Vintner Robert Mondavi leaves legacy of wine industry firsts and success

Robert Gerald Mondavi helped elevate California’s wine industry to world-class status that drew attention from around the globe for wine in California’s Napa Valley, illustrating that Napa wines could compete with the best in the world.

Mondavi died peacefully at his home in Yountville, Calif. on May 16.

Mondavi’s success was tied to his technical expertise and marketing accomplishments including marketing wines by variety versus generically.

A hard work ethic, sensible view on life, and passion was the backbone of Mondavi’s wine venture. He once said, “To succeed and have a happy life, you need common sense, a commitment to hard work and the courage to go your own way. Interest is not enough – you must be passionate about what you do. Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Mondavi was born in Virginia, Minn. to parents who emigrated from Sassoferrato in the Marche region of Italy. Old World traditions of the pleasures of wine and food greatly influenced Mondavi. The family moved to Lodi, Calif. during the prohibition era.

With an economics and business administration degree from Stanford University, Mondavi learned that marketing was equivalent to winemaking expertise for success in the wine industry.

Mondavi joined his father at Sunnyhill Winery in St. Helena, Calif. After convincing his father to purchase the Charles Krug Winery there, the younger Mondavi upgraded the technology to improve quality. His three children grew up at Krug.

In 1966, Mondavi founded the Robert Mondavi Winery which today is one of the world’s leading innovators, producers, and marketers of fine wine. Mondavi’s goal was to encompass European craft and tradition with the latest in American technology and use educational efforts to sell his wines.

Mondavi pioneered many fine winemaking techniques in California including cold fermentation, stainless steel tanks, and the use of French oak barrels. The marketing guru initiated blind tastings of Napa Valley wines with other world-class wines, allowing consumers and the wine industry to evaluate wine quality and value.

By the l970s, Robert Mondavi wines were recognized for their quality internationally, and Mondavi pioneered fine California wine exports. He began tours and wine tastings. For four decades, the winery has celebrated the enjoyment of wine, food, and the arts including jazz and classical concerts, art exhibits, and cultural and culinary programs including the Great Chefs program.

“Making good wine is a skill, fine wine an art,” Mondavi said.

Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild created the Opus One Winery in Oakville, Calif. in 1977. Opus One created a world sales record for California with a $24,000 case price at the first Napa Valley Wine Auction. Mondavi and his wife Margrit founded the auction which today is considered the top U.S. wine auction.

In an effort to counteract anti-alcohol campaigns in the late 1980s, Mondavi launched the Mission Program to educate the media, trade, and consumers about the cultural and health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

The Mondavi family made a substantial personal gift in 2001 to the University of California, Davis to establish the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and to name the campus’ new Center for the Performing Arts which opened in 2002.

Among Mondavi’s lifetime achievements include:

1962 – Chairman, Wine Institute;

1966 – Founded the Robert Mondavi Winery;

1982 – “Winemaker of the Year” – American Wine Society;

1986 – “Man of the Year” – Wines and Vines magazine;

1993 – Honorary Master of Wine – Institute of Masters of Wine;

1996 – Torch Bearer – International Olympic Committee;

1997 – Recipient of the first ever “California State Fair Lifetime Achievement Award,” and the “Business Leader of the Year” award from the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California;

1998 – European Wine Council's “Lifetime Achievement Award”;

2004 – Recipient of the first “Wine Personality of the Year, Innovation” award - Wine International magazine;

2007 – Honored as the first “Pioneer” inductee in the founding year of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame; and

2007 – Inducted into the California Hall of Fame at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.

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