University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
CREATIVITY IN THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY
With an Introduction by
Maynard A. Amerine
An Interview Conducted by
Copyright (c) 1985 by The Regents of the University of California
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal
agreement between the University of California and
Robert Mondavi dated May 21, 1985. The manuscript
is thereby made available for research purposes . All
literary rights in the manuscript, including the right
to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of the
University of California, Berkeley. No part of the
manuscript may be quoted for publication without the
written permission of the Director of The Bancroft
Library of the University of California at Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office,
486 Library, and should include identification of the
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the
passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with Robert Mondavi requires that he be
notified of the request and allowed thirty days in
which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited
as follows :
Robert Mondavi, "Creativity in the California
Wine Industry," an oral history conducted
1984 by Ruth Teiser, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University of
California, Berkeley, 1985.
MARGRIT BIEVER AND ROBERT MONDAVI
TABLE OF CONTENTS Robert Mondavi
INTRODUCTION by Maynard A. Amerine iv
INTERVIEW HISTORY v
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY vi
I CESARE MONDAVI 1
II ROBERT MONDAVI: EARLY YEARS 7
College and Career Beginnings, 1932-1936 7
Working with Jack Riorda, 1937-1943 9
III CHARLES KRUG WINERY 12
Purchase by Cesare Mondavi, 1943 12
Renovating and Getting Started 16
Making Wine in the 1940s and 1950s 20
Broader Horizons 23
Selling and Publicizing Wines 26
Building Volume 29
Industry Organizations and Activities 30
IV THE ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY 39
Establishing a New Enterprise 39
Observations upon European Winemaking 42
Attracting Capital 44
Achieving Family Ownership 46
Promoting and Improving the Wines 50
Distribution, Sales, and Employees 54
Buying the Oakville Label and Inventory 58
Adding the Winery in Woodbridge 59
Architecture of the Robert Mondavi Winery 63
Export Markets and Domestic Markets 67
The Napa Valley Vintners and Its Early Members 68
Paying Growers by the Bottle Price Formula 72
The Bottle Price Formula and Wine Quality 74
Mike, Marcie, and Tim Mondavi 78
The Creation of Opus One 82
Wine and Food 90
The Napa Valley Wine Symposium and Auction 92
The Winery Tour with Margrit Biever 96
TAPE GUIDE 103
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated in 1969 through the action and
with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a state marketing order
organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 1983 it was reinstituted as
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series with donations from
The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The selection of those to be
interviewed is made by a committee consisting of James D. Hart, director of
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca,
president of the Wine Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard
A. Amerine, Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of
California, Davis; Jack L. Davies, the 1985 chairman of the board of directors
of the Wine Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project director; and Marvin R.
Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and wine making that has existed only in the memories
of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the early years of
this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are of particular value
because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of not only the industry
itself but also the orderly recording and preservation of records of its
activities. Little has been written about the industry from late in the last
century until Repeal. There is a real paucity of information on the
Prohibition years (1920-1933) , although some commercial wine making did
continue under supervision of the Prohibition Department. The material in
this series on that period, as well as the discussion of the remarkable
development of the wine industry in subsequent years (as yet treated
analytically in few writings) will be of aid to historians. Of particular
value is the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from his
own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State Library,
and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its collection of in
many cases unique materials readily available for the purpose.
Three master indices for the entire series are being prepared, one of
general subjects, one of wines, one of grapes by variety. These will be
available to researchers at the conclusion of the series in the Regional Oral
History Office and at the library of the Wine Institute.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed significantly
to recent California history. The office is headed by Willa K. Baum and is
under the administrative supervision of James D. Hart, the director of
The Bancroft Library.
The Wine Spectator California
Winemen Oral History Series
10 September 1984
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed by 1985
Leon D. Adams, REVITALIZING THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Maynard A. Amerine, THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AND THE STATE'S WINE
Philo Biane, WINE MAKING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND RECOLLECTIONS OF FRUIT
INDUSTRIES, INC. 1972
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, THE
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY DURING THE DEPRESSION 1972
William V. Cruess, A HALF CENTURY OF FOOD AND WINE TECHNOLOGY 1967
William A. Dieppe, ALMADE'N IS MY LIFE 1985
Alfred Fromm, MARKETING CALIFORNIA WINE AND BRANDY 1984
Maynard A. Joslyn, A TECHNOLOGIST VIEWS THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, CALIFORNIA GRAPE PRODUCTS AND OTHER
WINE ENTERPRISES 1971
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, WINEMAKERS OF THE NAPA VALLEY 1973
Louis P. Martini, A FAMILY WINERY AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1984
Otto E. Meyer, CALIFORNIA PREMIUM WINES AND BRANDY 1973
Robert Mondavi, CREATIVITY IN THE WINE INDUSTRY 1985
Harold P. Olmo, PLANT GENETICS AND NEW GRAPE VARIETIES 1976
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A LIFE IN WINE MAKING 1975
Louis A. Petri, THE PETRI FAMILY IN THE WINE INDUSTRY 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, THE LAW AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Lucius Powers, THE FRESNO AREA AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, PERSPECTIVES ON CALIFORNIA WINES 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, ITALIAN SWISS COLONY AND THE WINE INDUSTRY 1971
A. Setrakian, A LEADER OF THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY GRAPE INDUSTRY 1977
Andre Tchelistchef f , GRAPES, WINE, AND ECOLOGY 1983
Brother Timothy, THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AS WINEMAKERS 197 1 *
Ernest A. Wente, WINE MAKING IN THE LIVERMORE VALLEY 1971
Albert J. Winkler, VITICULTURAL RESEARCH AT UC DAVIS (1921-1971) 1973
In this interview Robert Mondavi tells us many things about himself, his
career, and his ideas on wine.
First of all, it is a very open discussion, very much like Robert Mondavi
is in a conversation. He tells us several times that he has no secrets, not
even in the marketplace. Honesty is the best policy, he says a very pragmatic
American point of view. What he has is a super-abundance of ideas about how
to make and sell better wines. He says this directly, often even bluntly. At
times it seems as if he were trying to convince us of the wisdom of his views.
Second, he has a very inquisitive mind. His "show me" point of view has
led him to question every aspect of the production and sale of products of the
California grape and wine industry. And in several cases this questioning has
led to innovative practices.
Third, he believes in having everything about his vineyards, wines,
wineries, and promotion "distinctive." By distinctive he means quality-wise.
Obviously, one's concept of quality is a personal matter, but the interview
shows that he is sensitive to other people's ideas about the distinctiveness
of the quality of his wines. No doubt, with his own changing concept, 'his
goals of what he wishes to produce have changed. In a way, most of the
interview is about quality: quality of product, quality of architecture,
quality of public relations, quality of care of growers and employees, and the
quality and care of his family. He is enormously proud of the accomplishments
of his three children and of his wife.
Finally, Robert Mondavi reveals himself as a person who takes a long-
range view of the California wine industry and his place in it. His support
of and use of research is proof of this. He believes in building slowly with
an eye to his eventual goals. To this effort he brings enormous energy and a
lively imagination. No wonder he has come so far. And there is no doubt he
intends to go farther much farther.
Maynard A. Amerine
3 September 1985
St. Helena, California
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 91*720
_, do hereby give to The Bancroft
Library for such scholarly and educational uses as the Director of The Bancroft
Library shall determine the following tape-recorded interview(s) recorded with
April 17, 1984-October 15, 1984
for The Bancroft Library as
an unrestricted gift and transfer to the University of California legal title
and all literary property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude
any use which I may want to make of the information in the recordings myself.
This agreement may be revised or amended by mutual consent of the parties
P.O. Box 106
Oakville, California 94562
Name & address of interviewee
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
Subject Of Interview(s) Robert Mondavi, "Creativity in the California Wine Industry"
Approved as to Form, 2k August 1976
The interview with Robert Mondavi was held in four sessions, on April 17,
19 and 20, and October 15, 1984. All took place in his light, attractive
office at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville except that of April 20, a
holiday when the winery was closed and the session took place at Mr. Mondavi's
nearby hilltop guest house overlooking vineyards near the Silverado Trail.
At the final session, Margrit Biever, who was married to Mr. Mondavi in 1981,
added her description of the Robert Mondavi Winery tour; it is an important
and carefully developed part of the winery's public relations program.
Mr. Mondavi spoke with enthusiasm and candor about many aspects of his
life and career, some of which he has previously discussed in journalistic
interviews. Here, however, they are brought together in a detailed
chronological account. Because during the interview ideas suggested other
ideas that were not necessarily in chronological order, some editing was
required. The transcript of the taped interview was read over by Harvey
Posert, the winery's public relations director, and by Margrit Biever and
Robert Mondavi, each of whom made small changes but no substantive alterations.
Additional discussions of wine making in the Napa Valley are to be found
in interviews in this series with Louis M. Martini, Louis P. Martini, Andre"
Tchelistcheff , and Brother Timothy.
10 September 1985
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California at Berkeley
Regional Oral HjLstory Office University of California
Room 486 The 'Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720
(Please print or write clearly)
Your full name Robert Gerald Mondavi
Date of birth June 18, 1913 Place of birth Virginia. Minnesota
Father's full name Cesare Mondavi
Birthplace Marche, Italy
Mother's full name Rosa Mondavi
Birthplace Marche, Italy __
Where did you grow up ? Ixxii, California
Present community Napa Valley, California
Education Graduated from Lodi Union High School. Studied economics at
Stanford University, graduated in 1936.
Occupation (s) Winanaker
Special interests or activities Tennis, food, wine, travel and art
I CESARE MONDAVI
[Interview 1: April 17, 1984]##
Teiser: I would like to start by asking you about your father, Cesare
Mondavi. When and where was he born?
Mondavi: In Provincia di Ancona, in Sassof errato, a little town northeast
of Rome, some hundred miles away on the coast of the Adriatic.
Very mountainous country. Then he came to this country in 1906.
He had friends of his that were working in the iron ore mines in
Minnesota and they wrote to him. He decided he wanted to do
something other than what was going on in Italy. So he came to
this country and landed in Virginia, Minnesota. He worked in the
iron ore mines there for several years.
He then went back after a couple of years and married my
mother, brought her back
Teiser: From Italy?
Mondavi: from Italy. He had been in Minnesota during those years working
in the iron ore mines, but he didn't like that. He then bought a
store, a grocery store in partnership with the Brunettis and was
in that for a period of time, and then had a bar and a saloon
thereafter. My mother worked with him.
My mother was a very active woman. We had a large home there
where my mother had boarders. She would have from fifteen up to
eighteen boarders. She would feed them. A few of them would be
even staying in the house. And yet she was raising four children
at the same time.
My dad also later on had the saloon. When Prohibition came
along in 1918, many people asked him to maintain the saloon and
make some good money. My dad would not abide by that. He wanted
to go by the law. So he closed down the saloon. At that time he
was the secretary of the Italian Club, and when Prohibition came
along the Italians wanted to make their wine, so my father was
selected to go to California to buy grapes.
So he took his first trip. He covered California. He went
from the northern part of California to the southern part of
California. He began to buy grapes there I guess in 1918.
Then he decided in 1923 to move the family to California. He
liked California. As I say, he looked at the northern part of
California and the southern part of California, and he decided to
settle in Lodi because it was centrally located where he could buy
grapes up in Napa and Sonoma, and he could also go to Fresno,
where he could buy Muscat grapes. He located himself in Lodi,
where he would buy Zinfandel. It worked out very efficiently. So
our family moved to Lodi in 1923. I was ten years old at that
time. I was born in 1913.
Teiser: You were by then aware of what was going on.
Mondavi: I was aware at that time what was going on. In fact what
happened we used to nail boxes for my father. My dad would ship
grapes in what I call Sanger lugs, these little wooden boxes. My
brother [Peter] and I made boxes during the summer. Every summer
we would work the entire summer. We would take off a week or ten
days, but then after that we would work all summer long nailing
these boxes. We would make up to a hundred thousand of these
Teiser: Did you ship to not only his own associates in Minnesota but also
Mondavi: Oh, he shipped all over, in fact. He shipped to New York,
Connecticut. He went to Boston, Massachusetts, and all
throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania. He shipped in Minnesota.
Teiser: Did he sell through auctions?
Mondavi: No, he sold to friends of his that he'd met, and that he knew
wanted to buy grapes. He would ship to them. Oh, sometimes he
would go to the auctions, but not that often. It was more or less
a personalized business. Friends of his, like the Barengos, would
ship to auction. But my father felt that he preferred to do
business with people that he knew, that would make homemade wine,
or people that were brokers, or would buy these grapes and then
sell them to friends. It was more of a personal relationship.
It was rather interesting. I remember the first trip that I
took with my father. When I graduated from college, I took a trip
with my father just to call on some of his accounts. I was
dumbfounded. It was a friendly relationship. When he would go
there, he would play cards. He would do everything but talk
business. Just prior to leaving, before he would get on the
train, or bus, or whatever it was, they would complete the
business relationship in a few words. I couldn't get over that.
When I went to school at Stanford, I was studying how to do
this or do that. I thought they would get down and really discuss
these things. Not at all. They would play cards. And they would
have a good time. Every time, just prior to leaving they would
say a few words, and that was the relationship. So it was a very
personal relationship, the integrity of the two people. And they
would talk a few words: "The grapes could have been better," or
"The grapes were very good," and they understood each other. It
Teiser: They didn't talk prices?
Mondavi: No, the prices were created as they went along because it depended
upon what went on during the harvest. In other words, they
understood that they would do business with each other, and that
they would try to be reasonable. There seemed to be a lot of good
faith between each other. The price would be dependent on whether
you had big crops or small crops.
My father used to buy many of his grapes not by the ton.
Many times he would buy the block, the entire vineyard, and
estimate the crop, and pay for it that way. I can always remember
my father going out to look at the weather conditions to see if it
was cloudy, to see whether it's going to rain, because a lot of his
business, when he bought by the patch, would be dependent upon how
much he could get out of that. If it would rain, he would be the
loser. But at the same time, if he guessed well, he would do
Teiser: How big was a "patch?"
Mondavi: They could have a vineyard that might be ten acres or twenty acres.
Teiser: That large?
Mondavi: Oh, yes. Sometimes he used to buy as many as fifty, sixty acres, a
hundred acres at a time. That would be a large patch. That would
be one of the big ones. Usually they would be smaller patches.
They might be maybe fifty tons, a hundred tons. That would be
more or less the size. But he did do business occasionally with
certain large growers that would have two hundred to five hundred
He did his business that way. He did some of it by the ton.
He preferred buying by the ton because the responsibility was on
the part of the grower. But at the same time, some of the
growers, who had some of the better grapes, didn't want to gamble.
They wanted my father to gamble. I do remember that.
My dad would worry about that, and I made up my mind that if
I ever went into business and I wanted to go into the business
world I didn't want to be subject to weather conditions alone. I
wanted to have other things other than just weather conditions.
Because that was quite a gamble. If it should rain all of a
sudden, you could have a difficult time. That was one of the
things that concerned me when I was younger.
Then I also wanted to build something. Well, you could build
a reputation on something that you could make. That's why when we
went into the wine business I made up my mind that we had to
create an image for ourselves, that that in itself would be very
helpful in trying to stabilize prices for us.
Teiser: Do you remember what varieties your father bought? A lot of
Mondavi: My dad concentrated mainly on Zinfandel, Muscat, Carignane, and
Alicante. Maybe five to ten percent Alicante, depending.
Generally speaking, I would say that his grapes would be eighty-
five percent to ninety percent Zinfandel. And then he would have
Muscat, Carignane, and Alicante mainly.
Teiser: Did They ship well?
Mondavi: Yes, they shipped very well. Most of the grapes that he bought
were around the Lodi region. Sometimes he came up here to Napa
and Sonoma. For those that would pay a little more money for
them, he would come here [to the Napa Valley]. The Muscats would
be purchased in the Fresno region. He did not ship Thompson
Seedless, because his customers didn't make wine out of those.
But they did use Muscat, some Alicante and some Carignane for
Teiser: That's interesting. He must have been a good businessman.
Mondavi: He was a very good businessman, and he had a wonderful reputation.
He was a man of few words. He didn't talk much. He would look at
you and you would know exactly what he was thinking; you would
know exactly what we wanted without any word; a shrug of the
shoulder, a smile, a nod was sufficient. He didn't have to say
Really, it was rather interesting. I know when I would talk
with him, my father would listen. If he said "okay," you knew
that you were right on the beam. And it's rather interesting.
You have to understand my father. He was not complimentary, but
you know that once he allowed you to do something, you got his
approval. And that I realized. It wasn't necessary that he would
compliment you. My father rarely complimented me or my mother or
any of his children. When he gave his approval, that was
complimentary in his mind, and you had to accept it as such.
Were you then allowed to carry work out in your own way?
didn't supervise carefully?
No, he did not supervise carefully. What my dad did was really
have faith in you. I know when I came here [to the Napa Valley]
and was working, I was representing him. I used to tell him
everything, and he knew I told everything, at least as best I
could. My father then allowed me to do almost anything, even
though I made mistakes. I knew that.
My dad was a very considerate person, a very kind person,
even though a man of few words. Basically, if you did things
well, I knew good and well, he would see you through. And I don't
care how tough the situation would be, as long as you were
completely open and honest, he would be with you.
Then again, if he didn't approve, he would not argue. All he
would just do is say "It's a waste," and work with someone else.
He didn't like to argue. I can remember one of the great big
deals that he had he had partners at one time, and they were
manipulating a little bit. These were very close friends. Well,
my dad didn't want to argue. He didn't say anything much, except
that he agreed that he would pull out. Let them take this very
important vineyard. That was a very fine vineyard. In the
meantime he replaced it with other vineyards over a period of time
that he felt were just as good or possibly better. This took
He did not like to have any strife. He did not like to have
arguments or discussions. He would rather go about his own
business, create his own thing, which he did all his life. As I
say, he was a man of few words.
Did he become a grower there in Lodi?
No, this is one thing that I was amazed at. My father never wanted
to buy land or do anything like that. He wanted to buy grapes,
but he never became a grower. Somehow or other I differed with my
father in that regard. He did change later on, because we bought
land here, when we went into the wine business here. But that's
one thing I never quite understood in my father, why he didn't
want to have some land. I think he felt that he could be better
off just buying grapes and negotiating that way.
Mondav i :
I looked at the federal records of the Acampo Winery and
Distillery, of which he was a part. That was at least originated
by a group of growers, in 1934.
Yes, and my father was really one of the principal people there.
He later became the president of the company. The growers had
faith in my father. My father built up quite a reputation. I can
remember the time I heard many people say, "Oh, Mondavi, he's good
as gold." He just built a reputation for being, I guess, a quiet
soft-spoken man. He wouldn't create problems, and always paid his
bills, and people had great respect for him.
He put three thousand dollars into the organizaion originally.
That was the lowest amount of anyone. (All this is in the federal
records.) Later he increased his interest in it.
They wanted to hurry and get a distillery bond, because the
growers had lost money the year before, and they needed the
distillery so they could make sweet wines in '34. They described
themselves as a group of growers. That's why I asked you if your
He was not a grower. In fact, they went to my father and they made
him the president of the company there maybe because of my father
being a very conservative man. He seemed to win the confidence of
growers. He was not a grower. Everyone else may have been
growers, like J.B. Gundert of the Farmers Merchant Bank who was a
principal man in Acampo Winery. And I guess he knew my father and
had faith in my father and wanted my father to work with them
there. And that's how he started in the Acampo Winery.
Your father was on the board at first. Then he was vice-president
Then he became a president.
You were around that winery?
No, I was nailing boxes. Before I went to college, I was nailing
boxes for my father. My dad used to ship about a hundred, to one
hundred and twenty five cars of grapes a year. I nailed boxes
every year up to 1932 when I graduated from high school.
II ROBERT MONDAVI: EARLY YEARS
College and Career Beginnings. 1932-1936
Mondavi: I then went to college in '32. I graduated with the class of '36.
I remember one thing that happened that was rather interest
ing. My father taught me to drive a car when I was thirteen years
old. We were nailing boxes out at the Pope Vineyard. He was
turning his car in, wanted to buy another Studebaker, but he let
me have the old touring car because I had to drive out to work. I
drove my brother and my two sisters. They used to work with us.
They cleated boxes for us one year. We nailed boxes until I went
to college, every summer.
Mondavi: My brother and I were getting a dollar and a quarter a hundred.
We gave twenty-five cents of that to our cleaters. And this money
was accumulating in the bank over these years. We had about ten,
twelve thousand dollars, but the idea was that this money was to
put us through school.
When the Depression came along, my father came to me. We were
nailing boxes at that time. He said, "You know, Bob, jobs are
very difficult to come by. I was just wondering. The bank came
to me. And they said they have a teller's job. And really, it's
a good position. And people can't find positions like this.
Maybe you would like to go work at the bank, at the Farmers and
I remember him coming out to me at Pope Vineyards. And I
said, "Well, Dad, my ambition was always to go to college. I
would just as well stay out and work if that's necessary, but go
to school." He then said that things were a little difficult,
would we mind lending him the money that we made so that we could
help him through this difficult time. My brother and I said,
"Well, certainly, as long as we can go through school." So we
gave him the money at that time, which he took with the agreement
of putting us through college.
I stayed out one semester and nailed celery crates. And then
the conditions turned a little bit better. My brother and I
wanted to go to Stanford. He had no qualms, he didn't argue, no
discussion about it. He sent us to Stanford, and that was it.
The only thing was that we had to stay out a quarter in order to
make some money to help him through that tough time.
My father was a man of few words. He didn't argue, no
discussion. He would just go about his way. And that's why he
was loved by all the people around him. And that's why he had
such a reputation, because he didn't discuss or argue or try to
tell what to do or what not to do. At least he didn't with us.
My father came to me in 1935 when I was a junior at Stanford.
My brother was one grade behind me. He was a sophomore. At that
time my father said that he wanted to know what I was interested
in doing. And he asked my brother too. I said I was interested
in the business world. I wanted to go in the school of business.
And then he said, well if that's the case, he felt that there was
a future in the table wine business. And that he felt that Napa
Valley, in his estimation, was the outstanding wine-growing region
for table wine, for both red and white table wines. And he felt
that, frankly, we could develop something in it and would have a
We children, especially Italian families, the sun would rise
and set in their parents, because they looked up to them and they
could make no mistake. But also I agreed with my father. I
thought why not a start in a young industry? And my brother also
felt the same thing. So what I did, I took chemistry in my senior
year at Stanford, which I could use in the wine business.
Then my father made a deal with Jack Riorda when he realized
that we were interested in the wine business. At that time, Jack
Riorda had a small winery, about an eighty-thousand gallon winery
called the Sunny Hill Winery.* He was not able to sell the wine.
