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The Mondavi Legacy

Author: Jean Saylor Doppenberg
October, 2018 Issue

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The name Mondavi has been woven into the fabric of Napa Valley lore for as long as anyone can remember. The story begins more than 100 years ago, when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi moved to Minnesota from Sassoferrato, Italy in 1908. Cesare worked in the iron mines while Rosa turned their home into a boardinghouse for other immigrant miners. Cesare left the mines when he and Rosa started their family, and entered into a partnership with another Italian immigrant to open a small grocery store. The young couple had four children, and Cesare eventually sold his share of the store.

Wine grapes were scarce in the Midwest, so Cesare traveled to California’s Central Valley to buy grapes and ship them back to Minnesota. Lodi reminded him of home, with a climate similar to that of Italy’s grape-growing regions. The town was also ideally located for purchasing and shipping grapes and other fruit. In 1923, Cesare moved his family to Lodi, and the C. Mondavi & Sons wholesale fruit business was created.

Upon repeal of Prohibition, the Mondavis bought a small winery in Napa Valley that had been founded by Charles Krug. Under the direction of Cesare and his sons, Robert and Peter, the winery flourished. In 1946, the family released a line of affordable, everyday wines under the CK Mondavi label––the first wines to bear the Mondavi name.

Following Cesare’s death in 1959, Robert and Peter took over operation of the winery. Robert eventually struck out on his own and founded Robert Mondavi Winery. Peter remained to run the day-to-day business at Charles Krug Winery and oversee the CK Mondavi label, and under his stewardship the winery set milestones for innovations such as cold fermentation for white wines and sterile filtration techniques.

In 1995, Peter was named a “Living Legend” by the Napa Valley Vintners Association for his many contributions to the wine industry. He continued to work daily in the winery’s office, until six months before his death at age 101 in 2016.

Peter’s sons, Marc and Peter, Jr., oversee the CK Mondavi and Family line of wines and also operations at Charles Krug. Several of their children play integral roles in running the business, the fourth generation of Mondavis to join the family’s livelihood. In 2017, they added the words “and family” to the CK Mondavi label in a major rebranding.

Marc and Peter Mondavi Jr., their wives and children are the core behind the CK Mondavi and Family brand. Three of Marc and Janice’s daughters are active in the business: Angelina is a winemaker, Alycia manages and markets other high-end boutique brands, and Riana oversees on-premise national accounts for CK Mondavi and Family, Charles Krug and Purple Heart. Not yet in the wine industry is their daughter Giovanna (“Gigi”), who lives and works in Boston. Other active members of the fourth generation are Peter, Jr.’s children Lucio and Lia. All of them refer to themselves as “brand ambassadors” for the CK Mondavi and Family line.

Generational shift

About 18 months ago, the CK Mondavi line of inexpensive, everyday wines got a reboot, with a big change to its look, logo and name. The popular wines reflects a generational shift within the Mondavis, as the fourth generation of the legendary Napa Valley family—referred to as the “G4”—take their place in the board room and meet regularly as part of a family council to strategize and plan for the company’s future.

“We’ve been in business for a long time, but now we’re in the middle of a five-year strategic plan to meet specific goals,” explains Riana Mondavi, daughter of Marc Mondavi.

“Strategic planning needs to be done constantly to set goals, whether for growth or financials, or for marketing and public relations,” she says. “One of the ways we intend to reach our growth goals with the CK Mondavi and Family label is to offer more of our wine to more people.”

When contacted for this article in early August, Dallas-based Riana was planning a sales “blitz” for the following week, to visit distributor partners in New York cities such as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. One of her sisters was heading to Florida and Georgia the same week for the same reason.

“Our goals for the entire week are to sell cases, to touch base with our strategic customers within those markets, and build relationships with our distributors who have the restaurant connections,” she says. “We try to do this on a grand scale, usually once a quarter, and all the ‘C’s’ go out on the road, as well—our chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. It’s a good strategy and a great way to get our message out there.”

1.425 million cases

The fruit used in CK Mondavi wines is not sourced in Napa Valley but in Yolo County and the Central Valley. (See “Family Farming”) The grapes are shipped to the CK Mondavi production facility on C. Mondavi & Family property in St. Helena.

