Robert Mondavi: 1913-2008
Robert Mondavi, the vintner who built his career and helped an iconic Northern California industry blossom by insisting that Napa Valley wines can compete with the best in the world, died in the Napa valley Friday. He was 94.
Mondavi died peacefully at his home in Yountville, Robert Mondavi Winery spokeswoman Mia Malm said.
“It is hard to imagine anyone having more of a lasting impact on California’s $20 billion-a-year wine industry than Robert Mondavi,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. Mondavi, said the governor, was “a tireless entrepreneur who transformed how the world felt about California wine, and an unforgettable personality to everyone who knew him.”
Mondavi was 52 and a winemaking veteran in 1966, when he opened the winery that would help turn the Napa Valley into a world center of the industry. Clashes with a brother that included a fistfight led him to break from the family business to carry out his ambitious plans with borrowed money.
When Mondavi opened his winery, California was still primarily known for cheap jug wines. But he set out to change that, championing use of cold fermentation, stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, all commonplace in the industry today. He introduced blind tastings in Napa Valley, putting his wines up against French vintages, a bold move.
His confidence was rewarded in 1976 when California wines beat some well-known French vintages in the famous tasting known as the Judgment of Paris.
“He had the single greatest influence in this country with respect to high quality wine and its place at the table,” wine critic Robert Parker wrote in a chat room posting on his Web site Friday. He called Mondavi “an exceptional man….a true pioneer…a legendary pathfinder…..and I feel so priviledged to have known him…a sad day…but also one to pay homage to his enormous contributions.”
The success of the Mondavi winery allowed him to donate tens of millions of dollars to charity, but a wine glut and intense competition gradually cost his family control of the business. In 2004, the company accepted a buyout worth $1.3 billion from Fairport, N.Y.-based Constellation Brands.
Mondavi was an enthusiastic ambassador for wine – especially California wine – and traveled the world into his 90s promoting the health, cultural and social benefits of its moderate consumption.
“He had an amazing life,” said Robert C. Koch, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. “He was a major driving force and an incredible promoter for California wine and the Napa Valley.” Article by: Michelle Locke – Associated Press Writer