And my father had these contacts that he had done business with in
the grape business during Prohibition. These people had gone into
the wine business. So my father had contacts there, and he sold
this wine for Jack Riorda.
*Later Sunny St. Helena.
So Jack Riorda wanted to have a partner who he had faith in
and had the ability of selling the wine that he made. My father
realized that both Peter and I were interested in the business
world. He made a deal with Jack Riorda where they enlarged the
winery from eighty-thousand gallons to a half a million gallons.
Upon graduating, I then was taught for about three months some of
the basic principles of wine enology by Vic Enriques, who was
teaching enology at the University of California at Berkeley. At
that time it was at Berkeley.
Teiser: There was a Hilary J. Enriques who was a research chemist at D.C.
Mondavi: That's the one. When I graduated from school I went back home.
And then during the summer months I was tutored by him because he
was away from school during that summer vacation. During that
three months he taught me all the analysis that we use in wines.
He trained me at that and then gave me the books to study, which I
took with me when I went to St. Helena and worked with Jack
Teiser: What happened to Enriques?
Mondavi: He passed away. I don't know how many years later he passed away.
He was going with my wife's aunt. When I told him of my interest,
he said, "I'd be happy to work with you." And that's how we got
together. So it was just by chance.
Teiser: Did you ever work with Archie Cellini Arthur Cellini at Acampo?
Mondavi: Archie Cellini was there for years as the winemaker, but I never
worked with Archie Cellini. I knew him, naturally, through my
father. Upon graduating, I went to Napa Valley. My brother
Peter, when he graduated from school a year later, went to the
Bradford winery and worked there for a while. And then he went to
work at Acampo for Dino Barengo. Dino Barengo then became the
winemaker at Acampo. I think that's when Archie Cellini left.
And then my brother Peter worked there for Dino Barengo as a
Working with Jack Riorda. 1937-1943
After graduating from college, I went to St. Helena, and I
worked with Jack Riorda. And I represented my father, who lived
in Lodi. I moved here. I began working in March of 1937 under
Jack Riorda as his assistant in making bulk table wine. We
shipped wine in tank cars at that time. We made both red and
white wine in bulk. We did no bottling. We shipped in tank cars,
six and eight thousand gallon tank cars.
And then my father took me on one of his trips to the East.
When I was married in '40, I covered all the accounts that my dad
was doing business with on my honeymoon. I met all the people.
So, you see, I was working but having a good time at the same
time. This was for the Sunny St. Helena Winery. We were selling
bulk wines to people in New Orleans, in New York, in Boston,
Chicago, Minnesota, and places like that.
Teiser: It started as Sunny Hill Winery and became Sunny St. Helena?
Mondavi: The name was changed from Sunny Hill Winery because they had a
business connection with a man, Joe Gazzara in Chicago, and he had
the Sunny Hill name in Chicago. So it was changed to Sunny St.
Helena Wine Company.
Tesier: What was Jack Riorda like?
Mondavi: Jack Riorda was a very knowledgeable wine man, a very good man, had
good friendly relations with all the growers around here. They
believed in him very strongly. In fact, he taught me a lot. And
yet he didn't have that scientific training, if you know what I
mean. But he was a good winemaker. And he made good wines.
Teiser: You spoke just now of why you went into the wine business. I read
that you said that John Daniel had interested you in the wine
Mondavi: When I came here to Napa Valley, whether I was swimming, whether I
was playing football, or whatever I was doing, I wanted to excel.
I would look around and see what could I do, where could I excel.
When I came here, I was tremendously impressed by what I
called the big four of the California wine industry. The big four
at that time were Inglenook [of John Daniel, Jr.], B. V. [Beaulieu
Vineyard], Beringer Brothers, and Larkmead. And frankly, I was so
inspired by them, especially John Daniel, that I bowed my head as
I went by Beaulieu and Inglenook. I was tremendously impressed
because here they were making the style of wine that I thought was
And I always felt that I wanted to do something that would be
comparable to what they were doing. We were only in the bulk wine
business in the beginning. I would be tasting their wines, and I
talked to my father about eventually going into the fine wine
business because I knew in my own mind that if we were going to
stay in the business, that sooner or later the more expensive
grapes of Napa Valley if we didn't bottle the wine, we could not
afford to compete with the San Joaquin Valley because they bought
their grapes at much lower prices.
I talked to my father about that. I always wanted to make a
wine that I thought belonged in the company of these wineries,
especially Inglenook and B. V. I began to taste my wine, and I
used to compare it with their wines. And I became convinced that
we could produce wine, I thought, just as good as they did. I
wanted to eventually get into the fine wine business. I did talk
to my father about it.
III CHARLES KRUG WINERY
Purchase by Cesare Mondavi.
Mondavi: Then a golden opportunity came when Paul Alexander, who was the
manager of the Bank of America here in St. Helena, came to me in
March of 1943. He said, "Bob, I know that you are 'very much
interested in going into the fine wine business. Your family
really belongs in that. There's a golden opportunity for you to
buy the Charles Krug winery." He said, "However, you are going to
have to act pretty quickly because I know that James K. Moffitt,
the owner of Charles Krug, left for Los Angeles. And I know there
is a man from the Midwest" he didn't give me the name at that
point "who wants to buy it." He said, "I think this would be an
ideal set-up for you. You should see it. If you don't act on it,
I'm afraid that it might be sold to this other fellow."
I knew my father was an ultraconservative man. Unless you
could really lay out a program for him, he would not be
interested. At that time, they had the price freeze on wines.
Mondavi: During the wartime. And they froze our price of wine at twenty-
eight cents a gallon at that time.
Jack Riorda had passed away in 1940, and I took charge of the
business. Jack Riorda's son-in-law worked in the winery and
worked with me and under me at the Sunny St. Helena Winery.
Teiser: What was his name?
Mondavi: Fred Beroldo. Rena Beroldo was the daughter of Jack Riorda.
But at that time they froze the prices of wine at twenty-
eight cents. I tried to get them to expand the winery so that we
could bottle wine and not be under this freeze, so we could sell
at a higher price. But they were not interested in adding a
bottling room or going into any further expansion of the winery.
They said no, that was it.
So when Paul Alexander told me that we should look at this
winery, I then thought that what we could do is buy the bulk wine
from the Sunny St. Helena Winery. I worked out a plan and said,
"Dad, if we buy the wine at the same price, where they could make
their profit, then we will bottle the wine at the Charles Krug
Winery." And I made the whole program up, and with the profits
that we would make there, we would eventually pay for the Charles
Teiser: You could sell bottled wines at higher prices?
Mondavi: That's right. You see, that wasn't frozen because that was
something new. And we could establish our own prices.
Fred Beroldo and Rena Beroldo said, "Fine, you buy the wine
from us, and you do what you want to do." So I went to my
father I can always remember this because this was on Saturday I
left my work here and told my mother I was coming in and I wanted
to talk to Dad. And by chance my brother who was in the service
had come home from Fresno,.
I talked to to my father, and I told Dad that there was this
winery and that it was an ideal solution for us to get into the
bottling of our wines and going into the fine wine business. That
the future of Napa Valley would be in the fine wine business. My
dad listened to me. And then I told him that if we buy this wine
from Sunny St. Helena, give them the full mark-up, we could then
sell this in gallon jugs and in fifths, and pay for it that way.
The price at that time was $75,000 for the whole Charles Krug
Winery. There were just under a hundred and fifty acres. I
remember I was talking to my father alone at that time, in his
den. And he was sitting back, a man of few words. And then he
got up. He always smoked a little stogie, one of those little
Italian stogies. And he walked into the living room, and back in.
And he said, "You know, I'm happy. I don't have to get any
bigger than what we are." He said, "I don't want to be as big as
Cella." At that time Cella* was as big as Gallo is now. It was
*The Cella family owned the Roma Wine Company
the biggest company in the wine business in California. He said,
"I don't want to be as big as Cella. I'm happy to do what I'm
So that's all he said. And then he went upstairs to his
bedroom. My mother was listening to this whole thing in the
kitchen. She heard the whole conversation. Then I went to my
mother. I said, "Mother, we've got to do something. We can't let
this opportunity go by, otherwise I'm going to have to find
someone. It's such a golden opportunity, we have to do
Then we went to bed. The next morning we went down to
breakfast. We had a little breakfast nook, and my dad came in. I
said, "Good morning," and I was trying to think of what am I going
to tell my father. What can I do to convince him that he should
go and see the winery and just look at it anyway? And my father
just said a few words. He said, "Good morning. When do we go to
St. Helena?" I looked at him in great amazement, and I said,
And my brother had come in that night. I said, "We can leave
right now and visit." He said, "Fine." So there was my brother,
who was in uniform, and my father and myself. We went to St.
Helena and went through the winery. There were two homes up
there, a nice main house plus a foreman's home. (We didn't go
through the houses.) And there was a hundred and fifty acres, and
of course, the winery and the stable.
After we went through the whole place, my dad, as we came out
of the stable, looked down and he said, "You know, the price is
well worth it." He was very fond of it. And he said, "How much
do you think it would take to really put this into operation?"
Well, I gave a figure, a half a million dollars I believe, I
forgot what it was that I said. He said, "No, no. It would take
a lot more than that to do it," in which he was right.
I said to him, "Would you mind seeing Mr. Moffitt? He's
coming back." And he said, "Well, let's talk to him." So I
called Paul Alexander, and we made an appointment to go to San
Francisco. My brother actually asked for a day or two leave
because he wanted to go with us. So we went to San Francisco to
visit James K. Moffitt. And James K. Moffitt was a very
successful businessman. He was a trustee at the University of
California of Berkeley. He was very, very wealthy, one of the
wealthiest fellows in the Bay Area. He was also the chairman of
the Crocker First National Bank.
Teiser: Is that where you went to see him, at the bank?
Mondavi: Yes, at the Crocker. We went in. And here was Peter, Paul
Alexander, my father and myself. He said, "Come on, let's go into
my inner sanctum." He had his little inner sanctum there. We
went in there. He was saying, "Gee, how wonderful it is to have
two boys who will carry on your business," because he had only a
daughter. So he said, "It's so wonderful to be able to pass
something like this on."
We were talking about general conditions. The telephone
rang. And the next thing I heard Mr. Moffitt say, "I'm sorry, I
just sold the property to a Cesare Mondavi." I looked with great
surprise at my father and at our banker, as not one word was
discussed about the winery.
I didn't realize that James K. Moffitt had tremendous faith
in Paul Alexander, and that he put the sale of the property into
Paul Alexander's hands. And he had agreed with Paul Alexander
that this is the family that should own the winery; they are
interested in wine, and they are a wonderful family.
We didn't know anything about this. And the next thing it
was a forgone conclusion that it was sold only because Paul was
convinced and convinced him of that. James K. Moffitt refused the
sale to two or three other people because he didn't think they
would do justice to the property. He wanted to pass it into the
hands of people who are really interested.
Then the next thing I knew, when we heard that on the
telephone, my father and he were negotiating on interest rates on
the property. In other words, my dad said, "I'll put so much
down," and then they were negotiating I think it was from four
and a quarter to four and a half percent interest rate at that
time. And Mr. Moffitt would be willing to carry the balance as a
When we got through he called his secretary. He dictated a
few things to her. He said, "Let's go have lunch." We went to
the Poodle Dog. We had lunch. We came back. My father signed
the paper, James K. Moffitt signed the paper, and we owned the
property. I never realized my father, who was an ultra-
conservative man, would ever move that rapidly. You see, by fate
the thing just turned that way.
I was so surprised, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't sleep.
I couldn't sleep the two nights before because I was so excited
about the possibility of this thing. And then it took me a long
time to calm down because here we were: we had purchased this
property. The thing went along very well.
Renovating and Getting Started
Let me take you back.
Someone else had been making wine there at
What happened before to Charles Krug James K. Moffitt leased it
out to Louis Stralla, and Louis Stralla made bulk wine for Cella
during all that period of time. Then he moved out of there a
couple of years before that and [in 1940], he bought a place in
Oakville, a winery, and he began to work there. Actually the
winery was closed when we went through it. It wasn't operating.
Did it have much equipment in it?
No. In fact, all dirt floors. They had old tanks in there,
had gone through the earthquake and the walls were a little
cracked. And the second floors were not in good repair. What we
did, we renovated the whole winery. We took out all the tanks.
We got rid of all the tanks.
The redwood tanks, because I didn't want to have the old tanks that
give you off-flavors. I realized one thing, that you needed clean
oak. You needed clean barrels to produce the kind of wines that I
was interested in. We took those all out. We used them for
binning our wines in the stable, which we converted into an aging
cellar. We made some bins with the staves of the redwood tanks.
And then we put all new tanks, and all cement floors. We
reinforced the walls to make it earthquake proof. We did a lot of
And one of the things that I found I had to do during the
war years you had to have priorities. You couldn't build without
priorities. I remember going to the federal offices in the
Furniture Mart building on Van Ness, at about Tenth Street. I
used to go visiting this federal agency that was in charge of
building during the war trying to convince them that they should
give us double-A priority, I think, in order to buy materials to
build, or rebuild the winery. I went there for about two weeks,
three weeks, constantly trying to meet the head man. I'm trying
to think of his name now. I was always given the run-around. But
I kept going back.
Finally he saw me. I explained to him what I wanted to do,
that we wanted to get into the fine wine business, but also into
making the best popular priced wines possible. And then he said,
"Well, we are cutting everything down, but we want to keep ten
percent of our business alive to keep this a going entity. I'm
willing to work with you. It seems that your project is a good
one." They were trying to keep a skeleton of the industry alive.
I was able to convince the government that we should be one of
them. So he gave us the double-A priority to buy barrels, cement
and building materials.
When I got that, the following year I would go again. And
then the following year I would go. As long as we had that
double-A priority, we were able to get things to rebuild the
winery during the war years when most people couldn't do it.
Teiser: When did you first make wine there then?
Mondavi: We made wine in 1943.
Teiser: The first year you owned it.
Mondavi: Yes, the first year. We were actually putting tanks up and
pouring wine into them.
Teiser: What kind?
Mondavi: They were open fermenters, just redwood fermenters. The staves
were six foot tall. We used those. As a tank was built, we were
crushing grapes and pumping wine into it. It was amazing. It was
Teiser: What time of year did you buy the winery?
Mondavi: We bought it in March of 1943.
Teiser: It was that same year that the Acampo Winery was sold.
Mondavi: That's right. My dad then sold his interest of the Acampo Winery
and invested in the Charles Krug Winery.
Teiser: Apparently everybody in Acampo sold to people who hadn't been in
Mondavi: That's right, yes. That's when my dad then invested in Charles
Krug. It was called C. Mondavi & Sons. He had called it [his
business] C. Mondavi & Sons when we started nailing boxes for him,
even though we weren't doing any of the business at that time. So
he got us in that way.
Teiser: He continued shipping?
Mondavi: As long as he lived, he continued shipping, yes. He used to ship
more grapes in the beginning. But always, he shipped grapes.
Teiser: Other produce too?
Mondavi: He used to have other produce before. He used to ship
canteloupes, cherries, lettuce and vegetables. He didn't go into
that after we bought the Charles Krug winery. He just concen
trated on the grapes and would oversee the winery.
Teiser: What condition were the vineyards in when you bought the winery?
Mondavi: There were about twenty-five acres or so that were not planted. It
was a very old, old vineyard, and it all had to be replanted.
They didn't have quite the right varieties that we wanted. Little
by little we began to replant all the vineyards. The land was
very good land. We wanted to put in later Cabernet, Chardonnay,
Riesling, and better varietal grapes. They had the lesser variety
of grapes at that time. As soon as we bought the Charles Krug
winery, we began to look at the future and began to plant the
better variety of grapes there.
Teiser: When did you get your bottling line in?
Mondavi: It's crazy. All we did was we bought a bottling line, and we put
it in one wing. We would bottle wine there. We would put it
through the window. We didn't even have time in the beginning for
a door. We would put the cases through a window, into a railroad
car that was outside the building. And that's the way we bottled
for about the whole year.
Teiser: You started bottling in '43 then?
Mondavi: In '43, yes.
Teiser: Bottling Sunny St. Helena wine?
Mondavi: We bought the wine from Sunny St. Helena, and we bottled it. We
paid the same price that Sunny St. Helena received before, except
we did the bottling and shipped it east.
Teiser: How did you label it?
Mondavi: I thought I would be very clever. I suggested to my father I
remember we had quite a difference on this.
First of all, maybe I should tell you how the labeling came
about. When we bought the winery we appointed R.U. Delapenna,
which was a very fine importer that was a wholesale company.* We
*See also p. 26
went to talk to them, and they were interested in having our
wines. At that time we hadn't come up with a name yet.
I said, "You know, Dad, we ought to use our name. The
Mondavis are going to make the wine, we should call it Mondavi."
R.U. Delapenna said, "You know, Mondavi is not a well known name.
Krug is a very famous name. In fact there is a Krug and Company
in France which produces some of the outstanding wine of Europe,
Champagnes. Not only that, this [Chares Krug] is the oldest
operating winery, it has a history. That would be much more
valuable than having a Mondavi name."
I said, "We're going to make the wine. We should have the
credit for making it. And if we succeed it will go to us, if we
don't, we fail." My dad listened to the two of us; dad agreed to
go with R. U. Delapenna. And that's why you find Charles Krug as
being our premium wine. Then I said, "All right, if that's the
case, we'll make our secondary wine, our more popularly priced
wine, C. K." So we called it "C. K. , produced and bottled by C.
Mondavi & Sons." It was Charles Krug. We had "Charles Krug,
produced and bottled by Charles Krug Winery." And this is the way
we came up with our name.
I remember when I was talking to my father about buying the
winery. I said, "Dad, you know the purpose of what we want to do
here. What you can do in order to save taxes is to make a living
will: by that you could form a partnership in which the children
can be included, Mary, Helen, Peter, and myself, and of course
Mother and you. But you could set it up so that for tax purposes
in the future we won't have to pay a lot of taxes, and yet you
could have control of the business." I did suggest that to my
And sure enough, we got our attorneys, and that's the way he
set the company up. He set it up where we had four twenties. My
father at that time felt that since my sisters were married and
had husbands who were supplying a certain amount to them, that he
should allow the boys to have double the interest. That's how he
came up with twenty percent for Peter, twenty percent for myself.
My mother and he both had twenty percent. That's how we came into
that percentage. That was his thinking.
You had an awful lot to do in 1943, didn't you?
Yes, there was a lot going on, very, very much so. It was very
difficult because we were building a winery. We had to get a
permit to operate it. Second we had to get the priority to be
able to buy the equipment, the tanks, and building materials for
Teiser: Even bottles were in short supply, weren't they?
Mondavi: That's right, everything. It was very difficult. I was very
lucky. I guess I was rather energetic. I kept always trying to
find out where I could get more. But I always had faith in our
industry here. I knew we could do a lot. I was very optimistic.
And we were rather fortunate because were able to get our share
plus a little bit more.
Teiser: I suppose updating a winery never stops but how long did it take
you to get it in shape?
Mondavi: Let me say this. When we first made wine, I wanted to submit our
wines to the State Fair. We were very fortunate. For four or
five years, we won more gold and silver medals than any winery in
Making Wine .in the 1940s and 1950s
You have to remember that business was very difficult. We
had an oversupply of grapes. They planted all those grapes during
Prohibition, and then we had a surplus of about a quarter of a
million tons of grapes each and every year almost until the
sixties and seventies. We were in a very critical condition at
We began to really make progress in spite of the difficult
times. But the business was tough. It was hard. We won awards.
We were being acknowledged as being one of the top producers in
the company of the finest, which was Inglenook, B. V., Beringer
Brothers. We won more awards than anyone in the beginning there
and began to get quite a name for ourselves.
What kind of wines did you win awards for?
We had Cabernet*, Pinot noir, Traminer, Riesling, Chardonnay,
Zinfandel, Camay, Camay Rose, burgundy, chablis, and sauterne.
We were winning many awards. Frankly, as we sold our wines
to the various restaurants they acknowledged the fact that they
were accepted. However, the business was not a lucrative
business. It was a very difficult business. Wines were not
considered as a way of life during those years. In fact, right
after Prohibition, the wines that were made were generally very
poor wines. And they weren't palatable wines, and the American
public didn't drink wines. The only people that drank wines were,
basically speaking, the immigrants that came over, especially from
the Mediterranean area, that came here. And they would often make
their own wine. They were the ones that drank wine during that
period of time.
However, the University of California began to teach enology
and viticulture right after repeal. And then they began to teach
the kind of grapes to plant, Cabernet, Pinot noir, Chardonnay,
Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, and these, in the proper locations.
And this is the thing that had been tremendous for the California
wine industry because what happened, these enologists and
viticulturists began to plant these better grapes in the better
In the sixties, for all practical purposes, the poor wines
disappeared, and we began to make sound wines, big wines, rich
wines. And the American people began to drink. And then from
1968 on, we had what I call the wine revolution because sales of
wine quadrupled in the next fifteen years, 1966 to 1981. The
American people began to drink it because the wines were sound,
they were good, they were big and rich. So the wine business
began to pick up. I would say that the golden years of the wine
business developed from 1966 through to '83.
Teiser: Were you bottling also generic wines in the 1940s at Charles Krug?
Mondavi: Our whole business in the beginning was bottling gallon jugs,
half-gallon jugs of wine because we didn't make any fine wines at
that time because we were just getting into fine grapes. We
started to produce fine grapes, but that was very limited. And we
didn't put fine varietal wines on the market for about three or
Teiser: When you did, those were the ones that won the awards?
Mondavi: Those were the ones, yes. After we put those on the market. In
'43 we made our first wine. Then '44, '45, -'46. However those
wines weren't judged. They had to be aged three or four years.
We began to win our awards in '46, '47, '48, those years there.
But the business was rather difficult. After the war years,
business was good. But then there was a recession in '47. During
1947 there was a terrible recession. And people were hurt, and we
were badly hurt because at that time there was an overproduction
of grapes. Things were very difficult. I know that we had some
very, very tough times.
We lost a lot of money in 1947 because the market dropped from
about a dollar and half to fifty cents and twenty five cents a
gallon. Most people were hurt. And we were hurt as well because
we had a very big crush. We had an oversupply of grapes. It took
years for that to adjust itself, and we worked very hard. They were
really the very lean years from '47 on, up until in '66.
Teiser: Did you have enough cooperage and enough storage space to hang on?
Mondavi: We did, we did hang on. But we barely hung on because it was so
tough. We were living, but we weren't getting much money from the
business. All of us worked very, very hard, and it was a strain.
As long as Dad was living things worked out very well because Dad
was the patriarch. I was able to work with Dad because I worked
with him all the time. That worked out well.
When he passed away, then things became a little bit more
difficult because there were misunderstandings. My mother became
the matriarch at that time. I don't want to get too far ahead of
the story here.
Teiser: What was the relationship of C. Mondavi & Sons with Sunny St.
