Peter Mondavi Sr, who for more than half a century steered his family’s Charles Krug Winery in Napa, has died at the age of 101.
Peter Mondavi, brother of the late Robert Mondavi, died on 20 February at his home in St. Helena, California, on the Charles Krug estate, surrounded by his family.
Mondavi’s career in wine began as a boy nailing boxes for his father’s wine-grape shipping business. He went on to earn a degree in economics from Stanford University in 1938, but was drawn to winemaking, performing research in oenology at the University of California, Berkeley. World War II interrupted his career, and he served in the military overseas, returning in 1946.
In 1943, his Italian-born parents, Cesare and Rosa Grassi Mondavi, purchased the Charles Krug Winery in Napa, which was set up in 1861 by Prussian emigrant Charles Krug. Still the oldest operating winery in the Napa Valley, Mondavi assumed the role of president and CEO of the Charles Krug Winery upon his mother’s death in 1976.
“Fiercely determined to keep the winery family owned in the midst of corporate buyouts happening up and down Napa Valley, Mondavi led an effort to preserve the family’s estate vineyards”, the family said in a statement. “During a nine-year period ended in 2010, Mondavi invested $22 million in replanting 400 prime acres of vineyards with primarily red Bordeaux varietals, instituting sustainable farming practices and implementing state-of-the-art winemaking equipment in the process. Mondavi invested a lifetime in building, growing and protecting his family’s business. Asked late in life to note his proudest accomplishment, he replied, ‘Never losing control of our family winery. If I could, I would tell my father: I did the best I could during the difficult years. I was determined and we held on’.”
Known for making significant advancements to California winemaking, Mondavi earned legendary status among Napa Valley vintners. As a student, he studied the effects of cold fermentation on white and rosé wines, which were then being fermented at higher temperatures and losing their distinct characteristics through oxidation. His revolutionary research and practical methods resulted in the production of exceptionally crisp, fruity white wines.
Under Mondavi’s tutelage in 1963, Charles Krug was the first winery in Napa Valley to import French oak barrels for ageing. In addition, he was among the pioneering vintners who planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay where dairy cows had previously dominated in the Carneros region of the valley. Throughout the late 60s and early 70s Mondavi acquired more than 800 acres of premium Napa Valley “at a mere fraction of current land values”, helping the estate to establish its range of estate-driven wines.
Continually acknowledged as one of Napa’s most prolific winemakers, in 1986 the Napa Valley Vintners Association named him one of “Twelve Living Legends in the Napa Valley,” and he was the last survivor of that group. In 2002, he graced the cover of the Wine Spectator as one of the “Napa Mavericks”, and in 2009 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Napa Valley vintners from the California State Fair. The US Congress acknowledged him and the winery on his 97th birthday in the Congressional Record, and his lifetime achievements were recognised in 2012 when he was inducted into the St. Helena-based Culinary Institute of America Vintners Hall of Fame for his industry contributions in cold fermentation and sterile filtration.
Mondavi officially retired in 2015 but was a continual fixture at the winery, where he would regularly climb two flights of stairs to his office. Today, Mondavi’s sons, Marc and Peter Jr., lead the winery, with his grandchildren in the wings.
Mondavi was preceded in death by his wife, Blanche, who died in 2010, and his siblings, Robert, Mary and Helen. He is survived by a daughter, Siena, two sons, Marc and Peter Jr., nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.