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Peter Mondavi, Sr. (1914-2016)

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2016 Issue

In February, Peter Mondavi died at the age of 101. It’s safe to say the California wine industry would be very different without him, but many may not know how far-reaching his contributions were.
 
Cesare and Rosa Mondavi moved their family to California from Minnesota in the early 1920s to get into the winegrape shipping business. Shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, Cesare got involved in the wine business directly with Sunny St. Helena winery and Acompo Winery in Lodi. “The grape shipping carried on for many years after repeal, and we continue to license the label ‘Valley Beauty’ to a packing company to use today,” says Peter Mondavi, Jr., co-proprietor with his brother, Marc, of C. Mondavi & Family, which owns both Charles Krug and CK Mondavi.
 
While earning an economics degree at Stanford in 1938, Mondavi transferred to UC Berkeley for one semester to study enology. There, working with pioneering food and wine scientist Dr. William Vere Cruess, Mondavi conducted important research on cold fermentation that eventually led to the crisp, fruit-forward white wines that are now an industry standard.
 
In 1942, Mondavi was drafted into the Army Air Corps; he was discharged in 1946 and returned to the family business. The family’s transition from grape shipping to wine in 1943 led to innovations in vineyard planting and management, enhanced winemaking techniques and increased marketing and educational efforts. In 1963, he introduced French oak barrels to the Napa Valley wine industry and under his watch, Charles Krug Winery was among the first wine producers in the state to label wines by varietal.
 
“Our father had an experience few others could share,” says Marc Mondavi, board director and brand ambassador for C. Mondavi & Family. “He worked in the wine industry for more than half a century, at a time when it was evolving internationally. You have to remember that, back when he started, everything was learned through hands-on experiments and trial and error. In 1948, he helped found Napa Valley Vintners as a way for all the local wineries to share their knowledge and help one another.”
 
Peter Jr., adds, “[Dad] paid attention to all the details and every aspect of the wine industry. He was a leader and a visionary, always reaching for the next level and the best way of doing things.”
 
To that end, Mondavi acquired property across Napa Valley, and the family now owns upwards of 800 acres in prime Napa Valley AVAs. “He loved the earth,” says Marc. “He loved what terroir could deliver to a wine. His philosophy was simple: If we own our grapes, we can control the farming and maintain consistency. He instilled that in us.”
 
“He taught us a lot, but we also learned just by observing him,” says Peter Jr. “His priorities, always, were innovation and quality at the winery, but family came first. The best way we can honor his legacy at Charles Krug is to continue to respect the history of this winery and carry it forward as a family business. [Marc and I] are the third generation, and the fourth is already starting here as well.”
 
He continues, “Thanks to Dad’s diligent planning, we’re on solid footing to remain a family winery well into the fourth or even fifth generation.”
 
Asked how they’d want their father remembered by the Napa Valley community, the brothers paused before responding. “He was quiet but generous,” says Marc. “Many times over the years, he helped others get started—lending equipment, offering support. He made himself available to share what he knew and he put himself forward in a number of ways for the benefit of the community.”
 
From NorthBay biz and all the North Bay community, thank you, Mr. Mondavi. We wish you peaceful travels.

 

 

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