Helena then? How did it continue?
Mondavi: Actually, even when dad was shipping grapes, C. Mondavi & Sons had
an interest in Sunny St. Helena Wine Company. In other words my
dad had the controlling interest of the Sunny St. Helena Wine
We formed a co-op with the Sunny St. Helena Winery, with our
growers so that they could participate, depending on what we sold
our wine for, and also because we needed their support. We didn't
have the money to pay the growers. So what we did we had the
growers put in their grapes, and we had a deal with them whereby
when we sold the wine they would then participate in the proceeds.
This is how we carried on at the Sunny St. Helena Winery.
From '35 to 1940, Jack Riorda was the manager of Sunny St.
Helena Winery. He passed away. Then I took over in 1940 and
became the manager, working under my father. And then we sold
Sunny St. Helena Winery, I think in '45, and we concentrated all
of our operations at C. Mondavi & Sons, which owned and operated
the Charles Krug Winery.
Teiser: And that was when you turned it into a co-operative?
Mondavi: We formed the co-op right after 1940.
Teiser: What were your functions from '43 on?
Mondavi: From 1943 when we bought the Charles Krug winery, up to '59, when
my father passed away, I was in complete charge of the operation
under my father. My brother was the production manager. In 1943
I was in charge, naturally under my father. I set up the wine-
making procedures. And then in 1947, my brother came in from the
service. I turned over the winemaking procedures to him, but I
was in charge of the over-all picture, that is the making of the
wine, the selling of it.
I constantly took trips selling our wine, east, and called on
all our trade. That's how I began to learn more about wines. As
I traveled I began to drink more of other people's wines. I began
to drink the great wines of the world. In the fifties I began to
drink the Bordeaux, the Burgundies in my travels. And I began to
realize there was another style of winemaking that they were
carrying on over there.
So I then took a trip in 1962 to find out what was going on,
because I now was producing wine that belonged in the company of
the finest California wines. But then I aspired to produce wines
that belonged in the company of the greatest wines in the world.
So I began to drink and taste the Bordeaux and Burgundies. I
began to realize they were doing something there that was not due
to the natural elements, the climate, the soil, or the grapes.
There was something they were doing in their winemaking procedure.
On my first trip to Europe in 1962, I went to Italy,
Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, and later on went to
Australia. And I began to realize that they made their Cabernets
completely different from their Pinot Noirs. They made the
Chardonnays completely different from their Rieslings.
So I began to adopt some of the principles they did over
there. I began to realize that they used small barrels for aging
their wines. I began to realize that they would make Cabernet by
keeping it in contact with the skins much longer. I realized that
the Pinot Noirs they would retain stems in making their wines.
The Rieslings were made completely different from the Chardonnays.
They were a very fresh fruity wine compared to the Chardonnays
that were aged in small barrels and fermented differently.
So, that's what I began to do here, the operations changed
completely. This is what catapulted the fine wines of California
in the company of the fine wines of the world because up to that
time, all of us in California would take either a Cabernet, or a
Pinot Noir, or a Zinfandel, or a Barbera, and make it exactly the
same. We then realized the big difference. We saw that the aging
in barrels made a big difference, and also the way we fermented
it made a big difference.
Others in Napa and California followed. We helped set the
tone and pace. We bought barrels in great quantities. The next
thing you knew, other people began to do the same thing. We began
to find distinct differences between our Cabernets and our Pinot
Noirs, our Rieslings and Chardonnays, whereas before they were
very, very similar. They didn't have the complexity and the
character. So this is what has put California in the company of
the fine wine-growing regions of the world.
Teiser: Were people in Europe hospitable to you when you came?
Mondavi: Very, very hospitable. They were very open. It's amazing, but it
was funny. Their style of winemaking was more or less all the
same. But when they made Cabernet, for instance, the first growth
would have new barrels each year; others would have barrels used
over and over again. And yet the wines taste completely different
from one another. Even though they thought their procedures were
the same, they were so different.
In Burgundy they would retain stems when they made their wine
and they fermented much warmer. And I was amazed the differences
in what they did and how they differed from one another. Even
though their techniques appeared to be the same, the wines ended
up completely different, because some of them had new barrels,
some had old barrels. Really, it's amazing the big contrast.
We were trying to learn that in making wine you need not only
the finest grapes, but you needed the finest barrels and the
finest technique, and it had to be clean, and it had to reflect
what I consider the fruit of the grape, with the aging and certain
style of cooperage. It's a harmony between those two factors that
gave you a complex and very fine wine. And this is the thing that
we have been doing. And frankly, we have been able to help set
the tone and pace in this regard.
Teiser: Did you move away from redwood?
Mondavi: We moved completely away from redwood. We had big redwood tanks
at the Charles Krug Winery. We had the huge redwood tanks to make
our vin ordinaire, our popularly priced wines. But we had nothing
but small oak barrels to age our fine wine. Then I wanted to buy
PETER AND ROBERT MONDAVI
Nevers oak barrels, French oak barrels, because 1 felt that they
had a more subtle character. And I knew that the new barrels
played a very important part. That was a difference that I had
with my brother. I wanted to form a style of wine. We had some
honest differences that would make a difference in style of wine.
During that time my brother wanted to use old barrels. Today
we're using mainly new barrels in our better wines. And we find
that we have a different style. We find that we can get a price
higher by doing what we're doing. And we can get those people who
are accustomed to drinking wines of that style. Therefore we have
been able to achieve higher prices, only because we knew that
there is a certain group of people that like this style of wine.
I don't say it's better. But they are willing to pay more money
for it. It depends upon what you like.
Teiser: Through all this, you have been apparently very successful at
mar ke t ing .
Mondavi: I didn't know what marketing was. People say, "Gee, who does all
your public relations?" I didn't know what they were talking
about. I said, "Well, I'm only being honest. I speak to people
about what I do, how I do it. And that's all I do." I say, "What
do you mean by marketing?" I'm now beginning to realize good
marketing is being honest. I was sincere, I was honest about what
I was doing. And I went out of my way to let people know what we
were doing and explain what we were doing. It was the personal,
It seems that this was something that other people weren't
doing, and especially the Europeans. When I used to have Michael
Broadbent, Hugh Johnson, Cyril Ray, all of these people visit,
they never knew how wines were made. They tasted the wines. They
didn't realize the part that oak played, the part that stems
played, what we did and how we handled it, the different
temperature controls, and things like that. They knew none of
that. I was just being very honest. And they questioned me for a
while, but then they began to realize that there was something to
If being sincere and honest, and telling people what you're
doing is public relations, then it's public relations that we
have. And we let the people know the differences that exist by
using redwood, by using oak, by using oak that had what I call
high toasting versus low toasting, by using a Nevers oak versus an
American oak, using Yugoslavian Limousin oak. We carried on all
that research work.
Selling and Publicizing Wines
I told you about R.U. Delapenna wanting to handle our wines
at Charles Krug. And then we were going to get started with them.
However, in the interim, McKesson [&] Robbins came in. They had
international distribution. They were a very large company. And
we made a contract with them to sell our entire output. We were
to sell forty thousand cases the first year, sixty thousand the
second, eighty thousand the third, and a hundred thousand cases
thereafter. We had a ten-year contract. This was in "46.
What happened the recession came along. We were all set
with all these cases to go. We signed the agreement, and we
shipped about four cars. All of a sudden the recession came about
in '47, and they dismissed all their sales people they had some
twenty salespeople except one. All these wines were put out on
the market and nobody was selling them.
That taught me a lesson. Then I said, "From now on, we're
going to do our own selling." Even though 1 had a contract. I
could sue, but by the time I spent the money suing, and going
through the trial and tribulations, it would not be worth it.
We'll sell our own wines.
I worked with and through Jimmy [James] Beard, because he was
an outstanding printer, one of the finest in the West. Not only
that, I confided in Jimmy what I wanted to do, how I wanted to
build the Charles Krug Winery. I worked with Jimmy to help create
our labels and all our artwork, as well as getting his opinion on
some of the policies of our winery.
You had Malette Dean make some drawings.
That's right, Malette Dean. And I got him through Jimmy Beard.
Malette Dean came and did our work. In other words, we felt that
wine was a living thing and that we had to personalize it.
Malette was an outstanding artist on his own. And Jimmy was an
outstanding printer. So I had these people that I worked with to
do this work, and we became personal friends as well.
Then I wanted to have a newsletter. So, I said, "Jimmy, what
can we do? Could you write, or do you know of anyone?" He said,
"Well, I have a man that I think you will find quite interesting
and very good, 'Paco' Gould." Frank Gould.
So I talked to him, and at that time I remember I said,
"Frank, you know we are very limited in funds. The only way we
can afford to do this is if you will take tours through the
winery. We can pay you for taking tours through the winery. And
ALCOHOL t J % BY VOLUME
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY
ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
O A K V I L L E , CALIFORNIA
ALCOHOL IJ"! BY VOLUME
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY
ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
Labels designed by Mallette Dean
once we get enough money from our sales on the wine, we'll then
get a secretary and then she can work with you." He said, "Fine,
I'll make a deal with you." He said, "I'll write the newsletter.
I'll take tours." Sure enough, before the year was up, he had
made enough money so we could hire a secretary. And then he would
dictate for our newsletter. So it worked out very well and was
We talked about trying to figure a way to publicize our
wine, and to get more growers. Then Frank Gould came up with the
idea, "Why don't we hold a tasting like we do with Andre
Tchelistcheff. Let's get some of the growers into one of our
This idea came from wine tastings we were holding with Andre
in the evenings in my home. I had approached Andre to consult
with us at the Charles Krug winery to [help us] understand more
about winemaking and wine tasting. I asked if he could get
approval from his principals at B. V., which he did. So we had a
buffet luncheon on the grounds and Frank was there, and my wife
and the family. And we had our growers come in. And it was very
We said, "Gee, why don't we do that and expand it to the
public." This is what we did. We began to invite the public. We
would have about six, seven of these tastings during the summer
months. We would invite about 250 or 300 people. They would come
to taste these wines. And then they began to order these wines in
the different restaurants.
I remember going out to the wholesalers in San Francisco
trying to get them to handle our wine. Nobody wanted it because
it was an unknown entity. Charles Krug was dormant and unknown.
I couldn't get anyone. The next thing I knew, just before a year
was up, when we had these tastings, Henry Cristiani, a wholesaler
in San Francisco, called me on the phone. He was one of the men
we approached. He said, "You know, I'm getting calls for your
wine. Do you mind if I handle the wines?" I was very honored
because I was trying to get people to handle it but they wouldn't
We started with that. And this is how we built up our
business. We had wine tastings on the lawns and people became
interested in our wines, talked about them, and began ordering
them in restaurants and retail outlets. These wine tastings
started from the tastings we had in the evenings for our
production people, which included Andre Tchelistcheff, Jimmy
Beard, Frank Gould, our staff, mainly the Charles Krug staff on
We were creating this interest within our own people because I
realized that unless they understood what we were trying to do, we
would not get the kind of wines we wanted.
Teiser: Did Andre Tchelistchef f bring some concept of European styles of
Mondavi: Andre Tchelistchef f was a man that I used to give me the whole
concept. We did all of his research work. We knew that he had
all the background, having gone through enology school in Europe.
We knew he was one of the outstanding producers of wine here.
Whatever he wanted to do, I listened to it. And I adopted the
principles, whereas I could do things that he couldn't do because
we owned our winery, and would try everything. He was the one
that came in with many ideas.
And very frankly, he was very, very helpful to me in trying
different things. And I did. I tried all these things. Then we
would taste the wine after we did that. And that encouraged him to
do many things since we were free to experiment, and at B. V. he
did not have that liberty. However, he profited by this, and so
did we. And we were happy to do it. It was an exchange. We
were, at Charles Krug, really the research phase of winemaking
Not only that, I called AndrH to form the Napa Valley
Technical Group. I said, "Andre, why don't we form a group of
people? Let's bring in Louis Martini, Inglenook, Beringer
Brothers. Let's have a little seminar, a group where we would
meet and exchange the ideas of winemaking so that we can further
the cause of winemaking by all of us." I was very open to these
We called the meetings together. After about the third
meeting, one or two of the people said, "Gee, we're giving away all
our secrets." I said, "Oooh!" Then I lost interest because all
they wanted to do was to have the ABCs of winemaking. They didn't
want to get into the detail of what to do. Then the Napa Valley
Technical Group became what I called, for a number of years, an
eating group where you got together and discussed superficial
things, but not getting into the real heart of the things. We
went to the meetings, but frankly, they weren't as effective as
they should have been.
So I carried on my own work, my own research work within our
own group. That's why we have done all of our research work. And
we have been very open. And I think if you travel around you'll
find that people will realize that we have been open. We have a
lot of concern about our research work that we carry on. We are
willing to talk to people about it. There is no one that will do
anywhere near the kind of research work that we do right here.*
But we used to do it over there then and I wanted to exchange
*At the Robert Mondavi Winery.
ideas with people at that time. And if they didn't want to come,
fine, I did it alone.
Another aspect of the marketing, what importance did you place upon
restaurants as compared to retail outlets?
I would say this, that I knew that for fine wines, that it would
be more important if I could get the restaurants to accept our
wines, that I would be more secure of being able to get my prices.
I knew that what we would have to pay here would be higher prices
for grapes. And if we made the wines the way we should make them
that they would be closer to the first growths or the better wines
of Europe. I realized that the restaurants would be the places
where I could get a better price more consistently.
Yes, there were some very good retail shops. But I put more
emphasis on trying to sell to better restaurants and get accepted,
because once you had that, it was easier
Mondavi: We were able to convince these [restaurant] people. And once we
got them with us, they would be more loyal, and they would work
with us, realizing that we would have continuity, because we knew
that we could have a continuity of style and character. And we
knew that our wines belonged in the company of the finest, whether
it be here or overseas. And we had that confidence. It was not
easy. But we felt that once we won over the principal
restaurateurs, we would be in safer hands where they could afford
to pay better prices.
Building Vo lume
What about volume?
The volume was more than ample. As far as we were concerned there
was more than enough room to sell to the better restaurants. Not
only that, but because it cost a lot of money to buy barrels, to
buy wines, and to build a business, we could build slower, more
intelligently that way. We felt the increase was ample for what
Did you keep producing more each year?
Yes, we did. We continually did that. We found that we had to
increase our volume of popularly priced wines in order to break
our "overhead nut." I used to tell my father, I remember, "Well,
Dad, unfortunately, we have to have more, especially in our
popularly priced wines. We have to have more volume to take care
of our what I call our "overhead nut 1 ." We increased from five to
ten percent a year. That's what we did constantly. And then we
got to a point where we began to make some money.
Teiser: Where did you get the wine for your bulk wine?
Mondavi: We made all our own. In fact, we are unique
Teiser: I'm sorry, I meant where did you get the grapes?
Mondavi: In the beginning when I was at Charles Krug winery they used to
come from Napa Valley, but then as our sales increased we began to
bring grapes from the San Joaquin and crush them at the Charles
Krug Winery. We don't do that anymore.
Teiser: You don't here at the Robert Mondavi Winery?
Mondavi: No. At the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley we crush only
Napa Valley grapes. We have a separate winery on Woodbridge Road
near Lodi where we crush north and central coast as well as
northern San Joaquin [valley] grapes.
Teiser: Did you blend them then at Krug?
Mondavi: Our Charles Krug wines were mainly from Napa Valley grapes. Some
came from Sonoma; very little. Our C. K. was blended with Napa
Valley, but a greater percentage of the San Joaquin.
Industry Organizations and Activities^
[Interview 2: April 19, 1984]
Teiser: You began to be interested in the Wine Institute when you were
fairly young, I believe.
Mondavi: Well, when I was at the Sunny St. Helena Wine Company in '38 I
began to go to some of the meetings, but I wasn't a member of the
board until we purchased the Charles Krug Winery. From that point
on, I was a member of the board of the Wine Institute, and then
became its chairman in '62 and '63 for a couple of years [1962-3
and 1963-4 terms]. Then I had been a board member up until just
recently, when both my sons became members of the Wine Institute.*
I am ex officio, naturally. I attend meetings, some of the
executive board meetings. I attend the annual meetings. I am
very much interested. And I played quite an important part in
trying to get this so-called marketing order with the growers and
the vintners together.** So I think I've been helpful in bringing
that together, just as Mirassou*** and a few others have. I have
been a strong advocate along that line for a number of years.
Teiser: Were you active on the Wine Advisory Board when it existed?
Mondavi: Yes, I was. I was on the Wine Advisory Board. In fact, it was
through my efforts that we formed the premium wine group [the
Premium Wines Public Relations Subcommittee of the Wine Advisory
Board]. What I wanted to do originally I felt that Napa Valley
should have an organization whereby we would be able to carry on
public relations work in behalf of Napa Valley. So I called John
Daniel, Aldo Fabrini of Beaulieu, John Daniel of Inglenook. And
then of Beringer Brothers, Fred Abruzzini, and then there was
Brother Tim [Timothy], I think, with Christian Brothers.
I wanted to form a little committee where we could raise a
small amount of money and appoint a public relations director for
the Napa Valley. At that meeting, we met at John Daniels's office
in Inglenook. What took place in our conversation, Aldo Fabrini
felt that it should encompass more than just Napa Valley. I said,
"Well, if it should encompass more than Napa Valley, then what we
should do is take the key leading fine wine producers of the state
of California and get money from the Wine Advisory Board," because
they were raising about two million dollars a year, "And let's get
a certain fund from them." I suggested that we get Lou [Louis]
Gomberg at that time, who could contact the other fine wine
producers. So we all put in, I think it was a hundred or two
hundred dollars apiece to pay Lou Gomberg to contact the other
members, that is fine wine producers of the state of California.
And we got together.
We then made a presentation to the Wine Advisory Board, saying
that we would like to have sixty thousand or seventy thousand
dollars to be able to promote the fine wines of California. And
that's how we formed the fine wine public relations program. It
*Timothy J. Mondavi is a board member for District No. 5, and R.
Michael Mondavi for District No. 7.
**The marketing order that in 1984 created the Winegrowers of
***Edmund A. Mirassou
started because I wanted to get something started in Napa. We got
more publicity with that sixty or seventy thousand dollars than
they had with all the advertising; they had spent over a million
What went on, we then began to spend more money. As the
large producers of wine began to realize the effect of this public
relations program, they put more money in. They put in a hundred
thousand, then two hundred thousand, than a half a million. Then
they wanted to come in and run the show. And we agreed, all
right, as long as they would speak on fine wines, take a certain
portion of that and put their best foot forward. In other words,
we wanted to have our best foot forward when we spoke about
California wines. That's what took place.
And then we began to spend a considerable amount of money
just on public relations, which was very effective. That's when
we had the blind tastings, California wines versus French wines.
That's when we had tastings overseas. That's when we had tastings
in the schools. And then we had educational programs for the wine
writers. We began to raise the image of California wine with the
American people. This was a big step forward.
Then unfortunately, politically, in '75, they dropped the
Wine Advisory Board. Since that time we have no real effective
educational program to teach the American public about our wine.
Nor an aggressive program to continue educating the wine writer on
the quality of our wines as contrasted with the foreign wines.
What happened, really, during that period of time, the big
wineries were trying to out-promote one another and telling each
other that their wine was better than the other, which gave a bad
impression on the American public. In the meantime, the foreign
wines were able to come in because they didn't condemn anybody's
wine. The American people got the impression that there must be
something wrong with the California table wine. They didn't
realize what they were doing, because everybody said, "My wine is
better than yours," implying some California wines were not as
good as they should be. Negative thinking.
Those are the ads naming other wines?
That's right. And all they did was create a mental picture in the
American people that our wine mustn't be as good. The foreign
wines were saying their wines are good with food, their wines were
good this way and that. Not only that, then we called our wines
"jug wines." All these connotations of what we were doing was
smacking against the American people's appreciation for our wine.
And we've done nothing to correct that.
Now we are trying to work what I call a joint marketing
program with the growers. We have finally gotten to the point of
realizing maybe we haven't done our best. Not only that, there is
an over supply of grapes. There is an oversupply of wine. There
is an oversupply of wines in Europe, in France, and in Italy, and
in Spain. And we are just going to hurt ourselves if we don't do
something about it to let the people know exactly what our wines
have. So we are at the threshold, right today, of possibly
coming out with a program that can be very helpful in the long
And I think that we all are going to be surprised that even
though there are certain basic differences between the growers and
the wineries, there aren't any differences because what we are
trying to do is get the highest price possible for the grower.
The only way you can do this is by selling wine at a good price.
I think that it will take a little while to try to resolve our
differences, but we are going to find that there's going to be a
lot more good done by working together.
I'm hopeful that this will take place within the next six
months.* If it does, you're going to see that we are on our road
again to building something that for a while we were doing a very
good job at. At one time California wines were an unknown entity
with the American people. Since 1968, let's say '68 on, frankly
that educational program began to develop, and our wines were
better, and we began to become a factor.
When we hurt ourselves is when the prices About three years
ago the prices of foreign wines, basically the French and the
Italian wines, were much higher, relatively speaking. And we
raised our prices as fast as we could in line with the foreign
wine prices. And then an over-supply took place in Europe, in
France, Italy, and in Spain. And they began to drop their prices.
The American dollar got much stronger. Then all of a sudden the
foreign wines came in here much cheaper, and the American people
were upset that we kept our prices so high. And we did,
relatively speaking, compared to the foreign wines coming into the
market. So the people on the East Coast, and the Midwest as well
as the West Coast, began to buy, once again, more of the foreign
We did not move fast enough in that regard. We are beginning
*The marketing order creating the Winegrowers of California was
voted in and was announced by the state Department of Food and
Agriculture on August 16, 1984.
to move now. We are beginning to get prices that are lower
because of the over-supply that we have, plus some of our wines
were over-priced. Our wines are better as a class. And yet our
people aren't aware of it, only because we are selling "jug wine,"
and we're telling everybody, and we have been telling everyone,
that so-and-so's wine is not as good as ours. The American people
have gotten the impression that it must be that the foreign wines
are better. So we have to change that whole idea around in the
American mind. We didn't realize what we were doing to ourselves.
This is the way I see it.
Teiser: To go back to the Wine Institute, what were your main
contributions in the time that you were most active in it?
Mondavi: My main contribution, I could say, was that I wanted to bring to
the attention of the American people that we had fine wines that
belonged in the company of the finest wines of the world, because
up to that time, everybody talked about California wines, and
California wine was one denomination, a generic wine. It came
from the San Joaquin, or it came from the north, but it was all
the same. Well, it wasn't the same.
