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1913-2008 — Robert Mondavi: A man of grace and vision

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2008 10:00 pm

Few if any have left their imprint on Lodi as did Robert Gerald Mondavi.

Mondavi grew up in Lodi and later established a major winery here.

Moreover, his vision for improving California wines created hundreds of jobs and made thousands of acres of vineyards flourish in the Lodi area.

Mondavi was acclaimed as a man of drive, of genius, of artistic sensibility.

And now he is gone.

Mondavi died Friday at his home in Yountville at the age of 94.

Even in recent years, in his 90s, Mondavi was a regular at the annual blessing of the grapes at his winery on Woodbrige Road, a lean and patrician figure with an air of both style and grace.

"He was the kind of leader and visionary who comes around perhaps once in a generation, perhaps once in 100 years," said Brad Alderson, retired vice president and general manager of Mondavi's Woodbridge winery.

"Like Julia Child reshaped and enriched Amercia's appreciation for food, Robert Mondavi reshaped American apperecation for wine."

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The son of immigrants from the Marche region of Italy, Mondavi was born in Virginia, Minn. on June 18, 1913.

A few years later, during his high school years, the family moved from Hibbing, Minn., to Lodi, where Mondavi's father, Cesare, opened C. Mondavi and Sons, which exported grapes to the East Coast and Italy.

It was those early years in the vineyards surrounding Lodi that Mondavi began his lifelong journey in wine.

Mondavi graduated from Lodi Union High School in 1932, where he was senior class president. He had been named MVP of the school's football team.

After high school, Mondavi attended Stanford University, graduating in 1936 with a degree in economics and business administration.

The Mondavi family acquired the Charles Krug Winery in the lush Napa Valley, and Mondavi joined them. It was in 1965 that Mondavi and his brother Peter had a falling out, and he left to establish the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.

In a 1999 interview with the News-Sentinel, Mondavi admitted that it was the most difficult period of his life.

"I knew the only way for me to succeed was to believe in myself," Mondavi said.

As his winery grew and he worked the land, Mondavi realized the value of California's rich and diverse soil. It was then that Mondavi's legendary and industry-changing growing practices began to take shape.

Mondavi's belief in research, coupled with winemaking tradition, is continually felt in today's wine industry.

In 1979, Mondavi returned to the Lodi area. He bought the land and buildings at 5950 E. Woodbridge Road in Acampo and established the Woodbridge Winery, a goal he had had for years.

He believed he had to establish himself and his wines in Napa before he could return to Lodi.

"I was certain that we were capable of producing wine in California that would belong in the company of the best European wines."
- Robert Mondavi, Lodi News-Sentinel, July 1999.

"He was the kind of leader and visionary who comes around perhaps once in a generation, perhaps once in 100 years."
- Brad Alderson, retired vice president and general manager of Robert Mondavi's Woodbridge Winery.

"He had the single greatest influence in this country with respect to high quality wine and its place at the table."
- Robert Parker, wine critic

"There are thousands of people who owe where they are because of working for (the Mondavi) family."
- David Lucas, owner of the Lucas Winery in Lodi.

"Bob Mondavi influenced a whole heck of a lot of the wine industry. His leadership and vision is sorely going to be missed."
- Brad Lange, Lodi winegrape grower and winery owner.

"Maybe he's gone, but the era is continuing to blossom. Wineries are being created in every district in California because of him,"
- Mark Chandler, executive director Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission.

"We have lost the father of the modern wine community in California. He's going to leave a gigantic hole in a lot of people's lives."
- Randall Lange, Lodi winegrape grower and winery owner.

"It is hard to imagine anyone having more of a lasting impact on California's $20 billion-a-year wine industry than Robert Mondavi. He was a tireless entrepreneur who transformed how the world felt about California wine, and an unforgettable personality to everyone who knew him."
- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

1913: Born in Virginia, Minn.
1922: Mondavi family moves to Lodi.
1931: Played fullback for the Lodi Union High School football team that won a championship. Mondavi named MVP.
1932: Graduated from Lodi Union High School.
1936: After earning a degree from Stanford and studying winemaking with a team of University of California, Davis professors, Mondavi earns a job with a small winery in St. Helena.
1937: Married Lodi resident and fellow high school classmate Marjorie Declusin.
1942: Exempted from service in World War II because of his work in agriculture.
1943: Purchases Charles Krug Winery with father Cesare and younger brother Peter.
1963: Has falling out with Peter over direction of winery.
1966: Opens Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley in Oakville.
1979: Purchased the land and winery that would become Woodbridge Winery.
1980: Married Margrit Biever.
1993: Mondavi's wine business goes public.
1999: Presided as Grand Marshal of the Lodi Grape Festival parade.
2001: Copia, Mondavi's wine, food and cultural center opens. Mondavi gave $20 million to help fund the $50 million project.
2004: Constellation Brands Inc. buys out Mondavi Corp. including Woodbridge Winery for $1.3 billion.
2007: Named to the California Historical Hall of Fame.
2008: Died, age 94.

"There are thousands of people that owe where they are because of working for (the Mondavi) family," said David Lucas, owner of the Lucas Winery in Lodi.