“The facility for the CK Mondavi line was built in the 1940s and 1950s, and all production happens there. It’s where the crush pad is, the tanks and barrels, and the bottling line,” says Riana. “We have separate winemakers and production from the Charles Krug line, and visitors tasting at Charles Krug will not see CK Mondavi wines available for tasting or purchase. Because it’s more of a chain store brand, we don’t offer tasting in Napa Valley.”

CK Mondavi and Family wines are generally available nationwide at major grocers such as Safeway, Sprouts, Kroger, Albertsons and Publix. Walgreens and CVS stores also carry the wine, and even a few Costcos.

“It’s a little scattered geographically, but in most chains you can expect to find most of the varietals we produce,” she says. “They taste amazing, and the quality is bar none above anything else in their price category. Our PR strategy is to promote that we produce high-quality wines for a great value. We want consumers to have confidence in our brand and understand who we are and where we come from.”

The wines are bottled in two sizes—750ml and 1.5 liter. “Our 750s are selling like gangbusters,” says Riana. The suggested retail price for all varietals is $6.99 for the 750ml bottle; the 1.5 liter bottles sell for $11.99 (SRP is $13.99). Current CK Mondavi and Family wine releases include a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 Merlot, a 2016 red blend, 2017 Chardonnay, 2017 Pinot Grigio and 2017 Sauvignon Blanc.

“We have an annual production of about 1.425 million cases, give or take 5,000 cases,” says Marc Mondavi, co-proprietor of CK Mondavi and Family Wines.

Verified American-made

In addition to being affordable, CK Mondavi and Family wines are the first and only wines to be 100 percent “Made in the USA Certified.” This means not only are the grapes all California-grown, but the packaging is all made in the United States. The certification is highlighted in a logo on the back label of every bottle.

“The process to become certified took a couple of years because all that we purchase for bottling and packaging materials had to be verified as coming from American companies,” explains Riana. “Our grapes, glass bottles, screw tops, labels, label inks, composite corks and boxes—it’s all American made.”

Offering a product that is totally American-made holds historical importance to the family. “My great-grandparents helped get the Napa wine industry going and were in the forefront of selling wine that was approachable and affordable for every man’s table,” she says. “To my knowledge, we’re the only company in the wine industry with this certification, and we’ll maintain it as long as we can.”

Relationships with their suppliers are crucial, says Riana, but it’s also important to maintain the integrity of the grape sources. “Some wine companies source grapes from other countries. We grow the quality we want and need. A large portion of the grapes come from our own vineyards in northern Yolo County, and we also source from family farmers who are proud to be growing for us, some going on 50 years who run their own multi-generational family farms.”

The company’s commitment to using American-made products to package their wine extends even further to ongoing philanthropy to assist our military and war veterans. The Mondavis are strong supporters of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, for instance, which gives financial assistance to severely wounded military personnel and veterans. The fund is developing a project to build facilities that will research, diagnosis and treat soldiers with traumatic brain injuries.

“We feel strongly about helping our veterans, and have used sales of our wines through a coupon redemption to help fund this assistance,” says Riana. “The Intrepid Fund is a great organization, and we’re lucky to be partnered with them.”

Smoke and weather

Riana says her father Marc and her uncle, Peter, Jr., run the CK Mondavi and Family and Charles Krug brands together. “They make certain the day-to-day operations continue to happen, and they also work as company ambassadors.”

Marc sits on the C. Mondavi & Family board alongside his daughter Angelina and his nephew Lucio, son of Peter, Jr. “It was shortly before my grandfather passed away [in 2016] that we implemented a board of directors, and last year we switched things around,” says Riana. “We had a great group before that helped us organize, but now the board is mostly made up of family. Angelina and Lucio are the first of the G4 to become board members.”

In mid-August, Marc Mondavi returned from meetings with Florida-based alcoholic beverage distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. “We go over business a couple of times a year to see where we’re going,” he says. At that time, the wildfires in Lake and Mendocino counties were sending smoke over large portions of the North Bay and into the Sacramento Valley.