And I wanted to bring to the attention of the American people
that we had Cabernet, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Johannisberg
Riesling, or we had Riesling, we had Sauvignon blanc. I wanted
them to know that these wines belonged in the company of the
finest in the world. What we were doing before that time was one
big ball of wax. And I can assure you no one gave consideration
to the fine wines of California. I realized we had the natural
elements, the climate, the soil, the grape vines, to produce wines
belonging in the company of the greatest wines of the world. I
took a trip to Europe and realized that they made their wines
Teiser: Soon after you were chairman of the Wine Institute board you left
Mondavi: My father passed away in '59. So we ran the company. You have to
remember, if you go through the history of the California wine
business, you will find that we had an oversupply of grapes. Ever
since the beginning, from 1933 on, up to the Second World War in
'43, '44, '45, then we had a period in which, the government
wanted raisins, the government wanted alcohol. And then we had a
few very good years. Nineteen forty-five, '46, were very good
years. And things began to boom. We began to build a lot more
wineries. Things moved very, very well. But then we had a
tremendous recession in 1947. In '47 there was a real crash. We
had an oversupply of grapes. The people weren't buying wines as
we thought, and it took up until 1968 before things changed. In
other words, we were going through what I call very trying times.
Teiser: Were there marketing orders to attempt to help?
Mondavi: They did have one right after 1948. And then they had another
one*. Unfortunately it did not solve the problem, although it was
a step in the right direction, trying to do something about it.
But the times were very, very difficult.
During that period of time, from '48 up to '68, those
enologists and the viticulturalists that were trained at Davis**
were planting the better grapes, making the better wine. What
happened, the wines became much better. In the middle sixties,
they became palatable. And the American people began to consume
these wines socially and with their meals. That's when we had
what I call the "wine revolution," from 1968 for the next fifteen
years. Wine sales quadrupled over that period of time. These are
what I call the "golden years" of the wine business. The thing
began to move forward.
Of course then we came up to 1981, '82, '83. That's when
things began to slide because of the higher prices that we created
in our wines and because of the cheaper prices of the Italian and
the Spanish and the French wines that came into our country. We,
relatively, kept our prices up higher. We had no active public
relations program going forward. We hit what I call a rather
tough period of time, which is this period that we're going
through right now.
However, there has been tremendous competition between each
winery, and they are improving the quality of wine. As soon as we
let the people know what we have, you're going to find that we
will be able to do a better job than we have done in the past four
or five years. We are going to be able to really keep from losing
as much of that share of market to the foreign wines. We've been
losing it pretty rapidly during the last four or five years. I
think with a good promotional program, and realizing the quality
of our wines, we'll be able to slow that down a bit.
Teiser: I can see that one of the reasons that you're successful is that
*A state marketing order for wine processors was in effect from
June 20, 1949, to June 30, 1952. There was also a grape
stabilization marketing order in effect from September 16, 1949,
to December 11, 1950.
**The University of California at Davis
you're looking ahead all the time.
Mondavi: Unfortunately, I always look ahead. You're right. I'm living
today, but I talk about tomorrow.
Teiser: Let me take you back to yesterday again. You left the Charles
Krug organization during these years before things had started on
an up trend again.
Mondavi: I knew in 1966 I knew then that things were changing. And I
expressed that. In fact, we brought in management consultants,
McKinsey, at one time, to try to prove to my family that we are
doing well. I brought them in and they went through and made a
complete report that we were one of the leaders in the wine
business and our business was going ahead very well.
Teiser: About what year was this?
Mondavi: That was in 1965, I think, 1965-66. I brought them in in order to
have someone from the outside show that we were making good
progress, and that's exactly what they showed. They showed that
we had a good foundation, a good business. Now the question is,
my brother [Peter] wanted to go slower, and they recommended
selling or dropping our C. K. business, which was a big volume
business. I didn't agree with them. I said, "We shouldn't drop
our C. K. business." On the contrary, I said, "What we should do
is not to phase it out, but to sell it and get an override, and
let somebody else do it." But we spent a lifetime building a good
What did happen, naturally, I was relieved of my position.
And my brother took over. But he didn't change a thing. He
carried on exactly the same program that we had before, not
changing one iota, even though he felt certain that we should slow
things down. His one concern was that I was going too fast. He
continued the program that I had carried on and went right along,
except that now he was in charge of it.
And my mother was a matriarch. As long as my father was
living, in order to resolve the difference I would go to my
father. I had everything open, and my dad went along with me on
the policies that we established with the family. My brother went
along because as long as my father set up the deal everything
rolled along very well. I thought everything was really in very
good shape, except that I never realized I was pushing this faster
than my brother could take.
During those trying times, we weren't making enough money for
any of us because we were barely making enough money to go ahead.
I wanted to get enough volume to be able to get more money to the
family, and to carry on for the future with our children. The
whole idea was to have our children come into the business with
us. And I realized I had to take care of that overhead nut. Once
I broke what I called the overhead nut, which unfortunately Peter
wasn't quite as aware of, we could then be well on our way for our
children and all.
We were working very hard. Everybody in the family worked
very hard. I suggested that we should bring in Joe [Joseph L.j
Alioto, who I thought could be able to speak to my mother, since
he spoke Italian. And I also thought that we should bring in Fred
Ferroggiaro, who was the chairman of the finance committee of the
Bank of America, as a member of the board of directors [of Charles
Krug] to support and to talk with my mother. I remember Joe
Alioto concurring in principle on what I wanted, and yet talking
to my mother. My mother stuck very hard and clear to just doing
what my brother wanted to do in his framework. And they went
along with this thing, which was fine.
Teiser: Fred Ferroggiaro too?
Mondavi: And Fred Ferroggiaro went along too. Definitely, I was the low
man on the totem pole. And I didn't agree with them, although Joe
Alioto definitely agreed with my principle of going ahead and
taking care of the business the way we wanted to.
My mother was advised by these management consultants that
they should have one person that should be in charge in order to
get the business. And she decided that it should be my brother's
time to have a chance at running the business. So she decided
that that's what they would do. Mother wanted to be equal with
all the children [i.e. her grandchildren], but there was an honest
misunderstanding. She was advised that my son Mike should not be
in on the business. Unfortunately, she didn't put a timetable
that it should be five years or ten years. All she said was that
Mike should not come into the business.
Well, I had worked with my father and my mother. And the
whole idea was that we were building this thing for the family.
And not only that, since Mike was a youngster he wanted to be in
the business. I told my mother this. I said, "Mother, we built
this for the family. Here Mike has been wanting to come in, and
all the other children." She said, "I'm sorry. He won't, because
there is this difference of opinion. She wouldn't mention what it
was. I knew what it was. I then said to her, "If that's the
case, Mother, what I will do, I'm going to build a winery."
IV THE ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
Establishing a New Enterprise
Mondavi: I was approached by people that realized that there was a
difference, and that wanted to go into business with me. And they
would set up the company. I said, "What I could do, I'll
establish a company." Since Mike wanted to be in the business, I
would establish the Robert Mondavi Winery for Mike. And I would
still remain with the family operation. And then Mike would have
a small winery for fifteen to twenty thousand cases, and he could
be in the business. I made a joint deal with Fred Holmes and Ivan
Schoch in which they had fifty percent of the company and I had
fifty percent of the company. I borrowed $100,000. And they put
in $100,000. And we started a small winery. I would call it
Robert Mondavi Winery, which is the same name as Mike's*. And
Mike could get into the business, and run the business there. In
the meantime, I would be with the family operation, with C.
Mondavi & Sons, Charles Krug.
My brother felt that we were competing against C. Mondavi &
Sons and Charles Krug. And that's when I was told by Fred
Ferroggiaro that I should be out on a leave of absense for ninety
days. I was shocked at that, of course. The next thing I knew, I
received a letter from Joe Alioto severing my connections with the
family. I can assure you I was very upset. I couldn't sleep for
three months because I spent twenty-nine years of my life, every
day, working and creating something.
However, this was really an unfortunate misunderstanding. I
knew that my mother didn't want to hurt me. I saw her practically
every other day, or every third day. I lived right across the
way, went to her, explained the differences in that regard.
Unfortunately, we couldn't resolve the difference. There were
honest misunderstandings in the thing.
*His full name is Robert Michael Mondavi.
Then I had to work with my son at the Robert Mondavi Winery,
which was a very small winery. I realized that it was too small
to feed both Mike and myself, so I had to expand the winery. Not
only that, before, to be able to get enough money, I found that I
would have to act as a consultant. So I became a consultant for
the Guild winery and for Mirassou winery.
Teiser: What did you do for them?
Mondavi: I told them exactly what we were doing at the Robert Mondavi
Winery, how to build fine wines. They were not in the fine wine
business. They were basically in the bulk business. The Mirassou
family was in the bulk business.
Teiser: They hardly had a label by then.
Mondavi: They didn't even have a label then. So they wanted to learn the
art of making fine wines. The same thing with Guild. They were
in the mass bulk jug business. But they also wanted to learn to
make fine wines. I consulted with both of them in order to make
enough money so that I could continue living within my own
lifestyle. I had a five-year contract with Mirassou, and I had a
one-year contract with Guild. That allowed me to continue living
on the same compensation that I had before when 1 was getting that
from Charles Krug, which worked out very well for my family.
Before I really decided to build the winery and go on our
own, I talked to the family. When we found that we had an honest
difference, and I was put on the leave of absence, I brought all
of my children back home to talk to them as they were going to
school there was Mike, Marcie, and Tim.* Of course my ex-wife
Marge** was at home. And I told them that I had an honest
difference of opinion and philosophy in winemaking as compared
with Peter, and I felt that during our lifetimes we would all be
confronted with basic different philosophies. Where I wanted to
excel in winemaking and make the finest, Peter's opinion was to do
something less than that.
I said that also, Mike was not going to be accepted in
working at the C. Mondavi & Sons. I knew that Mike wanted to be
*R. Michael Mondavi, Marcia Mondavi (later Borger), Timothy J.
**Marjorie Declusin Mondavi
in the wine business ever since he was a youngster. I suggested
that what we could do, we could go into building this winery. I
said, however, we would go through minimum five years, up to maybe
as much as ten years, where we will be short of cash because the
wine business was a difficult business. And I wanted them all to
think of this very seriously, that we would not have the standard
of living that we were accustomed to before.
They went back to school. We then had a meeting about a
month and a half or so later, and they all agreed that they were
willing to take that sacrifice if they had to. So that's when we
agreed to decide to build the other winery, realizing that they
wouldn't have what we had in the past. Thank God, what happened
was we agreed to start building the winery for Mike.
Then I was let go and so we worked and built the winery up to
where it is now. And I'm glad we did it because, frankly, Peter
was able to do what he wanted at the C. Mondavi & Sons, Charles
Krug Winery. And I was able to start from scratch.
All the money I had was invested in the Charles Krug winery.
We had no ability of being able to borrow money because all of it
was tied up there. What I had to do was try to borrow as much
money as I could from the bank. In fact, Ina and Bill Hart lent
me fifty thousand dollars. And then I had the Mirassou family,
who actually co-signed a note for another fifty thousand, with the
Bank of America. So the Mirassou family actually assisted me, and
I was able to borrow that fifty thousand. With the hundred
thousand, I was able to match what both Ivan Schoch and Fred
Holmes put into it. That's how we started the business. But that
was all borrowed money.
Teiser: That was a pretty brave thing to do at
Mondavi: I was 55, probably, I think. In fact, I was along in years. Yet
I had all the faith in the world. I also knew at that time, the
business was moving, and that fine wine would come into its own.
I was sold on that strongly. And I knew that if we wanted to
create something, we had to do it then. I knew that big money was
coming in to invest into the business, and I realized that if we
didn't do something, then it would be too late. It would be much
too difficult to do it later on. So I told my family that, and
that's exactly what we did.
We went ahead in 1966. We broke ground. We decided in
February or March to go ahead, and decided to crush grapes that
year. We worked with the Valley Foundry [and Machine Works],
Pete Peters and Leon Peters, who worked closely with us to build
the winery. And we were able to build it in time to crush about
four hundred ninety tons of grapes the first year.
Teiser: What kind of a building did you have that first year?
Mondavi: To be very honest with you, we had slabs out here. And we didn't
have a building, because we were putting our tanks in. We had the
crusher, and our fermenting area here. But we didn't have the
building around it. All we had was slabs where we put our
fermenting tanks on. And then we pumped from the fermenting tanks
into other tanks. We finished building the building afterwards.
People were plastering our building as we were making wine. We
were at the process of building the building as we were making
wine. Really, it was a rather complicated deal, but a very
interesting time. And it worked out very well.
Teiser: Did you start then shopping I used to go to Italy every year,
and everybody seemed to know you in the Italian wine industry.
Mondavi: More so in the French wine and the German wine, more so than
Observations upon European Winemaking
From 1962 on, I took one trip or two a year, or more
depending. My first trip in '62 I went through Italy,
Switzerland, France, Alsace, Germany, and then Austria. Then I
kept taking trips, but many more times into France and Germany.
I had the impression that you had bought a lot of equipment in
No, I bought more equipment from Germany, from Seitz, than I did
from Italy. I had great respect for what they had in Italy, but I
bought more German or French equipment; but I bought some from
Italy as well.
Piero Antinori, when he came here years ago, saw us when we
had our barrels first at Charles Krug and then at this winery. He
was startled to see all these barrels. He came back about three
or four years later, and he saw us even going further. And then
he began to take barrels and experiment with barrels at his winery
in the Chianti region. Then he brought in [Emile] Peynaud of
France to consult with him. Now he has Andre Tchelistcheff
consulting with him. What we've done here, we've stimulated many
people the world over; the same thing in the Bordeaux, Burgundy
regions of France. We've had all the people in Italy over here.
Photograph courtesy of Wines and Vines
Above: Winery addition under construction, 1970
Below: Winery addition, 1985
Photograph by Ruth Te-iser
I was showing them what we did. In fact Pio Boffa [of the Pio
Cesare winery of Alba, Italy] was a guest of ours for about three
Teiser: He told me that before he had come here, he thought he knew
exactly what to do. He said, "Afterwards, my mind was a little
Mondavi: He knew definitely. I tried to explain to him. At that time he
thought that well, these people You'd be amazed. I was at Pio
Boffa's recently. He had barrels hidden in one area of the
winery. He's experimenting with barrels down there, and he's
doing all the work. In fact, he had me check the barrels with
him, and to smell them. I told him what I thought, at which he
was very appreciative. Then he came back with his father, back to
Napa Valley. We've been very open and very helpful to them.
What they're doing is wonderful. And the grapes that they
have are wonderful. But the style of wines that we were making
are different. Because they have the old barrels and the old
tanks, they do give a different flavor, you see, character.
That's nothing wrong; I think it's very fine. But I said, "Why
don't you make something that will reflected new coopering? You
have beautiful grapes. It will give you another style."
His uncle at that time his uncle was still living his uncle
wouldn't let him do it. I said, "Make one barrel! Get one
barrel." This was ten, twelve years ago. And I said, "Get your
uncle to just buy one barrel. And then sell it to Larry Romano in
San Francisco. Let him sell it for you. And then get your prices
up on that." He went there to talk to his uncle. But his uncle
said, "Absolutely not." They wouldn't budge come hell or high
water on changing anything.
The French are even worse in this matter. They have twenty
barrels, ten barrels, fifty barrels. (A hundred barrels is a big
operator in France.) But they will not change a thing. They're
in their little world and they don't move. If you go to Burgundy,
especially in Burgundy and places like that, they don't move. If
you go four miles away, you're a foreigner. They don't travel
that far. And they don't exchange ideas, you see. That's why
it's going to be so difficult for France, much more so than even
Italy has moved much more rapidly in changing their style of
winemaking because they followed what we've been doing here.
You'd be amazed what they're doing over there, and changes that
are taking place. They have a darn good climate and good soil
condition. And they are going to make some very outstanding wine.
They are being a little bit more progressive than the French
over-all. I'm talking over-all.
The French without a doubt have some beautiful wines, but
they are few and far between. The others are good, but they are
not what I call great wines.
Teiser: Back to your own winery
Mondavi: What happened was I had some very good partners, Fred Holmes and
Ivan Schoch. They were with us about eighteen months. I realized
that we had to either get bigger I talked to Ivan Schoch and
Fred Holmes and Mike. The four of us were on the board of
directors here. We had crushed the first year 490 tons of
grapes. And believe you me, Napa Valley was a closed corporation.
Nobody could come in and nobody could buy any grapes. Well, the
next year, we unexpectedly crushed a thousand tons, which was
about five hundred tons more than expected because all these
growers wanted to come in, and we didn't turn them down.
We were a little bulging at that time. We either had to do
one of two things. We had to either sell the excess wine that we
had, that we made, or let the growers go. In discussing this,
both Ivan Schoch and Fred Holmes felt that to have these growers
and these good grapes has value to it. And so they said that what
we should do is get more cash into the business. And I said fine.
But I didn't want to dilute my fifty percent interest. So they
said, "Well, fine."
We had many people that wanted to come in. Any one of them
we might have picked. But we knew we wanted someone who had the
same philosophy as we did. That is, they wanted to excel in
quality, and that we knew had integrity and honesty. At that time
we had met Allen Ferguson, who was the head of the Rainier
Brewery, and Gordon MacDonald, who was his assistant. They both
came here, and they were very much interested in the same
principle that we had. They made their beer in exactly the same
way. They wanted to excel. They were a family operation. Their
family had been in the brewing business, I don't know, a hundred
years. Also, Molson had an interest, about a forty-nine percent
interest in Rainier. But Molson [Companies] 'was also a family
operation; it's the oldest corporation in America.
I felt here was a natural. Here were two family operations
who wanted to excel. We thought that we would call them on the
telephone. We called them on a weekend, on Friday, that we were
thinking that maybe we would like to bring in a little more
capital and we might open up to another partner. So they came on
the following Monday; immediately they came down. I was
surprised. They came to see me. "Bob," Ferguson said, "would you
mind if we bought up all your partners, and we would treat with
you exactly the same way? We will pay them a profit, but then we
will give you the same amount for your share, giving the same
I said, "But that's not the arrangement we made. The
arrangement we made is that we would bring a partner in with us."
He said, "But would that be all right if we talked to them?" I
said, well, as long as their policy was exactly the same as what
my policy was, it would be all right with me if they wanted to
talk to them. They talked to Ivan and to Fred Holmes, and they
offered them such a good deal they couldn't turn it down. They
did the same thing with me. They gave me the same deal.
Then we discussed the fact that we would build up to two
hundred and fifty thousand cases, and that they had money in
government bonds, and that they would be in a position to build
this. I said, "I don't want to drop my fifty percent interest,"
but they said that we could establish voting and non-voting stock,
and that in the voting stock we would maintain our relative
position, in voting.
So this is what happened. We had Rainier put considerably
more money in. But we had the same vote that they did. So we had
voting stock and non-voting stock. May I say, I was very, very
fortunate. These people abided by the principles we agreed upon.
We agreed that we would be in charge of the winemaking. They
could check everything that we were doing, and they did very
They were very helpful, because administratively, they were a
very fine company. They taught us how to administratively run the
company better then we did before because we didn't have the
expertise that they did. They were very helpful to us in building
this organization. As we went along, we went from fifteen
thousand cases, five hundred tons, where now we crush nine
thousand tons of grapes. But we built with them as we went along,
and we had a very good relationship with our partners, Rainier.
But the business was not an easy business to come by. The
competition was keen. But we did very well. We were very, very
pleased with the quality. We were very pleased with the progress
we were making.
Then a change came in when Molson, who was the forty-nine
percent owner of stock in Rainier, wanted to sell their smaller
companies. They had about five or six small companies which they
controlled. However they did not have controlling interest of our
business here. I had the control of running the business here.
They were interested in selling those companies in order to buy
one bigger company, because they didn't want to have their
management go to so many different operations. They wanted to put
it all into one. Then it would be much easier for them to control
They came to me. They said, "Bob, we find that the industry
is very interesting here, but we want to pull out. We want you to
be able to buy the company if you are in a position to do this,
and we want you to do it." But they told us very honestly what
they wanted to do and why. Allen Ferguson was in favor of
maintaining our company with the Rainier shareholders. But
unfortunately, we had twenty-five percent interest in the company,
and if Molson sold their interest to us, we would be controlling
Achieving Family Ownership
What happened, to make a long story short, I was able to sell
my interest finally, in C. Mondavi & Sons, to my brother.
(Unfortunately, we went to a court case on this thing.) With the
proceeds of that, I bought out Molson. That gave us the control,
and eventually we bought out the rest of the shareholders of
Rainier at a little higher price than we paid Molson. That's how
we were able to get complete control of our operation.
But only because the Rainier people were gentlemen: they were
men of their word. They said that I would control and run the
operation. That's exactly what happened. They had faith in what
I was doing. They also held on as long as they could before they
would sell it to someone else. Other people wanted to buy us out,
but they wanted to give us a chance to buy it out. So really, I
was very, very fortunate.
So that's how we became complete owners of the Robert Mondavi
It's all one hundred percent family owned. Not only that, we
bought over the vineyards that Rainier had. We have some of the
prime land of Napa Valley. We were very, very fortunate.
Teiser: How much acreage do you own now?
Mondavi: We have a little over fifteen hundred acres of land in Napa
Valley, of which eleven hundred acres are in vineyards. We have
some seven hundred acres of vineyard which is contiguous to the
winery, which is the largest single piece of vineyard contiguous
to a winery in Napa Valley. Then we have about 525 acres on the
Oak Knoll, on the Silverado Trail, of which four hundred acres of
that is in vineyard.
Teiser: You buy additional
Mondavi: This last year close to forty percent of our crush was our own
grapes. And then the balance of the sixty percent we bought from
growers that we have picked up over the years. We've picked up
what we consider the finest growers.
Little by little, we've been weeding out those growers which
do not have quite the quality that we want, and little by little
we've been really very fortunate. We are getting the prime
growers in the area for the different varieties' of grapes, whether
it's Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, or Sauvignon blanc. We go
to those locations that we, over the years, know are the best.
We've actually crushed more grapes from all around Napa
Valley than any other winery*. Ever since I've been in the
business, since 1937, we've crushed in the Calistoga region, we've
crushed in the Pope Valley, Conn Valley. We've crushed down in
the Carneros. So we know the merits of these various areas. And
we've been fortunate to be able to select either land that we
bought or growers that were in that location to give us what we
consider the kind of grapes and the finest grapes that we can have
to produce the style of wine that we want. So we have been very
We've been working a lifetime at this, wanting to excel.
We do a lot of dedicated work. There's no one in the world
that does more research work for fine wines than we ourselves. We
have three people who work full time just research work, plus
another equivalent of two people in the cellar. So we have a
combination of at least five to six people working constantly on
just research work to improve the quality of our wines.
Teiser: I know your son Tim has conducted barrel studies.