Both Lucas and his wife, Heather, worked for Mondavi at various points in their careers. David Lucas worked at the Woodbridge Winery and Heather Lucas worked for Mondavi in Napa.

"He was a pretty amazing guy to work for," Heather Lucas said. "He set the tone for the Napa Valley. He was focused on making wines that could stand up to European wines."

Mondavi's spirit wasn't only evident in his passion for wine, but in his passion for people.

"One time, I was flying coach out of South Africa into Paris, then taking a flight to New York. I happened to cross paths with Bob and Margrit," David Lucas said. "Bob comes back and says, 'Why don't you go up to first class and have a nice meal and wine with Margrit, and I'll sit back here and watch a movie.'"

Mondavi married Margrit Biever-Mondavi in 1980. Together, the two focused on philanthropy and the arts, as well as the wine industry. Because of those efforts, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts was named after him at University of California Davis.

Yet his presence continued to be felt in Lodi.

"He had a great influence," said winegrape grower and vintner Larry Mettler, whose father, Carl, attended Lodi High with Mondavi.

Mondavi's influence on local winegrape growers was simply huge, said Randall Lange of Acampo, whose family vineyards has grown winegrapes for Mondavi for more than 25 years.

He expected a high quality product from his growers. But, in turn, he rewarded them with long-term and generous contracts, Lange said.

Through his leadership, teams of growers and winemakers worked seamlessly together to improve the wine product.

"He said good wine starts in the vineyard," Lange said. "Frankly, I think he set the standard for the winegrape grower in the state."

"Every winery in California owes Mr. Mondavi a debt of gratitidue," said Mark Chandler, executive director for the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission.

Chandler said that Mondavi created an era.

"Maybe he's gone, but the era is continuing to blossom. Wineries are being created in every district in California because of him," Chandler said.

In December of 2004, Mondavi sold his company to Constellation Brands, Inc., an international company specializing in wine, beer and spirits. The company was sold for $1.3 billion.

Though he had been sometimes criticized for his aggressive type-A personality, Mondavi's grace was felt by all those whose lives he touched in some way. Due to his vision and generosity, Mondavi was named to the California State Hall of Fame in 2007.

While services for Mondavi will be held privately for the family, the Woodbridge Winery, which is closed today in honor of Mondavi, will have a remembrance book on display in its Visitors Center for four weeks starting Sunday. The book is there for anyone wishing to write condolences to the Mondavi family.

"He was a visionary, a leader and conscious of the Lodi district," said Brad Lange, co-owner of Lange-Twins Winery with brother Randall.

"He was the best."

News-Sentinel staff writer Chris Nichols contributed to this report.

Contact Business Editor Marc Lutz at marcl@lodinews.com.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • posted at 4:22 pm on Sun, May 18, 2008.


    Cogito, hope your bloodwork comes out in your favor, just keep your opinions and honest debate coming. Besides yourself, leonard and sam, in my short time on these blogs, I don't see many others with commonsense and a lot of true facts. There are several on here that are pretty intelligent, but lack the common sense to tie their own shoes and blog like they've never been further than Stockton or Sacramento. Now I know why there are so many easy streeters at city hall that wear loafers, with no laces to tie. LOL

  • posted at 4:11 pm on Sun, May 18, 2008.


    Papercut, much to my chagrin, I have blood work being done Monday morning which requires me to refrain from drinking for 48 hours, so no Zinfest. Why I didn't schedule it for a Thursday morning even I fail to comprehend, what a maroon.

  • posted at 4:27 am on Sun, May 18, 2008.


    It's important to remember that Robert Mondavi was a huge part of the success of the Lodi Appellation as it stands today. His second, and most commercially successful, winery was Woodbridge - a producer of inexpensive, lower alcohol, varietally correct wines. In fact, profits from Woodbridge often went to purchasing high-end equipment for the flagship Oakville winery.

  • posted at 2:59 pm on Sat, May 17, 2008.


    The winegrape growers here work very hard to grow the best winegrapes they can and do a very good job of it. Those so called winemakers put the nail in the coffin by pasteurizing, homogenizing, aciditating, mixicating and trying to lower the alcohol content from that 14.5% alcohol and then putting it in a seldom cleaned steel tank.That's not winemaking, that's massacre.

  • posted at 8:59 am on Sat, May 17, 2008.


    Cogito, not at the Lodi zinfest today? Other than the heat it sounds like a great place to spend some time.

  • posted at 8:46 am on Sat, May 17, 2008.


    Nellie, Robert Mondavi took his famous winemaking skills to the Napa Valley to distance himself from the pitiful Lodi Apellation winemakers and their generic, cheap wines fortified with high alcohol content and no distinction of their own.

  • posted at 8:42 am on Sat, May 17, 2008.


    Great man, great life, great story. The California wine industry will be forever in his debt. Mr. Mondavi is a true legend.

  • posted at 3:37 am on Sat, May 17, 2008.


    A true legend in his own time, and he will be grately missed.Funny story- a friends Grandmother graduated with Mondavi. In the early 90's for the XXth highschool reunion Mondavi donates all of the wine for the class party. The Grandmother says, "Well, he must have done well for himself." She had no idea how famous her classmate had become.The Lodi wine industry owes Mondavi a huge THANK YOU for all is did for his former home town.



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