iconic Mondavi brand you may not know that Robert Mondavi is considered the visionary behind a shift in Napa Valley to world-class wine making in the last half of the twentieth century. His wife Margrit, also an inspiring leader, was recently honored for her contribuiton to the arts in the area.
How Mondavi Got his Start
Emigrating from Italy, Robert’s family settled in Minnesota, where Robert was born. The family later moved to Lodi, a little town 11/2 hours east of Napa. There, Robert’s father, Cesare, established a successful fruit-packing and shipping business, sending California varietal grapes to East Coast wineries. The business launched under the name Mondavi and Robert went to Stanford University, where he received a degree in business and economics. After he graduated, he came back to join the family business, working with his father and his brother Peter.
Sensing a good business opportunity, Robert persuaded his father to come over to the Napa Valley to the St. Helena area and purchase an historic winery built in 1861: the Charles Krug Winery. The Mondavi family operated it as their business for many years, improving the quality of wine produced there. However, more improvements and changes were to come.
1959 — Cesare Mondavi died, leaving the running of the winery to his two sons, Robert and Peter.
1965 — Robert separated from the Charles Krug Winery over disputes with his brother about the best approach to wine production. Robert was convinced that world-class wine could not be produced in the style then used by the Charles Krug Winery and was determined to test other approaches.
1966 — Robert opened the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, California. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Napa Valley had been a sleepy place. This was the first new winery built in over 30 years.
Robert went to France to learn the French approach to wine making. He brought back small 60-gallon French oak barrels for use in his Napa Valley winery, then began using “cold soaking fermentation” and other techniques. Overwhelmingly, Robert Mondavi was becoming known for something different in wine making.
Robert Mondavi Changed the Wine Culture from Competitive to Collaborative:
Most business people are interested in keeping a distance between themselves and their competitors. But Robert Mondavi was the exact opposite. He had a burning passion to bring various winery businesses together as a group to collaborate in making great wine.
He facilitated this by opening up his new winery once a week, inviting wine makers to meet and share their wine making techniques. All the Napa Valley wineries joined in. Wine making became a group effort there. If a wine maker was sick or injured, another wine maker would provide help. If equipment broke down at one winery, another wine maker would loan his winery’s equipment. If one winery had a labor shortage at harvest time, another winery would lend its labor. Hard to imagine this type of sharing among competitors today! What a vision and what a sharing heart!
Such remarkable cooperation greatly accelerated the learning curve of all the wine makers. In a few years, Napa Valley created an explosion of world-class wines.
Robert Mondavi died in 2009 at age 94, leaving behind a dramatic legacy in wine quality, wine production processes and the cooperative approach to wine making he had established in Napa. He became renowned not only in the United States, but internationally as well. Snob Free Wine Tasting Companion, Napa & Sonoma edition, talks further about Mondavi’s inspiring contributions to wine making and Bay Area commerce. We’re honored to be placed for sale at the Robert Mondavi Winery.