The Mondavis: Keeping it in the family

The world-famous Robert Mondavi brand still exists, but the 16 members of the Mondavi clan are dispersed and are all making fine wines elsewhere. Roger Morris meets them.

Marcia and Tim

Ask any wine lover in Singapore, Seattle or Santiago who the most-famous American winemaker is, and they will undoubtedly say Robert Mondavi, even though the Napa Valley wine pioneer died in 2008.

The same is true if you ask the name of the most famous American winery.

It would be Robert Mondavi Winery, which thousands of wine tourists visit annually, while thousands more check out its iconic archway in Oakville on Route 29 as they travel up and down the valley. But in spite of the winery’s name, the Mondavis don’t work there anymore, and have not done so since Constellation purchased the Robert Mondavi Corporation – its estate, vineyard and name – in 2004. However, the Mondavis of Napa Valley are still growing grapes and making wine in the valley, but are doing so on Howell Mountain, Pritchard Hill, Atlas Peak and further up valley on the flatlands north of St. Helena.

Altogether, there are 16 Mondavi family members active in the wine business, clustered in the three branches of the family – five third generation and 11 fourth generation – producing 17 brands, and importing and selling wines from other countries.

The first Mondavis, Cesare and Rosa, immigrated to Napa Valley from Italy’s Le Marche region by way of Minnesota and Lodi in California’s Central Valley, buying the Charles Krug winery in 1943, which they ran with the help of sons Robert and Peter.

Cesare died in 1959, and Rosa took over the winery. An ongoing argument between the two brothers over the winery’s direction broke out into a kitchen fight in 1965, and Rosa kicked Robert out of the business. With his three children, Michael, Tim and Marcia, Robert started his eponymous winery in 1966.

Peter eventually took over the Charles Krug business from Rosa with his two sons, Marc and Peter Jr. Today, the winemaking Mondavis are clustered into three family branches:

Even though the more glamorous Robert Mondavi side of the family received all the press, it was the family of Peter, who died in 2016 at the age of 101, that maintained the direct business link to the first Mondavi venture in Napa Valley.

Although still family-owned, their business – formally known as C. Mondavi & Family – is governed by a board with some outside directors. “We are essentially brand ambassadors who do a lot of travelling to support the distribution and sales force,” Peter says.

The principal brands are Charles Krug, C.K. Mondavi, Divining Rod, CR Cellars and Purple Heart, a combination of entry-level and fine wines.

Only Charles Krug is exported, in small amounts to Hong Kong. Marc’s four daughters – Angelina, Alycia, Riana and Giovanna – though still shareholders in, and brand ambassadors for, C. Mondavi, are involved in their separate wine businesses.

Michael and Rob Mondavi

Together, they produce Dark Matter Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, and recently took over C. Mondavi’s Aloft Cabernet Sauvignon, both low-production, high-priced wines.

“In 2003, the four of us bought a two-acre plot on Howell Mountain for Dark Matter and started rehabbing the vines,” Alyssia says. “The first vintage was the 2005.”

Angelina, the eldest, also produces a wine with cousin Rob Mondavi, Michael’s son, called Fourth Leaf, as both represent the fourth generation.

As the only sister who actually makes wine, Angelina also has a consulting business, currently advising eight local wineries. “It’s been fun for Rob and I to get to know each other,” Angelina says. “We both know how to balance what the other does. Rob loves working in the vineyard, while I’m the classic winery person” The family wine business has a rule that grown children have to work five years outside the company before deciding whether to formally join it.

Peter Jr.’s children, Lucio, who has a technical training, and Lia, still in college, are in that period. Many of Napa Valley’s legacy brands have been sold to large corporations, such as Gallo, Constellation, Boisset and Trinchero, but Marc and Peter Jr. say they aren’t looking for takeover offers.

“We have a succession plan,” Peter says, “but those are always works in progress.” The next generation agrees. “We intend to keep it in the family,” Alyssa says. “We all look forward to get more involved with it in the future.”

6 Responses to “The Mondavis: Keeping it in the family”

  1. Kent Benson says:

    The positioning of the photographs in this story is very confusing: Tim & Marcia photo preceding the section on Peter Jr. and Marc; Michael & Rob photo in the midst of the Peter Jr. & Marc section; Michael & kids photo in the Tim & Marcia section; and Marc & family photo in the Michael section.

  2. Great article on the Mondavi Families…..We’ll earned and well deserved !

  3. Robert ( Bob) Plantenberg says:

    best job anyone could want, would be working for RMW, as I did for 19 years.

  4. Patrick Connelly says:

    What an enjoyable feature on one of my favorite families in the business!
    Bravo and thanks for giving me my start in the business!!

  5. John Stahler says:

    Thank you for bring us up to date. The Mondavi family has made, and continues to have, an enduring impact on the wine industry.

  6. Dan Aguilar says:

    All of us with careers in the wine industry owe a debt of gratitude to this family.

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