Marc wasn’t worried that the family’s extensive vineyards in Yolo County will be affected by smoke taint. “But we will do testing, of course,” he says. “Last year was the first year we’d ever had to deal with the possibility of smoke taint on our grapes, and there were many of us in this industry who could potentially be impacted, so there was a lot of communication going on about it.”

Testing gives you an idea, he says, but the numbers are not absolute. “Smoke taint testing isn’t exact. For example, last year we tested some fruit before the North Bay fires and some tested higher for taint than fruit tested after the fires. That made no sense to me, but people in the know say there is pollution to a certain degree all summer long.”

Despite the smoke, Marc says he’s been happy with this summer’s weather. “I’m liking what I see, because so far we’ve had none of those three- and four-day stretches of 100-degrees. We still have a lot of growing to do and won’t finish the Cabs until late October, but up to now this growing season has been great.”

Visibility

Marc is a big fan of his family’s Sauvignon Blanc. “I used to drink a lot of Chardonnay, but now I enjoy the bright freshness of Sauvignon Blanc. We make a really good one, and it’s easier to quaff than Chardonnay when I come home after a hot day.”

Yet the CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc is not always available everywhere. “It can be trickier to find, and chain stores are picky. We may produce six varietals one year, but the stores won’t always carry all six. There’s so much competition for shelf space, and a huge proliferation of labels. Look at Gallo, for instance. They have at least 100 labels coming out of one winery.”

Ernest and Julio Gallo, he says, used to be private about their winery operations. “When I was a kid, our families knew each other and kept in contact,” says Marc. “Julio called my father one day and told him to bring down the boys, meaning myself and Peter, Jr., to Modesto and he’d give all us a tour. People working in the facility later told us that Julio showed us parts of the winery that no outsider had ever seen before. The Gallo generation running those operations today are more open, and I believe they’re accomplishing more than Ernest and Julio did.”

Like today’s Gallo family, he says, the Mondavi family might be more visible than ever before, thanks in large part to the G4. “Consumers, distributors, and suppliers—they all need a trust factor when choosing a product, and if they meet members of the wine-making family they can move into a comfort zone with them. You can’t be an introvert and work in this industry.”

That’s why multiple Mondavis are working hard and traveling the nation today to ensure the legacy of the family will continue for several more generations.

Family Farming

CK Mondavi and Family wines are made using 100 percent American grapes grown outside of Napa Valley. The Mondavis own 1,850 acres of vineyards in the Dunnigan Hills AVA in Yolo County, and source additional fruit from growers in the Central Valley:

• Since the 1950s, Triple H Farming in Manteca has been growing grapes for CK Mondavi, supplying Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel for the label’s current line of wines.

• For more than 60 years, the Moore family of Moore Vineyards in the Lodi AVA has provided grapes for the CK Mondavi label, and currently grows its Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel.

• Molles Vineyard, also in the Lodi AVA, supplies CK Mondavi with some of its Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot varietals, in a partnership spanning almost two decades.

• In Galt, Joe A. Cotta Vineyards supplies the CK Mondavi label with Cabernet, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay grapes, and has been doing so for more than five years.

A “Divine” Talent

Call it water dowsing, water witching or water divining—any way you describe it, Marc Mondavi, co-proprietor of CK Mondavi and Family wines, possesses this unusual talent to seek out sources of underground water.

Mondavi grew up on the Charles Krug Winery property in St. Helena, where the Mondavi family has produced wine for 75 years. He says his father didn’t have the water dowsing skill, nor does his brother, Peter, Jr. Yet his daughter, Angelina, has shown some talent for it.

“Most scientists think it’s voodoo or luck,” says Marc. “It’s an energy of some sort, and you either have it or you don’t. But I have a strong ability and discovered it early in life. I’ve worked with quite a few well drillers, and they tell me I’m more accurate and better at it than other dowsers.”

Mondavi recently worked with drillers seeking a water source near Calistoga for Crystal Geyser Water. “They are drilling now in the spot I told them to, and I think when all is said and done they will be reasonably pleased. I tell them how deep to drill and how much gallon-per-minute output they can expect. It’s not an exact science, but I’m usually in the ballpark.”



 

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