Mondavi: Many. We've been doing that for years. In' fact, we started that
here. They weren't doing it in France. Now Demptos, the barrel
producer that we bought our barrels from, went to the University
of Bordeaux, not once but several times, and finally said, "You
know, the Mondavis are doing all this research work. Why don't
you do something like this?" Now they are even working on
*i.e., any other winery selling exclusively Napa Valley wine.
research work in barrels in France, realizing that it's a very
important factor of making wine. It's another ingredient.
They did a tremendous amount of work at Davis. But we did
the work even before. We started a lot of work very early. But
then Davis did a lot of work thereafter, and very good work. You
know, they've always under-estimated what Davis has done. The
University of California at Davis has done more for making fine
wine than any other enology school for the simple reason, being a
young country, they looked into the climatic condition, the soil
condition, the grape varieties, and they tried to match these more
so than any other country. And here was a young country growing
up, so we were able to select the areas where to plant our grapes.
And also they taught us winemaking, viticultural practices.
You have that nowhere to that extent in any country in the
world. Australia didn't do it to the extent that we did, because
we had Prohibition that wiped everything out; then we had to start
from scratch. Basically, we were able to pinpoint where we wanted
our grapes. In France and those places, they began to plant the
grapes, they used those grapes that eventually were the best.
That's why they ended up in Bordeaux, say with Cabernet, Cabernet
franc, and Merlot, those three varieties particularly. In
Burgundy, the Pinot noirs, the Chardonnays. But we have carried
that research work here and it's given us a basis for producing
the kind of wine that we're doing today.
Not only that, the people of Europe finally realized what was
going on over here, and they have come over here. They have come
to the University of California at Davis, mainly at Davis. But
they are doing that in order to keep up with what we're doing
And of course, the American people play an important part
because now they're beginning to drink wines. We have a long ways
to go yet, but slowly it's becoming a way of life with certain
groups, maybe twenty percent of the public. I say in the next
generation you'll find many more wine drinkers, once we do an
intelligent job of educating our people. It's part of the
gracious way of living, that and food. And that's what's
developing in our country. Wine and food are developing, and they
go hand in hand and it's part of the gracious way of life. In the
next generation, the United States of America will be the shining
light on wine and food throughout the world.
In the progress of this winery, who have been the key people
Mondavi: Well, naturally, my son, Michael, and Tim who's come into this,
and Marcie who came in later selling for us.
Teiser: She handles sales?
Mondavi: She represents us in New York, yes. And then, of course, we had
Brad Warner, who came in and became an assistant winemaker, and in
charge of our cellar. The man was very, very effective. We have
a wonderful man in our sales, Gary Ramona. He has been a very
important factor in our business because he feels and breathes what
we're doing. We have Cliff [Clifford S.] Adams, our attorney, who
worked with us to help create our company and is very important in
our operation. He's a member of our board of directors. In
regard to winemaking, my son Tim has developed wonderful people.
We had Zelma Long who used to work with us for years, nine
years I think. Then she went to work at Simi, because she always
wanted to be a head winemaker. I said, "Zelma, I'm sorry, Tim is
going to be our winemaker." And she said, "I aspire to that." I
said, "Fine, if you can ever find anything like that, we'll be
happy to work with you." And she did.
We had Mike [Miljenko] Grgich that used to work with us for
about three, three and a half years. In fact I gave him a leave
of absence when somepeople wanted him to become a partner. I
said, "Mike, for Pete's sake, be careful, and I'll be happy to
talk with you if there's any advice you want me to give you. Once
again, he wanted to become an owner, and I said, "As you know,
we're a family operation, and we're not going to sell any of our
interest here." So I gave him a month's leave of absence.
And after two weeks he came to me. He said, "Bob, you know
these people would like to give me this percentage of interest in
the company for being the winemaker. They want me to go ahead."
I said, "Don't you do a thing until you have everything signed on
the paper, and you have it clean-cut and that you get your
percentage and that you get a written agreement; otherwise forget
it." Thank God, he did that.* I've consulted with him several
times since he left.
We have all the confidence in the world in doing what we
want, but we want people who are a hundred percent dedicated with
us. If they aspire to do something else, we'll help them. We'll
be very glad to help them. But we want people who are with us
that feel what we're doing is what they want to do. And if they
ever want to do something more that we cannot offer them, we'll
*He became a partner in Chateau Montelena Winery and later in the
Grgich Hills Cellar.
help them attain what they want. They are competition, but
there's more than enough room for all of us. That's the way I
think about it.
Teiser: Those two are notable people, of course, whom you've just
Mondavi: There are others here that are working in here now.
Promoting and Improving the Wines
My wife Margrit had done and is doing a tremendous job in
public relations. She was the one that developed "the Great Chefs
of France" program. She's the one that came out with the jazz
festivals and the art shows. She's the one that developed that.
She was the one that really took charge of the tours and developed
special events. She was a tour guide in the beginning, but then
she became in charge of that, and that did much to build our
business because of the graciousness with which we met people. We
were very open, honest, and sincere. She trained all of our tour
guides in the beginning. So she played and is playing a very
Teiser: You explained earlier how the tastings at Charles Krug served to
publicize your wines and increase sales. Have these programs that
you have just been discussing done the same here?
Mondavi: Yes, in other words, what we did at Charles Krug, the same thing
was true here. I realized that the quality of wines we had, that
by making these wines, I felt that we had an obligation to the
community and to ourselves to have functions that would be
beneficial to the community, and at the same time would help
publicize our wines and expose our wies by having people taste
I also realized that "the Great Chefs of France" I knew that
the wines that we were making were much better than most people
realized, and they would be eventually acknowledged. And if I
could get the great chefs of France to acknowledge that, this
would be the best promotional program you could have because
people from all over the world go to these three-star chefs.
There were only at that time eighteen three-star chefs. And we
brought over seven or eight of these. If you can get them sold on
what you're doing, I can assure you, they carry your name
I also realized it would take a while. In the fifth year
these chefs began to order wine from us. So you see we made a lot
of progress. In the beginning, they didn't feel that California
could produce wines that belonged in the company of French wines.
Our wines, in the beginning, weren't as well made as they are
today. But we've learned a lot in that period of time, to the
point where they are now ordering wines. And not only that, they
speak of our wines with great respect, whereas before, they never
realized we had such quality.
People do not realize that if you can get a person like Paul
Bocuse, or Roger Bergier, or Michel Gerard, or people of that
caliber to speak well about your wines, California wine, this is a
big step forward. You see this makes a big difference. Now, it
will take maybe a generation before that is accepted, but the fact
that we can make that quality, I know that in time the world at
large will realize that we can produce wines belonging in the
company of the finest wines of the world.
I don't say our wine is better, I don't say it's worse. It
has its own style. And it's going to be just as much appreciated
by the world at large, if not more so, because our climatic
conditions are even better than the French and the German.
Since you established this winery, these have been the years of
the increased interest in white wines.
Very definitely, yes. If I can give you a little background on
this Right after repeal, up to the mid-sixties, our wines of
California were rather poor. They were not well made. But in the
mid-sixties we began to make much better wines. But before that
time, the wines were big, rich, especially our red wines, heavy in
tannin, and very dark color. That's not an easy drinking wine.
So the American people began to drink wines, but they drank white
wines because they were lighter, easy to drink, and much more
palatable. And this is what created the boom in the white wines,
only because it was more palatable and easier to drink.
We are now learning to make our red wines that are much more
palatable. If you taste our wines today compared to what they
were fifteen years ago, or twenty years ago, you'll find the
reason why they didn't drink red wines. But as we learn
Another thing that we did, we thought that everything had to
be completely natural, we didn't learn to work our wines. We
didn't learn to sculpture our wines. We didn't learn to, I mean,
clarify properly. We felt that that was taking something away.
What we are doing now, we realize our wines can be natural, but
they can be clarified, they can be honed, they can be sculpted.
In other words, we're taking a beautiful piece of marble, and
we're working it. That's what's happening now.
We're understanding that we can pick our grapes much lower in
sugar, much lower in alcohol, and yet have a more exciting wine, a
wine that will go with your food better than that big heavy wine.
We are making both our white and red wines more palatable.
Teiser: What other variables are there besides the time of harvest?
Mondavi: Where the grapes are grown, the climatic conditions, and the soil
itself play important parts. All of these. Certain varieties
like Pinot noir and Chardonnay want the cooler climate, and yet
one that can bring that grape to full maturity, like the Carneros.
The Cabernet needs a little warmer climate, such as we have here
in Oakville. But then even here we have microclimates, and we
have soil differentials. We are beginning to take all of that
Then there is another factor: the productivity of our vines.
If they're too productive, they dilute the grape itself. So
therefore you have to thin your grapes so that instead of getting
five or six tons per acre, you'll get maybe three tons per acre:
you'll find that the quality is much better. We are doing a
better job of cloning. But that will take twenty years for us to
reflect that. But you see we're doing a lot of work along that
Teiser: What about in the winery?
Mondavi: In the winery, the same thing is true. What percentage of barrels
that you have are new barrels? What are old barrels? How do you
treat those barrels? This plays a tremendous part in that. The
equipment, the facilities that you have to keep your fermentation
controlled. That's very, very important. The presses that you
have. Before, we used to have the coq presses or the screw
presses. Now we have the presses with the pneumatic bags in them,
which are very gentle, and we are realizing that plays a very
important part because of the extraction of tannins from the skins
and things like that.
So all of these are things that we are learning. The more we
go into detail, the more we begin to understand. Remember there's
over four hundred different elements in grapes and wines. Each
and every year is a different year. If you- understand that,
you'll be able to make your wines better, and pick your grapes at
the right time, and sculpture your wine.
But there are so many variables. It's like a child. You
think, look at all the different genes you have in children.
They're all different, each and every one; even though they are
under the same roof and brought up under the same conditions, they
vary completely. And the same thing with wines. You have to be
totally dedicated. And you have to put a lifetime of work to this
thing if you want to really understand it.
Really, we want to make wines naturally, but we're under
standing that there are certain imperfections even in Mother
Nature. You can freeze to death, or you can die by heat
prostration. Mother Nature can be pretty rough on you.
Therefore, everything that Mother Nature does isn't necessarily
that good. So you have to find out what it is that Mother Nature
does that is good, and then what can we do to improve it. This is
what we're doing. We're beginning to learn that.
Teiser: In addition to the various techniques of processing, do you do
Mondavi: We have experimented with blending, yes. Take, for instance, the
Cabernet [Sauvignon]. We'll use Cabernet [Sauvignon], Cabernet
franc, and Merlot; we found that these differences do play an
important part. We find that Cabernet [Sauvignon] from one area
versus another is completely different, and we are picking these
out and we're selecting the more elegant, the finer ones to go
into our higher priced wines. We are learning those differences.
Teiser: You are not dedicated to a hundred percent varietal wines?
Mondavi: No. For Robert Mondavi wines? Pinot noir is a hundred percent.
Chardonnay is a hundred percent, because we can't improve it by
adding other things. We haven't found anything for Pinot Noir
that adds to the elegance, the velvetiness of Pinot Noir.
Cabernet Sauvignon we find that we can use Cabernet franc or
Merlot; that adds to it. We find that Sauvignon Blanc, the
aggressive character can be softened with a little of the
Seinillon. So we like a little Semillon in the Sauvignon Blanc.
It depends upon on the grape variety. We used Camay a hundred
percent, when we had it. But now we're phasing out Camay. We're
phasing out Zinfandel.
Mondavi: The reason is because the American public will not pay enough
money for those wines to allow us to pay the growers enough money
to keep their grapes in vineyard. We have encouraged our growers
to plant other varieties such as Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Pinot
noir. Those varieties that the growers can get more money from
per acre of land. If we didn't do that, we would not be able to
pay them enough money to keep them happy. That's why we recommend
to our growers to plant Cabernet, Pinot noir, Chardonnay,
Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, in the proper location. That's what
We used to have over twenty percent of all our production in
rose, and then we had another seven to eight percent, or maybe
nine percent, Camay, red wine. That used to be over twenty-five
percent of our business.
You're eliminating rosfe too?
We're eliminating it, yes. We're practically out of it now.
It became less popular as time went on?
They still sell a lot of rose. I think there's a lot of rose
sold, fifteen to twenty percent is rosfe now. Still a good share
is rose, but not as popular as it used to be.
Robrt Mondavi wines came to public attention rather suddenly in
the seventies, didn't they?
We produced in '66. In '67 we came on the market with rose and
Camay and some of the whites, Chenin blanc and Fumfe blanc. But in
'69, we came out with Cabernet, Pinot noir, Zinfandel, and
Chardonnay. We had those varieties then, all of them, but they
didn't get known until the seventies.
Were there any pivotal events in their becoming known?
The only way it came You see, I happened to know the better
restaurants of San Francisco, especially Ernie's, Doro's, those
top people there, and I was able to get acceptance and support.
They were willing to handle the wines, to recommend them, but not
to push them other than to try them. I was very lucky, because
once they did try them, people began to repeat. That took a
little while. It began to gather momentum. The first year, we
sold fifteen hundred cases of wine, the second year, thirty-five
hundred, then we began to increase much more rapidly.
Distribution. Sales, and Employees
Teiser: What is your distribution system?
Mondavi: We believe in being our own primary distributor. See, in the fine
wine business you'll have what I call the winery that produces
the wine, and a primary distributor. That is the man that will
call on the wholesale houses, but also assist the wholesale house
by calling on retailers, restaurateurs, and hotels. Well, we do
the function of the primary distributor. Usually they get about
twenty percent. If your price of wine, we'll say, is fifty
dollars a case, they get twenty percent to promote and sell it.
We'll say ten dollars. Then the wholesaler usually worked on a
thirty-three-and-a-third percent markup. Then the retailer worked
on a fifty-percent maximum.
However, that has changed now since fair trade is out. If
you used to sell a wine fifty dollars a case, usually by the
normal markup, thirty-three and a third percent, and fifty-percent
markup, the wine was double on the market. Now, it doesn't do
that because the competition is so keen. Fair trade isn't there.
If you're wine is fifty dollars a case, it will range from seventy-
five dollars to a hundred dollars depending upon the demand and
competition for that particular item.
We took that primary distributor's function; we call on the
wholesaler, but also assist the wholesaler in his selling.
Teiser: That requires a big sales force.
Mondavi: Well, we have over forty people in our sales force.*
Teiser: And a family member on the East Coast.
Mondavi: That's right. We have quite a few people in the East. We have
people all over, the East, the South. We have them in Florida, we
have them in New York, we have them in the Midwest, all over the
country. [To assistant] Could you find out how many salesmen we
Teiser: Your distribution is very effective then, isn't it?
Mondavi: It's been very effective, but it's only effective if the people
know what you know and you can transmit what you have in the wine
that is different. Otherwise it becomes a common denominator.
The secret of this business is getting people totally involved,
totally dedicated, who believe in you. You have to teach them,
and you have to taste with them. The reason we have these
tastings is because we wanted them to feel that it's a live thing;
it's not just selling boxes.
*See p. 57
Teiser: Do you and your sons taste with your salesmen?
Mondavi: Oh, yes.
My son Tim [himself] tastes every day from nine o'clock to
five o'clock or later. We have a hard time getting him to come to
We have a tasting once a week on Mondays at eleven o'clock.
We compare our wines with finest imports, the finest California
wines. And we bring in the top people of our organization here.
We have about fifteen, twenty people that are sampling these
wines. We have our key sales staff, we have our key adminis
trative staff, key people in the vineyards.
We want everyone to know what part they play in wine, and to
know the difference between wines, and why we can ask more money
for our wines, and how our wines rank with the finest wines in the
world. We expect them to be in the tops of the top wines. We
have that confidence. We don't say it's always the tops, but it's
there more often than any of our competition. And we want our
people to know this. And they are part of it. We have to get our
growers involved. We have our growers come in from time to time
to taste what their wines are like and how they compare with all
the rest. And that's why there is this great interest. We are
totally involved, totally dedicated. This is important.
Teiser: To go back to something else you said, it's interesting that you
could have people this dedicated when they knew that they are not
going to have a proprietory interest themselves, when they know
it's a family company and they can't go up to the top.
Mondavi: I know, but you'd be amazed. There are many people that don't
want to do this. I have had a secretary here. I wanted to make
her an administrative assistant to me. Not interested. I wanted
to take her to Europe, that is with a group; we're taking
eighteen. "Why should I go? I'm not interested in that." Can
you believe this? And we would pay for the whole thing. But
she's not interested. You see, there are certain people who are
interested in going only so far.
But we are interested in having people who want to excel in
whatever function they're doing. And there are many people who do
not want to go beyond certain responsibility, they do not want
that responsibility. Now it's up to us to find those people. If
we tried to get all executives, pretty soon we'd have nobody doing
our work for us. But there are enough people, as long as they are
paid well and have a good challenge, who want to excel. We pay
all of our people from ten to fifteen percent more than our
competition because we want them to know they are being rewarded.
We want them to be interested in what we're doing. We want them
And I can assure you that if our people in the cellar thought
we were trying to save money and not excel they would be up in
arms, because many of these people that are working here have the
pride of working for us to achieve the best. If they thought we
were doing that, they would really let me know. All of our people
realize we stop at nothing to excel, and that's why they're happy
to work with us.
Teiser: You need good management.
Mondavi: That's right.
[Interruption. Assistant returns with figures.]
Mondavi: Forty-six employees, sales. We have twenty-eight sales reps, who
are people that really call on the trade, but beyond that we have
sales office people. We have three people in our sales office in
Los Angeles. We have another fifteen in sales, people that work
with our sales staff here to feed these other people. So we have
another fifteen there. Then we have, like my daughter, who works
in New York. We have directly on the road twenty-eight. Our
other people who are top echelon, they are not included right
here. [pause] That gives you a rough idea.
Teiser: It would be interesting to compare the ratio of sales people to
gallons that you have and the ratio of sales people to gallons
that Gallo has, for instance.
Mondavi: That would be interesting. I wish I knew those figures.
One thing I want to talk to you about is my philosophy
dealing with my employees. I realized that overseas too few had
too much. I realized in our country if we want to keep our
individual enterprise, our democracy and free enterprise system in
this country, we'd have to learn to share with our employees; so
I've always wanted to be able to share with our employees, work
with them. Every one of our employees today receives from ten to
twenty percent more than our competition only because I want to be
able to continue our way of life. The individual is more
important than being a number, and he produces more and better. I
feel that if we don't do this, this way of life is going to be
lost, because right now in even France, Spain, Portugal, and of
course Russia, really socialism or communism has come in to take
over. We have to learn to share otherwise we're going to lose
this individual, enterprising system of ours, call it what you
want, but we have to learn to share better than we have in the
Teiser: How does that work in with the fact that this is a family company
and employees can't expect to become part of ownership?
Mondavi: What we do, for those people who have the ability, we have a unit
system that they share with us in our profits. Now, our top
people get units and the other people get a percentage of the
profits as they go along. We give them the maximum of what we're
allowed by the government when we make our profit. We share with
all of our people, not only on giving them a salary from ten to
fifteen percent more than our competition, but also on the
profits. Five of the top people will be divided on units that we
will give them, which will give a certain percentage. Our whole
idea is to get approximately ten percent of our profit to share
with our people.
We feel we have to work through these people, and that they
are part of the company. This is what we do to try to let them
know we're trying to preserve the family operation to be the unit
that will carry on, but we know that they are entitled to some of
the profits. If not, they lose interest.
Buying the Oakville Label and Inventory
Teiser: b, 1977 you bought something from the Oakville Winery
Mondavi: Oh, the Oakville Winery across the road. That was interesting.
We bought the Oakville label plus their inventory. That's another
phase. We started here in 1966, and then the Rainier people came
in here a little before 1970. We didn't have enough grapes, and
there weren't enough grapes in the Napa valley that we could get.
We made a deal with Bud [Wilfred E.j Van Loben Sels of the
Oakville Winery where he had three or four hundred acres of grapes
that he couldn't use because he was just starting, and we had a
sales force. So we made a deal with him whereby over a period of,
I think, five years, four years, that we would buy the excess
grapes that he had. We would make wine for him. And he could
sell it at his Oakville Winery for the grapes that we'd have in
exchange, as our grapes were growing.
At that time we were partners with Rainier, and Rainier was
buying land and planting grapes, and we needed five years to do
this. So we made an exchange. While you're growing up, we'll
take more grapes in the beginning and less later, and we'll make
wine for you to allow you to get into business.
This is what we did. (But later they did get a good
winemaker.) We made wine for them and bottled it for them. They
delivered grapes to us, and then less each year as our grapes came
into bearing. And so we helped one another. That worked out very
well for us. Therefore we were able to have the grapes that we
wanted, grown in some very good regions, because they had some
very good grapes.
Then what happened, unfortunately, they had to sell out.
Financially, the business didn't work out well. So we bought the
label and we bought the inventory, but not the winery or the
vineyards. The vineyards and winery were bought by Inglenook. We
bought the inventory of wines that they had on hand at that time.
We have the Oakville label to do what we want with. And we never
came out with it because I didn't want to have too many different
lines. I'd rather concentrate on our own and do a job of that.
We are always able to come out with another line if we want to.
Teiser: Now you don't have another.
Mondavi: No. What we do have is Robert Mondavi varietals here in Napa
Valley. And then we have the vintage red, vintage white and
vintage rosb But we do own the Oakville label, and we could come
out with it. But I don't want to, yet. We don't know what we'll
do in the future.
Really we've been very fortunate,
all of our wines.
We've been able to sell
Adding the Winery in Woodbridge##
[Interview 3: April 20, 1984]
Teiser: You bought what was originally the Cherokee winery* at Woodbridge
Mondavi: The Cherokee winery and then later it became the Montcalm
winery**. We at first used it for storage. What happened was
that my brother used it there for a period of time as storage,
that is the C. Mondavi & Sons. They were not interested in the
winery. So when we settled our deal with my brother, I accepted
some wine that was made at the C. Mondavi & Sons, at the Charles
Krug winery, and that was stored at the Montcalm winery.
My brother was not interested in the winery, so I leased the
winery, took the winery over for a period of time. And my brother
*Cherokee Vineyard Association
bought this inventory at a predetermined value. As he took the
inventory, he was able to pay off part of my share in C. Mondavi &
We then decided to buy the winery. We felt it would fit in
with our program to produce what at that time we called our red,
white, and rose table wine. As we were growing in Napa Valley, we
were producing both the Robert Mondavi varietal wines and after
some eight years we began to come out with what we called table
wines. And we were able to produce both of them at our winery in
Napa Valley. But then as we grew, we needed more facilities. So
that's when we leased the former Cherokee winery, and then we
realized that we wanted to buy it because we were growing. We
negotiated a deal with the Wells Fargo Bank where we bought that
winery to undertake what we called our red, white, and rose table
wine. Eventually we changed the name to what we call now our
vintage red, vintage white, vintage rosk
Teiser: The last users had been the Felices?
Mondavi: Yes, they were the Felices.
Teiser: I remember they had put in a lot of new equipment.
