Robert Mondavi: A Passion for Wine

Fin da bambino Robert Mondavi è stato insegnato ad apprezzare sia il buon vino che i buoni cibi. Suo padre Cesare Mondavi apri' una ditta che vendeva uva allingrosso e la spediva in qualsiasi stato dell'America. Dopo la sua laurea nel 1939 si mise a lavorare per una ditta che produceva vini che poi suo padre acquistò e mise a Robert come Direttore Generale.Robert voleva essere a conoscenza di come altre ditte producevano il vino e cosi nel 1962 parti' per l'Europa per scoprire come produrre altre ottime qualità di vini. Nel 1965, dopo tanti discordi con il fratello e sua madre, decise di aprire la sua Robert Mondavi Winery ed ebbe un gran successo. Roberto Mondavi mori' nel 2008 a 93 anni e fu un personaggio leggendario nella storia della produzione di vini in America.

For many Italian families, wine is an important part of life. Beginning at an early age, children drink wine diluted with water, and biscotti is dipped in wine and used to lull a child to sleep. During the day, a jug of homemade wine is the centerpiece of the kitchen -- mixed into coffee, sipped with a piece of fruit, shared amongst visitors and enjoyed at the dinner table.

Robert Mondavi was raised with an appreciation for good wine and food. His father, Cesare Mondavi, came to America in 1906, worked for a while in the iron ore mines in Minnesota, returned to his hometown of Sassoferrato (Ancona, Marche), married and, in 1908, traveled back to America and settled in Virginia, Minnesota. With a partner he opened a grocery store, and later a saloon. His wife, Rosa, helped and also ran a boarding house.

Cesare closed the saloon after Prohibition went into effect, but fellow Italians immigrants wanted to purchase grapes to make homemade wine. Section 29 of the Volstead Act permitted "non-intoxicating cider and fruit juices exclusively for use in his home…" The demand for grapes was huge, and Cesare, a member of a local Italian club, was selected to go to California to purchase grapes.

In 1923, when Robert was 10 years old, his father decided to move the family to Lodi, California. The town was centrally located with a climate well-suited for growing grapes. Cesare was purchasing grapes by the ton -- often buying the harvest of an entire vineyard -- and shipping throughout the United States. Robert, his brother Peter and their two sisters worked for their father, packaging the grapes in wooden boxes.

After high school, Robert attended Stanford University and studied economics, business, and in his last year, chemistry. By then, Prohibition had been repealed and through one of his father's business associations, Robert worked at a winery after graduating from college in 1936. The winery, Sunny St. Helena, produced bulk wine that was shipped east in tank cars. Cesare had controlling interest, and when the manager died in 1940, Robert took over production.

As Robert learned more about the wine industry, he became interested in producing fine wines -- wines in a bottle. In 1943, he learned that the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena was for sale. The Charles Krug Winery, established in 1861, was the first commercial winery in the Napa Valley. After the death of the owner, the winery was operated by another company, but it had been abandoned for several years. Cesare bought the winery; and while it was being renovated, a bottling line was installed, and wine was purchased and bottled to be shipped east.

Robert was general manager of the winery in 1947 when Peter joined the business after serving in World War II. Then, Robert, more outspoken and aggressive, was in charge of marketing and sales, and Peter, more conservative, was in charge of production. To promote the wines, Robert hired a writer to create a newsletter and conduct tours of the winery, commissioned a noted artist to create a logo for the newsletter and offered public wine tastings on the grounds of the winery.

As Robert visited wineries, he learned about other styles of wine and wanted to produce them; but Peter wanted to take more time to make production changes. Their differing ideas for the direction of the winery caused conflict.

In 1962, Robert traveled to Europe to learn about the wines produced there. He found that producers were using smaller barrels and various types of oak barrels for aging, keeping the skins on longer when making Cabernet and leaving some stems on Pinot Noir grapes -- all processes used to develop better flavors from the grapes. He used these techniques in producing wines at Charles Krug and, noticing the differences in the flavors, other wineries followed, changing the wine industry in California.

The differences were also notable between Robert and Peter. After Cesare died in 1959, Rosa gained controlling interest, and she agreed with Peter's more conservative vision for operating the winery. The disagreements escalated, and Robert left in 1965. A year later, the Robert Mondavi Winery opened in Oakville, about five miles south of Charles Krug.

In keeping with his philosophy of producing quality wines, Robert continued to improve his wine making techniques. He studied the grapes and how soil and climate affected their flavor, used various types of barrels for aging and pneumatic presses to gently crush the grapes. The Cabernets and Chardonnays the winery produced set standards, and he created Fumé Blanc -- a dry white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

The Robert Mondavi Winery went public in 1993, with Robert's children taking on more responsibilities and Robert traveling to promote the winery. In 2001, Robert and his wife donated $35 million to the University of California, Davis (College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences) for a wine and food science institute and a center for the performing arts. The winery was acquired by a major producer and importer in 2004, and although Robert continued to promote the brand, he was no longer affiliated with the winery's operation.

Robert was 93 when he died in 2008, leaving his legacy as a "legendary American vintner." (Napa Valley Vintners, Tribute to Robert Mondavi.)

In Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business, Mondavi wrote, "Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit." It's Mondavi's generosity, spirit and passion that helped build the wine industry in the Napa Valley, in California and in America.

Janice Therese Mancuso is the author of Con Amore, a culinary novel; and founder of Thirty-One Days of Italians, an educational program to promote Italian and Italian American history, culture, and heritage. For more information, visit,, or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..