Today the United States lost one of its living legends, as Robert Mondavi died today at the age of 94. It’s hard to overstate the impact that Robert Mondavi had on the wine world. His name itself was, and still is, one of the most well known brands in America. His family’s (and his own) success in the wine business was a prototypical example of the American dream.
Robert Mondavi moved to Napa in 1930’s to work in the post-prohibition wine industry of the region, having grown up making wine with his father and brothers in Lodi, California, before attending Stanford University in Palo Alto. Mondavi convinced his father to purchase the Charles Krug winery in 1943, a decision that would prove fateful for the entire family. Under the Mondavis, Charles Krug would become one of the most successful Napa wineries of its time.
This success was not without its trials however, as Julia Flynn Siler chronicled in her history of the family last year. In 1966, after essentially being kicked out of the family, Mondavi founded his own winery in Napa. Through a combination of passion, savvy marketing, and sheer force of will, Mondavi built what can only be called an empire. The rising tide of Mondavi’s success, coupled with his own tireless promotion of the place he believed wine should hold in the modern American lifestyle, helped to forge Napa’s identity as one of the world’s great wine regions.
While the Mondavi name has perhaps lost some of its luster, just as the wines that continue to bear his name have diminished in quality and reputation, these should not and cannot detract from the accomplishments of the man himself. Most wine lovers today owe him a debt of gratitude, if only for helping make America a little more friendly to wine and those who care deeply about it.