Mondavi: They put a lot of new equipment. They put in some of the finest
stainless steel fermenters and some of the finest fermenting
equipment, stainless steel tanks. They did a very fine job. They
spent a lot of money, anticipating things would go well. But then
in 1973 things turned around and became very difficult, and
unfortunately they lost the winery. That's when the property was
leased by C. Mondavi & Sons. Then in turn, when we were going to
settle my deal with my brother, we took it over and put the
inventory there, which was my share of the settlement with my
brother. We sold that inventory to my brother, and we were paid
Teiser: Do you still have that equipment?
Mondavi: We have all that equipment. Not only that, but we spent a lot of
money in improving that equipment, and making it a very fine
winery. At the present time, it's a very fine winery for producing
our vintage red, vintage white, and vintage rose.
Teiser: Where do you get the grapes for those?
Mondavi: Well, we get them mainly from the northern San Joaquin, around the
Lodi area, the Sacramento area. That's about maybe two-thirds of
it. One third or forty percent comes from the north coast as well
as the south coastal region. We ship a lot of grapes from Napa,
Sonoma, or Monterey.
Robert Mondavi at the interview of April 20, 1984
Photograph by Ruth Teiser
We always wanted to locate in the Lodi region, because we
knew, for table wines, that region in my mind was the finest that
you could have, where you could produce good grapes at a
reasonable price and get good volume, and yet have style and
character in your wines. That's why I wanted to locate in the
Lodi region because I was able to get grapes from the northern and
southern coastal areas where it was somewhat cooler for the table
wine purposes, and at the same time we could bring in from Napa,
Sonoma and other regions. But predominately, we wanted the
majority to come from that northern San Joaquin, so that we could
be able to produce the wine at a more reasonable price, that had
style and character. And that is developing and showing to be the
case at the present time.
Teiser: Do you do all your crushing there?
Mondavi: We do all the crushing for our vintage red, vintage white, and
rose- In fact, we delivered last year, I think it was, of our own
grapes from Napa, about one thousand three or four hundred tons of
grapes, that we put into the Robert Mondavi varietal program.
Teiser: You don't have any acreage over near the winery there?
Mondavi: We have about one hundred acres of grapes around the winery, but
this was bought for possible winery expansion in the future. We
feel that we should have; in principle, I would like to have at
least a third to forty percent of our own grapes. But that's a
long-range program. Like we have approximately thirty-five to
forty percent of our own grapes in the Napa Valley region.
Teiser: The grapes you buy from Monterey County, are those for the white
Mondavi: Mainly the whites; very few reds because they have too much of
tnat herbacious character.
Teiser: What part of the Salinas Valley do they come from?
Mondavi: We go all over, where we can get good lots, depending upon, more
in the higher elevations, actually. We go all the way down to
Santa Barbara to get certain grapes. They have a surplus of
grapes that we can get at a reasonable price. And certain of
those regions are very good.
Teiser: You have high volume then for your vintage red, white and rose?
Mondavi: Yes, we do. We move 1,400,000 cases a year of those. It's a
Teiser: You were speaking earlier of your "overhead nut." Am I quoting
Mondavi: My overhead nut when we were doing business at the C. Mondavi &
Sons, and we were struggling to make money, and we were struggling
to be able to get enough volume to take care of the family.
Teiser: Is this volume production of yours in the Lodi area similar to
that overhead nut that you were speaking of?
Mondavi: Actually, it's much easier for us to be able to operate more
profitably in the Lodi region because the amount of money required
for our fixed assets, our tanks and our crushing equipment, is
much less than what it is in the Napa Valley and the grapes are
much lower in price. If we want to get a stainless steel tank
that is a hundred thousand gallons in capacity, we have to buy
many, many barrels of fifty or sixty gallon capacity to do that.
Barrels we use in Napa Valley cost ten times more per gallon than
a stainless steel barrel. And the amount of labor involved in our
operation in the Napa Valley is many times greater than it is in
the Woodbridge area. So therefore, the cost for building a winery
is much greater in the Napa Valley region. Therefore our cost and
our overhead to produce a gallon of wine in the Lodi region or in
our Woodbridge cellar there is much much less.
Teiser: Are you using oak there at all?
Mondavi: Yes, we wanted to be distinctive. We decided that we would be
able to use American oak which is about one third the price of the
oak that we're using in Napa Valley, plus the fact that we also
can use barrels that we've used in Napa Valley and transfer them
over to Woodbridge. We scrape them out, we re-fire them, and we
find that they work out very well. That way we can get a
character in our wines that other people cannot afford. In fact,
we realize that in order to be successful in this business, you
not only have to make a good wine, but you have to make a
We realized that there was no one that was willing to go
through the time and effort to put the more popularly priced wine
in barrels and age it to get that extra dimension, that extra
character. And yet I knew that if we knew how to handle the
barrels efficiently and effectively, and were able to get that
style, that little difference would make a big difference in the
long run, if we consistently did this.
That's exactly what we decided to do. We knew that it would
make us unique. We knew it would take ten 'years before the people
would recognize it. But we had the patience. This is insuring us
of the future for the simple reason other people will not invest the
money or the time, or are not willing to take or really appreciate
the subtle difference that we have. I knew that we could ask for
more money, and that we would make more profit by doing it if we
had the patience, and if we had the knowledge and know-how to do
it. And it's been working that way. I've been very pleased about
Teiser: Is there someone in your family directly in charge of that?
Mondavi: My son Tim is in complete charge of all our winemaking. He goes
every week to the winery on Woodbridge Road. They taste with him.
We have an interchange between the two wineries that is
tremendous. In other words, they are working like one team.
Teiser: He does the blending there?
Mondavi: Oh, he does the whole thing, but tastings take place at both
wineries. It's worked under his complete supervision.
Teiser: Aren't you lucky to have two good sons!
Mondavi: That's right. I'm very fortunate. Not only that what I'm happy
about, they realize the challenge. And they realize that they're
just getting started, that this thing will grow and become much
more exciting and interesting. What we've done in the past
fifteen years can be much greater in the next ten years, as far as
quality, as far as achieving a goal and being unique in the
Architecture of the Robert Mondavi Winery
Teiser: I wanted to ask more about the Robrt Mondavi Winery. We didn't
discuss the architecture. It's architecture is so distinctive.
Mondavi: I remember when I was a member of the board of directors of the
Wine Institute, the owners of Sunset magazine, Bill Lane and his
brother Mel, invited the directors of the Wine Institute to the
Sunset House in Menlo Park when it was first built. I just
marveled at that building and how beautiful it was, how intimate.
It had a warm feeling to it. I never had any idea that I was
going to build another winery, but I said to myself, "If I ever
built a winery, this is what I would like to have, something like
this." Even though it's small in that regard, and beautiful, I
felt it could be adapted as a winery.
Sure enough, when the time came to the fact we were going to
build a winery, I immediately called Bill Lane because I began to
know him very well. He would invite the directors once a year to
go over to Sunset House, which I enjoyed. The longer I stayed
there, the better I liked it. I called Bill Lane on the telephone
and told him that I was interested in building a winery, a small
but a very fine winery. I wanted to know if he could give me the
name of the architect. He said, "Well, Bob, he's not an
architect, he's a designer. He's a good friend of mine. I'll be
happy to call him."
He gave me the name, the address. He called Cliff May and he
left word there. Bill tells me the story that Cliff May called
him at two o'clock in the morning when he got back from what he
was doing and got him out of bed. Then he told him about our
interest. I went down there to see Cliff May with Fred Holmes at
Cliff May was always saying, "Well, Bob, how big of a winery
do you want to build in the final analysis?" I didn't want to
answer the question because I knew his fees would be very, very
expensive. Finally I told him, I said, "Cliff, listen. If I told
you how big it was going to be, all the money that we would have
would be going for your fees and we wouldn't have enough left for
the winery." And he said, "I'll make a deal with you. I'll
design, and you'll only pay for that portion that you build.
Let's design for what you think you will build in the future. But
you only pay me for what will be built." I said, "Well, fine."
So that's the agreement I had with Cliff May. He designed
that arch. I told him at that time I was interested in a winery
where we could have cultural events, like plays or symphonies and
things such as that, and I'd like to have an accomodation for at
least five hundred to a thousand people. Then I told him that I
would like to have tours through the winery. But I want something
that has aesthetic value. I said I was very impressed by what he
did at Sunset House.
He went ahead and made a design, just a real quick sketch.
It didn't take long because I told him we had to do this fast.
This was in February when we saw him. So he made a sketch in a
couple of days with the arch. In one wing was the winery, and the
left wing the public relations wing. I saw that and I said, "This
is it." My partners did too. In this way were able to get the
aesthetic value as well as being a very functional winery.
What did you start with? Did you just start with one wing or did
you build faster than you anticipated?
We started with the arch, and then we had the retail room on the
left-hand side as you go in. And then we had a couple of tasting
rooms. In fact, I said to him, "You know, when I went to France,
the one place that impressed me tremendously was Moe't et Chandon."
What they did, they had not one room, they had about a half a
dozen rooms where they would have special tasting parties. And
then they had a big room where they had larger groups. I said,
"We want to make this a very personalized business, and I would
like to have a few rooms for tasting." In fact we have about
three different tasting rooms, and then we have a large center
So he built that that way and then he built the winery wing.
I told him I was not interested in having bigger groups than about
twenty-five to thirty people at the most so that we can have a
personal contact with the people. So he started with that arch.
We liked it very much. When we did that, people were wondering
what we were doing, because they couldn't quite understand that.
Here was this crazy Bob Mondavi building something here.
When my partners sold out and when Rainier came in, we then
expanded the operation from a fifteen-thousand case winery to one
that was a quarter of a million cases. Then we built our big
vineyard room, and people could not understand what we were doing
with that vineyard room. However, the Rainier people had the
vision and understanding of what we wanted to do and went with us.
And we had tours. The first year we lost money taking tours. But
the second year we had enough tourism and sold enough wine so that
it began to pay. And then we began to have functions in the
Vineyard Room. We would have luncheons.
Teiser: How many people does it hold?
Mondavi: It will hold up to 250 for a dinner, 250 to three hundred people.
We had a caterer come in. We selected a very outstanding caterer.
I made an agreement with him. We tried quite a few different
caterers the first several years. But we realized we wanted to
have someone that had the style that was unique and different.
So we made a deal with Andre Mercier, who is still with us,
because he actually did the best job of catering, and he had the
best cheeses. So we made a deal with him where he would just do
that for us except for special parties. But he would not do that
for other wineries unless he would talk with us. And we agreed
that we would have nobody else but him. So we had a very good
relationship. We wanted to have a distinctiveness of everything
that we did at the winery, whether making wine, whether it would
be having our luncheons or dinners. And we wanted to be able to
approach it in a unique and different way.
Teiser: How many people come to visit the winery tourists, not special
Mondavi: I would say there would be about 250,000 to 300,000.
Teiser: A year. My! Do you more than make up for the expense of the
tours by the wines you sell at the winery?
Oh, yes. In fact that has been a profitable arrangement for us.
I think it was after a year and a half or two years, less than two
years, we began to more than pay for the people that we had taking
tours. And it began to really pay for us. It's done us a lot of
good. I believe people that would come to taste wine at the
winery would taste the wine, then they would go back and would
then order our wines and speak about the wines. I felt in the
long run it was a good thing. And it actually has turned out to
be that way.
One thing I did, though, I felt that we could be sincerely
honest and tell the people, and give them an educational program
on what we were doing that would be far better than talking about
a lot of words that were meaningless. I found out that when I was
touring Europe, no one knew anything about winemaking. They
wouldn't talk about it. Then when I went to London, of all
things, all the writers knew very little about the winemaking
technique and didn't understand some of the techniques that really
developed the style and character. I began to talk to them. And
I began to realize if I could tell them something that was
different, and be honest and show them the differences, why, maybe
we could win them over. And that's exactly what we did. We felt
the same thing with the American people. If we can be sincerely
honest, telling them what we can do, I thought it was the best way
of doing it. It's just so simple to be honest and sincere. And
yet it's funny how people want to build something way beyond that.
I took your tour with Patrick Grubb, whom I was showing around,
but I don't remember whether that was specially arranged or not,
so I don't know if I've had your routine tour.
Our routine tour and any tour that we have is practically the same
thing. We tell everybody everything. But if we have a winemaker
that comes through and he wants to, and it's a personal friend,
then we will go into more detail. But we tell everybody
everything we do. We have no secrets.
You run tours right through the winery so people can see the
equipment and everything else?
And you don't mind people being underfoot a bit?
We debated that. We were debating whether we should have tours
that would be away from our employees, completely away. And yet
at that time I thought that as long as we can make it efficient
enough, and they could see without disturbing our help, that it
would be better than trying to put them away and looking at it
from a distance where they couldn't quite see. I didn't quite
believe in the elevated [platform] tours. We talked about that.
And I still felt that we could do it where people could walk
through and seem to be part of it and yet not affect the
Export Markets and Domestic Markets
Teiser: You've spoken of interaction with Europe. Do you export much
Mondavi: We don't export a lot of wine. We feel that it takes one
generation to develop your business in our own country. It takes
a second generation to be able to build it to export. We do
believe in it, but we are realistic to realize it's an investment
for the first ten or fifteen years.
We are working on it. And we are travelling and do a lot of
visiting. And we are beginning to open up our business throughout
the world. We're selling in Japan. We're selling in Singapore,
Hong Kong. We're going to various regions like that. We're
selling in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland. Not Italy yet;
in fact I'm going to be taking a trip there. There are people who
have been interested, but I didn't want to get into it until I
thought I could do it in the proper way. But we're selling in
Denmark, Holland, those Benelux areas.
Not great amounts, but realizing it takes time. We are not
trying to push it heavily. But we realize that we have the
quality. We also realize that the strong American dollar during
the last two or three years has hurt us tremendously, and we've
had to drop our normal mark-up. If we want to be in the export
business, we realize that we're going to have to sacrifice making
the normal profit when the American dollar is abnormally high,
hoping to make it up in the future. We do realize that in time
that will readjust itself, and then we will readjust our own
profits accordingly. We have discussed this very openly with all
of our distributors, and we all are working together along that
line because they have a lot of faith in what we're doing. We
have faith in what we can do long-rangewise in the export market.
*For additional information about the tours, see pp. 96-102
Teiser: Do you have anticipations that the Orient will be a large market?
Mondavi: It will take a generation before that develops to be a big market
in my opinion.
I think that it's the same thing that we had. It's not far
different from our trying to sell wine in the eastern states or
the Midwest. They are the toughest. It was easier for us to sell
wine in London than it was in the eastern states, that is New
York, Boston and that whole area there because they could buy
wines very inexpensively which had the European name and sell it
there. Whereas even though our quality was better, it seems that
the name was much more important than the quality of the wine. We
probably could sell wine in London easier than we could sell it in
New York. In time that will change.
However, what has happened, the American people are beginning
to realize that the California wines are very good. And the
Americans have been demanding and forcing the restaurateurs and
the retailers to handle California wines even though their prices
were higher than some of the foreign wines. This is how we are
beginning to develop our wines on the eastern seaboard, only
because the American people realize this. The American people
want what is better and if it is better and they think it's
better, they'll buy it. Just like the automobiles. If they think
the Japanese cars are better, they'll let our automobile industry
go down the tubes if we don't do something about it. The same
thing is true with the wine business. But it takes time.
Unfortunately the image of California wines is not as good on
the East Coast and the Midwest as it should be. I blame our
industry on it because we haven't educated the public as well as
we should. Also unfortunately, the strong dollar has hurt us in
that regard too.
The Napa Valley Vintners and Its Early Members
Teiser: You have been a member of the Napa Valley Vintners
Mondavi: I have been a member of that right along, ever since it started.
Teiser: You were saying that the idea initially of the vintners group was
Mondavi: Louis Martini was the one that started it. I came in the second
meeting. It was the second meeting. The first one they had with
John Daniel, Louis Stralla, and I guess that was it.* And then I
was invited in the second meeting. At that time Louis Martini
expressed the fact that this was only going to be an eating and
drinking group. And we were going to enjoy each other. But at
the same time, we were going to discuss general things of the wine
And I can assure you it was a wonderful organization. We had
a wonderful time, we had good food. We ate at the Miramonte
Hotel, and they served very well. And we enjoyed the luncheons.
It was very educational. We were able to work together and have a
We didn't do anything unless it was unanimous. That was one
thing that in the beginning when we formed, whatever we do, it had
to be unanimous.
Teiser: What sort of thing did you do?
Mondavi: We discussed general things, winemaking. We discussed business
conditions, the market conditions over-all at that time. We did
not discuss prices at that time, but did grapes, subjects like
that. We discussed other things, how to promote Napa Valley
wines, how do we get our wines across to the general public and
how we could do better. Really just general issues like that.
Teiser: Maybe you could say a few words about each of those men, Martini,
Stralla, and John Daniel, just about them personally.
Mondavi: I would say this, that these were three strong, different
individuals. I knew Louis Martini. I met Louis Martini and John
Daniel and Louis Stralla all at about the same time, because when
I came in here in '37 I was introduced to them by Paul Alexander.
And they were very closely knit. They always would meet with Paul
Alexander at the St. Helena Hotel. We used to have lunch there.
I met all of them there.
John Daniel was a real leader in wanting to produce the
finest wines possible. I have never met a man that was more
sincere, more honest, that was really wanting to protect the
industry and work for the good of the entire industry. He really
had high principles in that regard. He was ultraconservative. If
you'll look at the way he operated Inglenook Winery, very
conservative, wanted it to be a jewel and would not upset that by
even entertaining wine tastings and things like that if he thought
it was really pushing too much.
I differed with John in that regard. I said, "John, we are
having these wine tastings to help promote and build our
*See also Louis M. Martini, The Martinis, an oral history inter
view conducted 1967-1973. Regional Oral History Office, The
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1973.
business." But really, he was so conservative that he didn't feel
that he really wanted to push wines that way. He was a very
sincere and conservative man and did a tremendous amount of good
for the fine wine industry of California. At the Wine Institute
meetings, he protected that stand very jealously and very
intelligently, and was really one of the leaders of the industry
for fine quality wines, and always adhered to that principle.
Now, Louis Martini was in the business more broadly, much
bigger, very intelligent, and without a doubt one of the best
public relations men for promoting wines. He was a strong
personality. In fact people said it was impossible to talk to
Louis Martini. On the contrary, when I met him, the first time,
in fact I went right to his office. I think I spent all morning
with him. We had the most wonderful time, highly intelligent,
knowledgeable about wines, dedicated to wines, loved wine and
food. I remember wining and dining with him at times at his home
where he did the cooking. Very good, very excellent, and was
always interested in wines, bringing up better wines all the time
if you went there. A man that had a tremendous effect upon wine
When I came here in the valley, the people that were out
standing were, of course, Inglenook, and there was Beaulieu, which
was the highly regarded. Louis Martini was the Johnny-come- lately
because he came in after. But his idea of quality was so great,
and he did such an outstanding job, that he immediately was
accepted as one of the truly fine wineries of Napa Valley. He was
very, very effective.
Now, Louis Stralla was an entirely different character. He
was in the valley. He was in the bulk wine business. He bought
grapes and crushed grapes for people like the Roma Wine Company
which was J. B. Cella. He was a man that was into everything,
whether it was fine wines or not. He didn't make fine wines, but
he was good friends of everyone in the industry. He did a lot of
good for Napa Valley. He sold the wares of Napa Valley.
He was a good friend, a wonderful friend of ours. Although I
didn't do business with him directly, that is make wine for him,
or he make wine for us, we competed with each other. He had his
bulk winery, the Napa Wine Company. We had the C. Mondavi & Sons.
We competed. But he was another man that was always completely
honest; never did he tell me, even when we were competing for
grapes, did he ever tell me anything that wasn't true, or honest.
In other words, we were true to each other.' We kept our word.
This is one of the things I will say that we had in our
industry. We had that integrity. We always were honest to each
other. That's one reason I've enjoyed our industry. But these
people were very instrumental.
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And of course, Andre Tschelistchef f as a winemaker, not a
proprietor or owner, was outstanding because he was the one that
had the complete training in the French style of winemaking.
Whereas Louis Martini went to the enology school in Italy, so he
approached it from the Italian style of winemaking. Louis Martini
wanted to capture the character of the grape, and was not
interested as much in aging it in small barrels where you would
marry the oak with the wine. He wanted the true character of the
I had a difference with Louis. Louis said, "Why do you age
your wine so long in oak?" He said, "The good Lord made the
grape, and that's the way it should be." And I said, "Louis, I
understand what you say, and I agree as far as you go. But the
good Lord also made the oak. And he made the grape." And I said,
"When you marry it together, I like it better with my food that
way." He looked at me. But we had that honest difference between
us. But we had a wonderful rapport. We enjoyed our differences
of opinion. We had respect for what each of us were doing.
Teiser: You mentioned that Andrfe Tchelistchef f had suggested experiments
to you earlier. I suppose one of them was his malo-lactic
Mondavi: Malo-lactic fermentation was there. He did that later, with the
Pinot Noirs. That was some years later. We carried on our own
malo-lactic fermentation work after Andre no longer was consulting
with us. That's when he really began to work on his malo-lactic
fermentation, not when he was consulting with us.
But there was a lot going on with Andre- Immediately when we
bought the Charles Krug Winery and we built our aging cellar, we
had thirteen hundred barrels that we were aging wines in. That
was even more barrels than Beaulieu had. I didn't realize that.
I didn't know how many barrels they had, but I heard that they had
around eleven hundred or something like that. When he saw that we
were in barrel aging that much, he became very interested in us.
I went to see Andrb The two people that they claim were the
untouchables in a way, in the industry here, were Louis Martini
and Andre Tchelistchef f. They called Andre the Russian, the
Stalin of the industry, and Louis Martini the Italian. He was the
Mussolini of the industry. Because they were so powerful in their
own. I heard that it was very difficult to talk to them. Well, I
deliberately went to talk to both of them, 'and I had a wonderful
time with each of them. I remember the first time I met Andre,
going up to him. Andrfe is very erect. He's up there; he's ten
feet tall when you're talking to him. And yet he's very short.
Yet very proud. But very interested. And we had a wonderful
I invited him to come and see what we were doing. I explained
to him what we were doing, and we wanted to get in the fine wine
business. I had bought all these barrels, and when he saw them,
he was very impressed. He saw all the barrels and everything that
we did; he couldn't believe what we were doing. Then that's when
I invited him to consult with us. He said he was able to do that
in the evening, so that's what he did.
We worked for a number of years together, and we did a
tremendous amount of work, exciting and really interesting. This
was all during the evening that we did that. And then we carried
on the research work in our winery, work that he could not carry
on at B. V. We did all the research work at our winery.
Teiser: You got into the Beaulieu winery?
Mondavi: I've been in the Beaulieu winery. In fact, when they had the fire
there, we fermented all of their white wine and some of the red.
