Robert Mondavi’s widow Margrit dies aged 91

Margrit Biever Mondavi, widow of California wine pioneer Robert Mondavi and a passionate ambassador for the Napa Valley, has died aged 91.

Margaret Mondavi with late husband Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Margrit Mondavi with late husband Robert Mondavi (left) and Baron Philippe de Rothschild

Margrit Biever started work at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967 as a tour guide shortly after the facility opened in 1966 as the first new winery in Napa Valley since before Prohibition. She found a kindred spirit in Robert, and, although both were married at the time with grown children, a public affair ensued, and a messy divorce followed.

The two married in 1980, and Margrit and Robert became partners as he and his eponymous winery became known worth-wide for the quality of its wines, the joint ventures with European vintners such as the Rothschilds, Frescobaldis and Antinoris and the message to fellow Americans that wine in moderation was healthy and that its appreciation was part of a modern, cultured lifestyle.

During the last quarter of 20th Century, the Robert Mondavi winery became the art and cultural center within the California wine community with its music and art galas as well as its leadership in charitable and cultural ventures. However, the family began ceding its independent leadership when the winery became a publicly traded corporation in 1993, and it was financially floundering by the early 2000’s. Robert himself was deeply in debt, having made large charitable commitments that he couldn’t keep as the company’s stock price fell.

The board of directors stripped the family – Robert and children Michael, Tim and Marcia – of their majority voting power and sold the company in 2004 to Constellation Brands. Robert, who had been suffering from Altzheimer’s disease, died in 2008.

Margrit Mondavi was a very active guest of honor when the winery celebrated its 50th anniversary in April of this year, trading stories about the winery’s glory days with former winemakers Warren Winiarski, who produced the first vintage in 1966, Zelma Long, Paul Hobbs, Phil Freese and Steve Lagier.

“I had a dream to show wine with art, music and food,” Margrit, who was a working artist, is quoted as saying. “We began modestly, with a Sunday art show under the arches, accompanied by wine and food.”

She is survived by three children, Philip Biever, Annie Roberts, and Phoebe Holbrook, and six grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to The Oxbow School, 530 Third Street, Napa, California 94558 or the American Cancer Society, 860 Napa Valley Corporate Way, Suite E, Napa, California 94558.

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