I remember when Andrfe was able to get Madame de Pins*, and
the entire family to come over and take a look at what we were
doing to ferment our white wines cold. That's the way he was able
to get them to put all the refrigeration in B. V. Because with
our white wines, they would come and touch our valves, and they
were frosted because we were chilling the wines very cold. They
walked through and the next thing I knew they adopted many of the
principles of cold fermentation that we used. We were the ones
that were doing the research work. We've never stopped doing
research work. There is no one in the world that I know of doing
the amount of research work in the fine wine business that we're
Teiser: Are your research people in on your tastings too?
Mondavi: They are always in our tastings.
Paving Growers by the Bottle Price Formula
Teiser: Would you discuss the bottle price formula?
Mondavi: The one reason [for it was that] I felt that there wasn't a good
relationship between the grower and the vintner, because the
industry wasn't making quite as much money as they would like to
make. They weren't getting as much money for their wines as they
would like, and the growers could not be paid enough. I wanted to
*Helen de Latour de Pins
try to have a closer tie with the grower so that we wouldn't have
these great fluctuations where at one time prices would go
extremely high, and another time the prices would go very low.
This was due to the size of the crop. When the crop was light the
price was high. When the crop was big the price was very low. So
I decided that I would come out with a bottle price formula for
Napa Valley wines, and I would pay our growers based upon the
selling price of our wine.
In the beginning, the people were quite skeptical. But we
were able to get about forty or fifty percent of our growers to
come into the bottle price formula, and then when they began to
see that it was working out very favorably, most of them have come
into it. Practically all of them are in on our bottle price
formula now. And frankly, it's worked out very well.
But I remember I told the growers that the bottle price
formula would also have to reflect the quality of the grapes that
we get. We should pay the price predicated on the quality of the
grapes. But we don't have as yet the proper type of formula. We
are going to have to learn through our experience which grapes are
the best. There are certain regions here that will do better on a
certain variety of grapes. Others will do better on others. Over
the years we are going to have to improve the bottle price formula
that will reflect the quality of the grapes that are there.
We were not as advanced in the wine business at that time.
However, today, we know there are considerable differences due to
the area where the grape are coming from, the size of the crop,
the sugar, acid, pH, these are variables that are in it.
We are still working on a bottle price formula. In 1985 we
are going to change the formula to allow us to reflect the quality
of the grapes that are grown in the various locations. In the
beginning we weren't able to do that. Of course, we tried to be
selective as we sought growers. We were in Pope Valley, Conn
Valley. These were new areas. Some of those have turned out very
well and some not as well. What we're trying to do is re-adjust
our formula to reflect the quality of the grapes grown from that
particular region with the size of the crop as well as other
factors. Certain regions will be a hundred percent for a certain
grape. Another region will be ninety percent. Another region
will be eighty percent.
Mondavi: Well, it is complex. I remember when I wanted to bring in the
University of California as one of the members of a committee with
the members of the growers and ourselves to come and up and try to
set up a system whereby we would pay growers based upon the
location where the grapes came from, the variety of the grapes,
and then predicated upon the quality of the grapes. Do you know
that the growers were not interested in doing that? They didn't
want to do that because each of them felt they could do better
negotiating individually. So all we had was a general price
Now that the competition is getting much keener, and we have
wines coming from overseas, and the quality becomes a very
important factor, we are going to readjust our bottle price
formula to reflect where the grapes come from, the sugar, acid,
the pH, and the number of tons of grapes they get from each acre.
Because all of this has an effect upon the quality. We have now
to work out our own program step by step.
This is a rather intricate situation, but the world over,
people have done that. They do this in other fruits and
vegetables. They have to, by and large. And this is the process
of growing up. So we are moving in that direction. Right now our
prices, if you check our prices, they are higher than anyone in
the industry here because, first, we are charging more money for
our wines. But the growers are getting a good price, over-all
average, as compared with other growers. There may be some
boutique wineries that might be paying slightly higher prices
there. But we are paying by far a higher price than the majority
without a doubt, based upon our price of wines, which is higher.
And the return to the grower is a good one relatively speaking.
So this is the thing that we're going through at the present time.
The Bottle Price Formula and Wine Quality
[The following discussion of grower relations took place at the
interview of October 15, 1984, to be added to the discussion of
Teiser: How do the growers know what you want from them?
Mondavi: Well, very frankly we sit down with them. First of all we had to
see that they received more money and that they had to feel secure
about what we were doing, because unfortunately the growers (and
anybody) are very skeptical about people promising anything.
Teiser: Do you have contracts?
Mondavi: We have contracts. We have ten, twenty year, ten to fifteen year
contracts with them, and they know that they will be able to bank
The only way you can have confidence is by having an under
standing in writing, which we do with them. We have many growers
that want to come to us because they know we have long-range
commitment. They know that we're looking for quality. Frankly,
we have hurt ourselves in a way because we made commitments on
price. But at that time we didn't have all the factors necessary
for the kind of quality we want. We find that the grower can
produce more tonnage, yet we don't have the necessary controls.
By overcropping a vinyard you water down the grapes and they don't
have the body, they don't have the depth, and that is a difficult
problem we have with the growers today. However, little by little
they are beginning to thin their crops out realizing that we
cannot maintain our prices on our wines if we don't get the grapes
out with a normal crop rather than having a heavier crop.
We are learning to do this now as we're going along, because
at first we only used sugar as a criteria for paying for the
grapes. Now we're beginning to consider size of crop, sugar,
acid, pH, and different regions. In other words, a certain area
such as Carneros or Calistoga will have a factor that we're trying
to develop now. We're going to have an area like, for instance,
right here in the heart of Napa Valley, in Oakville, we feel is
the best area for Cabernet Sauvignon because of climate, soil, the
combination of factors. So we may have a factor of one hundred
here. Then, if you go to Calistoga it would be a lower factor.
So we are going to try to change this; when we set up our bottle-
price formula in the beginning we were not aware of all this to
that extent, and the competition wasn't that keen for quality, so
therefore, our yardstick was only simply sugar. Now we are in the
process of changing this so that is becomes more meaningful.
Thank God through our marketing and our wine-making ability
we've been able to convince the American people to pay a little
bit more money for our wine as compared with others. Its a
process of working very slowly, and our growers are beginning to
understand this, and the majority are beginning to cooperate.
Some of them are fighting to the degree where they want to get the
maximum tonnage, [laughs] It's a normal situation in life.
Teiser: Its amazing that you've been able to control it to the extent that
Mondavi: This year we're going to have a bottle price but we are going to
change the parameters. Many people will say, "Legally I got you
here, you got to pay the same price everywhere." But if your
quality isn't the same, we'll say, "Your Cabernet that is grown
in the Oakville region definitely is better than that grown in
Calistoga (Calistoga's too warm)." It's not going to be easy for
us to get growers to accept a lesser price because the Cabernet
grapes aren't as good in Calistoga when they're turned into wine.
Our contracts either have to run out, or we have to have a
compromise. If we can work with each other that way, we think
we're better off in the long run.
You've done pretty well so far but you want to do better
That's right. We have to do better because if we don't, the
Europeans are beginning to learn from us winemaking technique.
They are improving their quality, and the American people still
think because it has a European title on it that it's better, when
it's not. We have to make better wine, and if we don't we're
going to lose our position as being the leaders in winemaking
technique and grape growing. I think we have to make the maximum
use of our land here.
Do you think that your growers will plant to other varieties
They did a tremendous job. We worked a deal. We had certain
people here that had planted a lot of the Zinfandel, a lot of
Camay. We've gotten them to transfer over to Sauvignon blanc,
we've got them to go into the better varieties that we wanted:
Semillon, Cabernet, and Pinot noir. They did transfer over a
They did it because we could prove to them they could make
more money in the long run by doing that with our contracts, and
they're very happy they did it. In fact, we just had a meeting
with a large group of growers our "Cal plan." They're happy
because they're making more money having done that. But we had to
prove to them, by doing that in the long run they would make more
money, even though it cost them more money for about a couple of
years until those grapes were coming back.
In other words they T-budded their Zinfandels, their Gamays,
the other varieties, their Petit Sirahs. They went over into the
varieties that we wanted. The Cabernet, the Pinot noir, the
Chardonnay, the Sauvignon blanc these in the appropriate areas.
They did that and so this is the way we were able to do that, but
we had to convince them. We were surprised how effective it was.
One of the things that happened here that is upsetting our plans,
we had a ten year program. But the grapes [that they planted] are
about twenty-five percent more productive; they're coming in a
year faster then we thought they would come in, so here we are
with an overabundance of grapes.
Right now we transferred one thousand tons of our Sauvignon
blanc from here over to Woodbridge, to go into our vintage white.
We're paying eight, nine hundred dollars a ton for Napa Sauvignon
blanc, whereas over there it's only four hundreds a ton; but we
know in another two, three or four years, this is going to swing.
We'll have the grapes going into our winery here. We try to judge
what would be going on. Well, we didn't realize the increased
tonnage. They have better techniques in handling grapes. Their
productivity is greater than we anticipated, and they're coming in
sooner than we anticipated, so all of a sudden we have an
oversupply of grapes according to our projections.
Teiser: Do you mean they were planted on roots, or were they T-budded?
Mondavi: I'm talking about the grapes that started from beginning. They're
coming in much faster, they're bearing much faster. In three
years they were getting a ton per acre instead of waiting until
they were four years. They're getting much more production.
Instead of getting, we'll say, four tons per acre, they're getting
five and six. We are amazed and they are amazed too, you see?
Right now we have an overproduction we're faced with. We
have a fixed contract. We weren't smart enough to say, "Okay,
we'll take so many tons per acre." So, we are having a difficult
time, we have an oversupply of grapes but we're very lucky that
we have our vintage red, vintage white, and vintage roste in
Woodbridge, because we can then take those grapes (even though we
have a difference of four hundred dollars a ton), we can at least
put them there and upgrade our wine. Eventually, as our sales
increase here we can bring it back in here. This is a great loss
to us due to production greater than anticipated.
Teiser: That's fascinating.
Mondavi: It is fascinating, but this is the heart of the problem. In order
to try to upgrade our quality we have to go through all of these
things. We're going through "aches and pains" and we're lucky
that we've established our prices high enough so that we have
enough margin of profit so that we can carry on this and absorb
this. Just that one operation is four hundred thousand dollars
more than it costs us that thousand tons that's going over there
each year. It's a realistic problem.
Teiser: Do you have one person in charge of your vineyards?
Mondavi: Yes. Tim [Mondavi] is the president in charge of the vineyards.
But Charlie Williams is the manager of the vineyard operation.
Then, of course, we have quite a few other people that are on the
staff that work directly under Charles Williams. As we are
growing bigger, we now have Phil Freese who is a liaison with the
growers and is doing research work in the vineyards. We are
beginning to establish a clonal vineyard.
We are beginning to have people who are concentrating on the
quality of the grapes from the various areas. We are pinpointing
the quality of our grapes based upon the location of the grapes,
the yield that we're making, and we're carrying on research work
as far as clones for the future. That will be another fifteen,
twenty years before we'll know what that will do.
But we are doing all that research work in order to enhance
our quality, realizing competition from overseas is coming, and we
have to produce a style of our own that can compete with any of
the wines of the world. What we have to do is be able to produce
a wine that goes well with food. In my opinion, because of our
climatic conditions, which I think are some of the finest in the
world, without a doubt We were making our wines too big, too
rich, during the seventies and the eighties. Now we're beginning
to pick these grapes somewhat earlier than we did in the past, not
make our wines as fat and as tanniny, and more drinkable.
We are going through another changing period in winemaking.
And you will find in the next ten years, our wines will be far
more drinkable, far more elegant than they are today, whereas up
to now, I think our wines by and large were big and heavy. We
weren't aware of what to do in order to make them more drinkable.
Not only that, our standard of living is beginning to increase.
The American people are realizing that they can have wines which
are more palatable and better with their food.
Do you think that part of the reason that we have had these heavy
wines is the Italian tradition in California?
No. If you take many of the Italian wines, they are much lighter
than ours, much lighter. I think the American people felt that
the wines of Europe were big. When you talk about Burgundy, the
big wines. Many of the wines in Burgundy are very light and very
delicate. They are not that big, rich wine that they think they
are. I think it's just a misconception. Writers who are not as
knowledgeable as they think they are all pick heavy wines as being
the best wines, but they're not. And that we are slowly learning.
Mike. Marcie. and Tim Mondavi
Teiser: I should ask you to talk of your children a little bit and their
future in the industry.
Mondavi: Mike was the oldest. Mike, from the time he was a youngster,
always wanted to be in the wine business. He was interested in
working in the cellar. In fact when we had our maintenance man,
he would go around with him, following him all over the winery,
when he was just a child. When he graduated from college, he
worked with us. He was a winemaker. First he worked in the
cellar [at C. Mondavi & Sons], and then finally he became the
winemaker for us at Robert Mondavi Winery. Then he worked up to
the point of being sales manager. As a sales manager he then went
out to represent us, and then became the president of the company.
Marcie was a teacher at one time, and then she decided to be
an air stewardess, and then decided to leave that and come and
represent us. She has been with us ever since, and she has
enjoyed it very much. She has done an outstanding job for us in
New York. She calls on the retail trade. She was there just at
the right time. It was ideal because the American people at that
time were beginning to demand some California wines in the better
retail stores and the better restaurants of New York. And Marcie
happened to get in there right at that particular time, and she
was very effective in getting our wines placed in the better
restaurants of New York, in fact in most of the restaurants.
I've been very, very pleased. She's very articulate. We now
have other representatives who call on the trade. She represents
us whether it's TV programs, radio programs. She appeared before
the wine and food society groups.
I remember the time that we gave a component tasting. In
fact she was the one with Gary Ramona that instituted what I call
component tastings. She wanted to find out how can you explain
the different tastes in wines. And then we realized the
University of California* had that component tasting. So my son
and daughter brought this to the Wine and Food Society in New
York, and they were very impressed. The president of the London
Wine and Food Society was there, and he was impressed. They were
having the anniversary of the Wine and Food Society in London, and
wanted Mike and Marcie to do that. Well, Mike had a commitment
to talk before someone else and couldn't do it. So they asked
I remember my daughter was just scared to death. I remember
talking to her on the phone. And Mike talked to her and finally
was able to convince her that she could do an outstanding job.
She gave this component tasting there. People were so impressed
that they began to talk about it. It was by far the most popular
of any function that they had over there. And I received these
letters from both the president of the London chapter, and also
from the New York president, a glowing tribute to what my daughter
did there. She's just that articulate.
That was something that was unique. You see, these are the
things that we did. And then we had our seminars. My daughter
helped create the idea of holding seminars for wine writers and
for our representatives. We brought them here. We showed them
how we grew grapes and what we did with pruning and budding, and
how we crush and ferment the grapes. We did that during the
harvest season. This was very educational. We taught people
this. You see, we were opening up everything about winemaking.
We didn't want secrets.
And all of a sudden this was very exciting and interesting to
writers. If you remember fifteen years ago, or ten years ago, no
writers would ever come to California about wine. But today these
people pay their own way coming to California. I couldn't believe
that a few years ago. But you see, this is the big change that's
taking place. Yes, we took care of them here. We put them up, we
fed them, and all that. But they came over on their own. That
was never the case because the industry wasn't that important.
However, things are changing. Things are moving along very, very
How about your son Tim?
Tim was the youngster that looked at the various schools he wanted
to go to, and he decided he wanted to go to Davis.
Teiser: Had Michael not gone to Davis?
Mondavi: No, Michael went to Santa Clara. But Tim looked around. He said
he wanted to go to Davis. However, when he was a freshman, I
thought he had enrolled for the enology school. He had almost
gone through the whole year when I realized that he hadn't. So I
sat down to talk to Tim. I was wondering why he hadn't enrolled
for enology, since he went to Davis; I thought that was his
He said, "Well, Dad, I want to be creative. You and Mike are
making the fine wines. I would like to create something of my
own." At the same time, he said, "You are working all the time.
I would like to have things of my own, my chickens, my horses. I
don't want to work seven days a week and things like that." He
said, "Yes, I want to work. But I'd like to have something that
would give me personal satisfaction."
So I said, "Tim, listen. First of all, you're in a family
operation. I can assure you it's going to take you, when you
graduate from school, another twenty, twenty-five years before you
can become a member of an organization where you can become
meaningful, that you can be part of the organization. In this
family operation that we have here, you are going to be a
principal, and the policy that we'll establish will be within the
family. And we'll all have an input in that. Secondly, Mike and
I are only making sound wine. We're not making fine wines. We
haven't even scratched the surface, Tim." I said, "Tim, we can
make wines here for the next, not one, but three or four
generations, and we'll always learn. This is a very complex
thing. There's over four hundred elements in wine, each and every
year is a different year.
"So Tim, if you want to be creative, we are just getting
started in the business. And you can go on and on."
He actually saved his money (all our children saved their
money to go to Europe), and he was going to Europe. I gave him
the name of a dozen or so wineries that he could have visited. He
visited two or three. And then he saw that these vintners had
their own way of living, their horses, their cows, their chickens,
their vegetables and all of that. He came back. He enrolled in
the enology course.
I got the biggest kick out of it. Now only about a year or
so ago, or less than that, I said, "Tim, do you remember when you
told me you wanted to be creative?"
Mondavi: "You wanted to get into something that could be creative and you
could do your own thing." And I said, "Now, Tim, what do you
think of this now?" He said, "Dad, you know, we just are barely
scratching the surface. There's still so much to do." In other
words, even though we've made all this progress, Tim now knows
that there is so much more to do to create wines of elegance, of
drinkability. I would say he thought about fifteen years ago that
we knew everything about winemaking. Well, he now knows he can
work all the rest of his life and his children's children can do
that and yet not know enough about winemaking.
So Tim has been very, very happy. My daughter Marcie has been
extremely happy. I would like to say that Tim has taken a special
interest in understanding wine. Mike was more interested in the
selling, more contacting with people. Mike was a good winemaker,
but his dedication was understanding people, working with people
on the administrative end of the thing, which he's in right now,
and which he has been doing. Whereas Tim desires to know every
thing about winemaking, and working with people in this regard.
So we are very blessed. We have these extremes where Tim
wants to go into the minute details of winemaking, which he is
doing even to a greater degree than I did. So really, in that
regard we are in good hands. Mike now has been through all of
that. Mike is now on the outside, working and representing us
with the Wine Institute, with the federal government, with our
expansion in programs for the future and things like that.
It's worked out exceptionally well, and they are all very
pleased and very happy. And I'm trying to pull as fast away from
this as I possibly can, so they can take over on their own.
The Creation of Opus One
What else do we have there to talk about? [referring to
outline of suggested subjects]
Teiser: I haven't asked you about the venture you are just now
Mondavi: The joint venture with Baron Philippe [de Rothschild],
Mondavi: The Baron Philippe called on me twice. In fact for this whole
thing, you have to give credit to the foresight of the Baron
Philippe, not to myself. The first time he called on me was in
the early 1970s when we had a WSWA [Wine and Spirits Wholesalers
of America] convention in the Hawaiian Islands. Philippe Cottin,
who is the man in charge of all his operation called me and said,
"The baron would like to speak to you if you wouldn't mind coming
to his suite there."
I was very honored. So I went there. In fact he's a very
personable man. He's very down to earth, and very friendly. He
said, "Bob, I'm very much interested in California wine." He
said, "I'm interested particularly in one grape, the Cabernet
grape. I've been coming here, and I've been evaluating that.
Would you be interested in any way of working with me on
something?" I said, "Well, I don't know what you have in mind.
I'm very honored that you will talk to me and want to talk to me."
He said that he wanted to talk to me before talking to anyone else
because he felt that from everything he had seen that we should be
the first people that he should talk to. And I was honored at
I said, "Well, no, I can't think of anything. What do you
have in mind?" He said, "Well, I'm thinking of maybe a Cabernet
Sauvignon." I said, "Well do you have anything in mind that ?"
He said, "No, I don't." So we talked for about forty-five
minutes. And then we parted and he said, "Bob, if you can think
of anything, will you write me? And if I think of anything, I'll
I was busy with our new winery. In 1966 I started. And this
was only in '71 or '72. So I was so busy in our winery that I
couldn't do anything about it. But I didn't realize that the
Baron himself was very busy because he was coming out with Mouton
Cadet, his secondary wine. And then he also was buying two other
I didn't hear from him until in August of 1978 when his
representative, Mickey [Miklos] Dora came in from Santa Barbara.
And he said, "Bob, remember the baron was very much interested in
working with you, and before talking to anybody else, we would
like to talk to you again to see if you would be interested in a
joint venture." "What do you have in mind?" He said, "Well, Bob
I don't know. Is there any way the two of you can get together?"
To make a long story short, Marcie was not able to go with me
on a tour with fifteen of our employees, and I promised to take
her that November on a tour through the winegrowing regions of
Europe. He said, "Would you mind meeting with the Baron?" I
said, "No, I would be very happy."
So we met with the Baron in November, as his guests, at the
chateau. At that time we had a beautiful dinner. I won't go into
details of it, but he had served a hundred-year-old Chateau
Mouton-Rothschild. He served also a thirty-year-old Chateau Baron
Philippe Rothschild, which is the second growth. And we had a
simple but elegant dinner. And then I had breakfast in bed the
next morning, and my daughter had breakfast in bed, and
We didn't speak a word of business during dinner that evening
because he had two charming ladies there as well. And he had
Philippe Cottin, his manager. But after dinner he said, "We
haven't talked at all about the wine business. Would you mind
meeting in my bedroom?" He said, "Ninety percent of all my
business is done in my bedroom." I looked at my daughter, and I
said, "Would you mind meeting the Baron in his bedroom?" And she
said, "No, not at all." So we met him there the next morning
about nine, nine thirty after our breakfast.
This time he knew exactly what he wanted. He was interested
in a joint venture. He said to me and he always referred to me,
just to show you how intelligent and smart this man is, he always
referred to me first he said, "I would like to have a joint
venture in which you have fifty percent and I would have fifty
percent. We don't want it big, we want it small, five thousand
cases." And he said, "You will put your name on the label, and
I'll put my name on the label." And I said, "Fine, that sounds
very interesting." I was surprised that he was willing to go that
far. Then he said, "Bob, what should we do? Should we have two
wines or more?" I said, "Well, if you're only having five
thousand cases, that's so little. Not only that, but we all know
that Cabernet is the outstanding grape of Napa Valley. And I
think we should only have one wine."
So we discussed that and we agreed that it would only be one
wine. Then he said, "But, however, I would rather not call it
Cabernet Sauvignon. I would rather have a proprietory name." I
said, "I'm in accord with that. That's already okay with me too."
Then he said, "Well, should we have our own vineyard and our own
winery?" And I said, "Baron, if we want to excel, the only way to
do it is to have our own vineyards and our own winery." We
discussed at some length. And then he said, "Would you be willing
to make the wine in the interim?" I said, yes, we would go along
until we have our own vineyard and our winery. We would work out
an arrangement to make this possible.
Then he turned to me and said, "Bob, I hear you have
considerable holdings in Napa Valley. Would you mind selling
twenty or twenty-five acres of your land to the joint venture?" I
looked the baron square in the eye and I said, "Would you like to
sell twenty or twenty-five acres of yours?" He said, "Oh, no, no,
no!" And I said, "Well, I don't want to sell it either."
We then agreed to give until December of '81 to buy land.
We've been fortunate. We bought a hundred and forty acres right
contiguous to our property. Right across the highway we have a
hundred acres. Do you know where the Oakville Grocery is?
Mondavi: That hundred acres, that Oakville Grocery is the only thing on it.
There's a hundred acres from that road that goes across the
valley. There's a hundred acres that goes north. All you have is
that one acre where the store is. But that restaurant on the
corner is all ours. And those two shack buildings, all of that is
ours. That's a hundred acres right there. And that land really
turns out to be very fine because the grapes we've been crushing,
right across the road, we like very much. So all of this piece
has turned out well. We also then sold forty acres at the end of
our property to tie in, where we think the grapes will possibly
mature a little bit better, so that we could be assured of having
So we have a hundred and forty acres. There's about eighty
acres planted there now. We'll have the balance planted next
year. We are beginning to have people look into designing
buildings for the winery. So we will have that built in due time.
We were lucky, as I say, to buy the land.
Then the baron said at that time that we hadn't talked about
the financing of the deal. He said, "We are six thousand miles
apart. Can you think of anyone that could be a go-between for us
to work this program up, the financial deal. We agree in
principle on what we want to do." So I thought of Harry Serlis,
who used to be the president of the Wine Institute. And he said,
"Bob, that's the man." I said, "But wait a minute. He's a member
of my board of directors." "Oh, that's all right." He said,
"Don't worry about that. I'm not worried about that."
I didn't realize that Harry Serlis is the man that convinced
the Baron Philippe of the quality of California wines, because the
baron was coming to California for years, every year, and he knew
Harry Serlis very well. Then he asked Harry Serlis, and I didn't
realize this, about the vintners. Of course, he was representing
the vintners of California. And he mentioned a half a dozen of
the vintners that he could call on, and gave him the list. I
never realized, this is how the baron was able to get in touch.
That's why the baron called on me.
Teiser: You were on Harry Serlis' s list?
Mondavi: He always admired what we did. In fact, "Bob," he said, "you are
people that are doing outstanding work." So we were always on the
list. When he took wines to England, we had two of our wines he
took over. He wanted our wines always. Wherever he went, he
wanted our wines with him. So we were certain favorites of his.
I didn't realize that he was this effective until I talked to the
Well, to make a long story short, the baron said, "I'll call
Harry on the phone, and I would like to meet before the end of the
year. Since I'm getting along in years, we have to do something
now." I said, "I'll call Harry and do what we can." Well, to
make a long story short, Harry could not go before December. He
went in January, I think in January. We worked out a program. He
submitted it to the baron. The baron accepted it. Harry was this
kind of a man. Harry knew that it had to be fair to the baron and
it had to be fair to us. And the baron knew it too. You see,
this is the kind of loyalty, this is the kind of understanding you
When I talked to the baron, I looked him square in the eye,
and he looked at me, and we knew that each of us was speaking
honestly and straightforwardly. He knew good and well that if he
had Harry to work this program up, it would be something that
would be fair, because he knew the man. And also Harry knew that
he's intelligent enough to know the difference. So basically, we
had a beautiful deal that was really worked up between Harry and
myself and our people here, that was submitted to him. And it was
approved. But even though we agreed on it, it took eighteen
months to get our attorneys and our lawyers to get that put
together. So we finally signed that in, I think, March or April
However, the baron said while we were still negotiating,
"Would you mind just making two thousand cases?" That was in
1979. "I'll supply the barrels." The wine was made in our winery
But there was another thing that I forgot to mention in our
negotiation, a very important factor. He said, "Bob, since you're
in California, you should make the wine." I think my jaw dropped.
I was expecting him to say to me, "Bob, we'll make the wine since
we are the baron." Had he said that to me, I'd say, "Baron, I've
had a beautiful dinner, wonderful breakfast in bed, thank you."
And I would have walked out. Because I would not have taken that.
But he was too smart for this. He realized it. He said, "You
make the wine; however, I have my winemaker who's been with me
forty years, I'd like him to get together with your son, whoever
makes the wine over there " (well, it would be my son and myself)
" so we have a joint agreement on that." I said, "I agree
completely and wouldn't have it otherwise."
Then after we got through with that meeting in his bedroom,
Philippe Cottin came to me. He said, "Bob, I wouldn't get your
hopes up too high. The winemaker here is Lucien Sionneau, and he
must give his approval for any agreement. He has been brought up
from the soil of Bordeaux. And, you know, he doesn't like to
travel. I don't think he's even been to Paris. If I were you, I
wouldn't get my hopes up too much. But I know he'll go to
California for the baron."
Well, he flew in, and I told Tim, "Tim, you get every sample
of Cabernet Sauvignon that we have, our free run, our press wine,
from every grower, from all our vineyards, the Cabernet franc as
well as Merlot. And then after that we'll show him all the
research work that we have undertaken."
He came in. He tasted over a hundred and twenty wines. He
spent ten days here. Then he tasted all our research work. And I
could see him looking and very amazed at what we were doing and
all the research work. We showed him all the vineyards that we
had. He then went on his own with the other people to visit other
wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma, and Monterey. He came back in
three months. He's taken thirteen trips in- less than four years.
And you know how chauvinistic the French are about things. You
know how chauvinistic they are about wine. There must be
something here that's very interesting to them.
Now he's retiring the end of this year. But still he wants
to come here and visit. I wanted to bring that out because that
tells more about what's going on than what the baron and I say.
The baron and I can make a deal, but this is the wine man who
thinks from the heart and the head, and it's not money to him in
that regard. He could see something that was worthwhile.
And by the way, my son Tim. My son speaks a little bit of
French, very little. But they got along like two peas in the pod.
I was with them in the beginning. I now taste the preliminary and
final blends that they make. They do the whole thing on their
own. And they're having more fun. It's a beautiful relationship.
Teiser: This was first called Napa-Medoc, wasn't it?
Mondavi: Yes, Napa-Medoc. That was a lawyers' name because they were
making this thing up and they said, "Okay, we'll just make a name
up for expediency." I tell you, everybody was up in arms on this
Then we decided to create a label. Do you know it took us
two and a half years to create a label and get a name? We had one
of the largest and well-known label producers. He produced at
least fifty to sixty labels. First we had men shaking hands
across the sea. But none of them hit us. We then went to another
party, Susan Pate. And all of a sudden she came up with this
label with the two profiles.* This is what we selected.
And then the name. We had about five hundred names. Finally
the baron called and said It was two o'clock one night, and it
dawned on him. "Opus." He got out of bed, and he looked at his
dictionary, and he went through the entire meaning of opus in the
dictionary and everything seemed to fit. So he called me. He
told me Opus, and I said, "Oh," I said, "Opus. Baron, that Pus
is a word that it not very agreeable in the English language over
here. Opus, that doesn't ring a bell." My daughter was just in
arms. "Dad, you can't have a name like that."
And then about a week later he said, "Bob, I've got it.
Let's call it Opus One." "Well, Opus One is a lot better than
just Opus," I said. I said, "All right, that's fine. Let's make
it 'Opus One; 1 we associate it with music. Fine, we will do
that." The name was his idea.
*0f Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi
Oh, by the way, at our meeting, when we were in his bedroom,
he said, "You know, I expect if the quality is right, I think it
should sell at the same price as the first growths of Europe."
Can you imagine a Frenchman claiming that a wine from California
should sell at the same price as their own? Can you believe that?
When I heard all of this, I couldn't believe it. But you see, the
thing that made the Rothschild family great for a hundred and
eighty years was the foresight. They were the financial geniuses
of Europe for a hundred and eighty years only because of their
foresight. This is a thing that he could see. I have to give him
credit in that regard.
So here we had two people. We are young, we are dedicated,
we know we can produce wine that has style of its own. And I knew
that we could learn the subtle differences in winemaking from them
because here they made wine for many, many years. They knew wines
that could be drinkable with your meals. I knew they had certain
things that they were doing; also I knew we were doing things here
in our research work that they weren't doing. I felt that the two
of us together could do something that was uniquely different.
And that's exactly what's happened.
Even though the degree-days are about the same in Napa Valley
as in Bordeaux, their wines are quite different, a little bit more
tart than ours. As our grapes mature, they are softer. What we
wanted to do was get a little bit of the flesh or the fruit around
the steeliness, the structure of the French wines. We were not
picking our grapes as early as we should, and we didn't sculpture
our wine as much as we should. We kept our wines more natural,
they sculpture their wines. They hone their wines. They work
their wines. And that's what we learned. And they learned from
our research work. So we had a wine which had much more meat to
What we have now is not a Bordeaux, it's not typically
Californian. It's our own style. And we've learned to use their
knowledge with our knowledge to get a wine that has the structure,
the steeliness, the drinkability that they have in their wines.
And if you taste our wines, the Opus One, the 1979 and 1980,
you'll see that that's exactly what we have. It's coming in
harmony with the structure, the steeliness. We've added that
character that we get by the extra fruit that we can get in our
grapes that they don't get in Europe, unless they get a very warm
So it's neither the French, nor is it typically California.
We have created something here that I think you'll find is a step
in the right direction, just as when we brought barrels in and we
began to change our winemaking technique. I think this is going
to be another step in developing a style of wine that is going to
give us far more drinkability with our food and be much more
pleasing, and be Lighter and lower in alcohol and be a better wine
over-all. This is the thing that we're working on.
Teiser: Will it then affect your winemaking across the board?
Mondavi: It affects everything because this we were doing anyway. We were
moving very slowly. We were sculpturing our wine. We began to
clarify our wine. We were doing all of this. But we did it very
slowly. When they came into the picture, we went along much more
rapidly. So what they've done, they've helped us gain ten years
because eventually we were going to do this anyway. And this is
where that relationship has been so tremendously valuable.
We're going to do it in all of our wines because all we're
doing is picking our grapes a little earlier. Instead of leaving
the wines with their natural imperfections, we are now learning to
hone, to sculpture and to work our wines to make them much more
palatable and yet natural. It's just like having a child brought
up and not being taught anything, without what we consider
culture. But anyway, it's a question of having the proper
treatment. And if you have it, it can be much more beautiful,
much more harmonious if done properly. Mother Nature is very
cruel at times. You can freeze to death, or you can die by heat
prostration. And then you can be in the balmy areas and have a
beautiful existence. So Mother Nature isn't always the best thing
you can have. You take the best of what Mother Nature will offer
you. This is the thing we are working on.
I'm excited about this because I know what it will do for
California. I know what it will do for the United States. I
think this is a tremendous step forward. From my point of view,
it's another breakthrough because we are getting something here
that is going to be much more drinkable, lighter, and much more
pleasing, and yet will have longevity.
Teiser: What longevity do you anticipate?
Mondavi: I say that if you place the wine in the proper cellar it will age
just like the French, whether it be fifty years, a hundred years.
Of course, it's silly to age any wine that long. But we're going
to have wines put aside that I'll never have the opportunity of
drinking at their full maturity. But my great-grandchildren will
see the day. And they will have wine that will be a hundred years
old. It will maintain itself that way. I have seen our Charles
Krug wine that was over forty years of age which was beautiful.
Today our wines will age much longer with much more complexity.
They will become much smoother. But the difference that you have
to pay for insurance and taxes, it's silly. But you can have wine
that will age that long. I have no concern about that.
The practical thing is that these wines, the way they are
made, they can be exceedingly good after seven to ten years. Then
they are reaching a point where they have real smoothness and
complexity. But if you drink them younger than that, just like
those on the market now even the great growths that they have
over there in Bordeaux or Burgundy they're not mature when
they're only three to four years old. When they get to be minimum
seven to ten years old, that's when they're beginning to get a
wine that has considerable harmony and character.
But the cost of that is so prohibitive, you know. But still
there are those people that have the money, the means, and will
want that once they are accustomed to that. I never realized why
they can sell so many Mercedes that sell for twenty-five percent
to one hundred percent of the price of anything else. Yet those
people will spend the money. They'll buy Rolls Royces. They'll
buy certain cars. Sevilles will cost nowhere near what the
Mercedes do. And they'll do the same thing with wine. It's part
of the gracious way of living.
Wine and Food
And what's happening today that I feel so good about is that
the world at large is appreciating more gracious living more than
ever before. We went backwards for a number of years, for the
last fifteen or twenty years. Now there's a surge the world over
to go back to better food, better wines, and achieving or wanting
I'm excited about this for not only wine but also food.
That's why we are holding our Great Chefs of France, our Great
Chefs of America now. We're having the Great Chefs of America.
We are going to be the great shining light in the next generation
in wine and foods. America and California will be the great
shining light. For wine California will be. But the United
States of America will be for foods because we have the natural
resources. We have the fish, the fowl, the beef, the veal, the
vegetables, the grains. We have all of this and more. The people
are getting excited who are beginning to become really culinary
artists. And this is growing by leaps and bounds. I'm so excited
about it because I remember when I was talking to Ella Brennan [in
New Orleans]. About two and a half years ago, we were having a
tasting with Ella. And she said, "You know, Bob, I wish we had a
leader in our food industry like you are doing for the wine
business. You have set the pace and are way ahead of us. Here we
have so much to offer, and what you've done, you have been able to
go out and produce wines in Napa Valley, at your winery, that
belong in the company of the finest. We have no one like that
that's done that for us in the food industry."
However, in the last three years, the food industry is sky
rocketing. There are Alice Waters, Paul Prudhomme, Wolfgang Puck,
Larry Flagroni, Bradley Ogden, and many other outstanding American
chefs. In our winery we're going to build another kitchen to
further the cause of the Great Chefs of America. And we feel that
food and wine belong together. That's why we're doing all this.
We don't do any advertising, no radio, no TV. All of our work is
to be done that way.
Wines and Vines has an ad. We put it only for the purpose of
helping Wines and Vines. Everything else we do is word of mouth.
We have wine tastings. We have our Great Chefs of France program.
We have component tasting. We have seminars. We have harvest
seminars. We do all of that kind of work. No advertising, no
radio, no TV. We travel the world over to understand what's going
on. We've been to Australia. My son has been to South Africa.
I've been to Europe many times, at least two or three times a
year, to understand. I learn from people. This is now being
transmitted to our whole staff, not only my children, all of them.
We are educating everyone there. That's what's so important about
So the future
The future is exciting.
I feel that in the next ten years, we will make as much if
not more progress than we have in the past ten years from the
point of view of having elegant, much more drinkable wines than we
have today. From the seventies up to now, we have made big wines,
rich wines, sound wines. But now we are going to be making more
elegant wines, much more drinkable wines with our foods. We are
going to see this develop in the next ten years. And the
competition is tremendously keen. We have all these people who
have been trained at the enology schools, the viticultural
schools. We know the competition is very keen overseas. We are
all aware of this.
Look, right now I invited thirty to forty people to come
from Italy to visit us. I invited them as guests of our winery
for tomorrow. I have a hundred and thirty five people coming in
This shows you the tremendous interest. The Italians want to
learn, and that's what they've being doing for a number of years,
and they are improving their winemaking technique. They have good
soil and climatic conditions. What they need is to try to improve
And we have to go a step further. I realize the importance
of this. If we don't, we are going to be having problems, because
their labor, their soil is much cheaper than ours. And we have to
learn to improve our winemaking and grape growing technique, which
we will. We are going to have to improve the drinkability of our
wines, which we will do, and also productivity, with character and
with style. These are all the things that we have to work on and
The Napa Valley Wine Symposium and Auction^
[Interview 4: October 15, 1984]
Teiser: Would you tell about the beginning of the Napa Valley Wine
Mondavi: Yes. Bill Hall came to me and he said, "Bob, you know we'd like
to have an educational program with the hoteliers, the
restaurateurs, on Napa Valley wine." He said, "Would you think it
would be a good idea if we had something like this, and invited
them all to come to Napa Valley? Could we get the support of the
vintners to come in and have an educational program? From the
growing of the grapes and the making of the wine?" I said, "My
God, what an excellent idea." I said, "Lets go to the Napa Valley
Vintners and talk with them." They discussed it there and we got
Then when they started, you see everybody likes the idea but
nobody wishes to do any work. The symposium was dying because we
weren't getting enough support for it. So I called in my sales
manager, Gary Ramona, and (he could tell you) we had our whole
staff calling on the various restaurateurs, hoteliers, throughout
the USA to get them to come to the symposium. If it weren't for
that we wouldn't have had enough people coming. That's how we
played a very important with that the first two years, and then it
was carried on.
Now they've skipped a year, and I'm really put out. I'm a
little bit mad. I didn't realize this (you see my sons are
members of the Vintners). They skipped this year with the idea
that they were going to do it the following year, when they could
put more time and effort in. I was put out because now they have a
manager of the Napa Valley Vintners, and this man could have
carried it on. They claim that they're going to go into it next
year. I can assure you I'm going to strongly support the
symposium the next year around because I want to see to it that
they continue this. In the long run this is a good educational
program to let the people know the importance of Napa Valley
wines. I think they made a mistake by not continuing it on this
year. They were getting the support by the country club, and we
need that kind of support. So I'm going to do everything I can,
through my sons, to see that they hold the symposium next year as
well. All it takes is the desire and will to realize its future
Teiser: Mike Silva, the manager, is going to give a luncheon Thursday in
Mondavi: That's on behalf of the Napa Valley public relations program.
When John Daniel was there, I said, "We should have a public
relations program for Napa Valley." Well, finally, after many
years, they now have it because we need to let the people know the
importance of Napa Valley in the world of wine. I think it's
ideal. In fact it's going to be interesting to see what they do.
That's going to be a press conference, is that it?
Teiser: It's going to be a morning tasting of last year's vintages and
luncheon and discussion.
Mondavi: We need to do these things to bring the attention of the world
to what we're doing here in Napa Valley, let alone the state of
Teiser: The Napa Valley Auction however, certainly focuses a lot of
attention on the Napa Valley.
Mondavi: Very definitely. John Daniel and I, we were trying to think of
ways that we could have a program. We were thinking of having the
San Francisco Symphony come here. We were thinking of other
things. Before, Napa Valley used to have these vintage parades, a
vintage festival. It was more of a carnival than anything else.
We didn't want to do that, we didn't think it would be worthwhile.
We could never think of anything and then, I think I explained to
you about how Fat Montandon came to me.
Teisler: Yes but you didn't explain it when we were taping.
Mondavi: All of a sudden, one day Pat Montandon came to me.
By the way, may I explain this background. The vintners are
the tightest, toughest people when it Gomes' to spending any money.
They had little foresight about trying to spend money for the
future. They won't break loose because business might become
better. This I can assure you of.
So when Pat Montandon came to me, and she said, "Bob, I have
a party each and every year. I'd like to make a wine-tasting out
of it. Would you support me in having a wine-tasting?" Then I
said, "Oh my God, Pat, instead of having a wine-tasting for just
Robert Mondavi, let's have a wine-tasting for all the vintners of
Napa Valley." Then we began to say, "You know there is an auction
that they have in Beaune that they hold once a year for the
benefit of the hospital." We said, "Well, why don't we make it a
benefit?" I said, "I also know Michael Broadbent; why don't we
have it international? I'll call him and see whether he can come
over, and let's instead of a wine-tasting, make it a wine
auction." She thought, "Gee that will be an excellent idea."
So, I called Michael Broadbent on the phone and explained to
him that we were thinking of having a wine auction here and were
wondering if he'd be willing to come and what would he charge.
She was willing to pay. You see, she spent about twenty-five
thousand to thirty thousand dollars a year on a social function
where she invited all of her friends. She brought in bands from
New York and things like that to really do something worthwhile.
Michael Broadbent said, "Well Bob, what kind of a function is
it? Is it for raising money or what?" I said, "No, its a benefit
for the hospital." He said, "Well, if its a benefit for the
hospital, I'm willing to do it for nothing except for my tickets
(fly me over) and my accommodation." I said, "Well, gee that's
I told Pat what we should do is go to the Napa Valley
Vintners and explain this and see if we can get the Vintners to
support this idea. I was a little bit concerned as I knew the
Vintners didn't want to make it a social event. The Vintners
would realize that Pat Montandon was interested in a social deal
rather than a wine auction. However, she was willing to spend
twenty-five thousand or more dollars, which certainly would be
useful for the Vintners as well. We explained it to the Vintners
and they begrudgingly discussed it. When she left we discussed it
again at full length. I said, "Listen. Here you have twenty-five
thousand dollars that has been given you. Yes, it could be a
social function, but we can get a lot of publicity nationally and
internationally, and this thing can be built up." Well, sure
enough they approved it, but with concern.
Then, through some unfortunate situation (in fact Pat
Montandon did separate from her husband), she pulled out. Then we
didn't have twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars any more.
I talked to my sons, Michael and Tim, I said, "You know, this
is a golden opportunity. We have to raise twenty-five thousand.
Even if we can't get the twenty-five thousand from other people,
I'd like to guarantee the twenty-five thousand dollars if we need
it. But," I said, "before we do that let's try to contact a few
other vintners to see whether they would put up five thousand
dollars each, with the idea if it's successful then it reverts
back to us." We were able to get not only that, but we got I
think thirty thousand or thirty-five thousand dollars that way.
So we then went to the Vintners and said, "Now, Pat has
pulled out. However, we have these people who will guarantee this
in case you need the money. And if we can't make it, fine. These
people lose that money. Or, if it's successful it refunds back to
these people. So then they were much happier because now they
knew it was going to be a Napa Valley Vintners function rather
than a Pat Montandon social function. So this is the way it went.
In the meantime (I got a kick out of it), the year before I
planned a trip to the Greek Islands. There were eight of us going
on this trip. When I was gone, the Vintners put the date of the
wine auction on that same day, I mean during my Greek trip, and I
was so upset because I wanted to be here. I knew it should be
very successful, and if not I wanted to personally see why,
because I knew this could give us national and international
recognition if done right. I created it with Pat and knew it
should work well. I was afraid if it wasn't successful the people
would back away for the following year. So, in the middle of my
trip I flew to St. Helena for the wine auction. I spent that
night at the wine auction, and I explained to the gathering the
way this all came about. I gave credit to Pat Montandon and
myself, how we got together to do this and how it evolved.
It was a great success. In fact I remember Louis [P.]
Martini was the chairman; he said, "You know, Bob, I'm amazed at
this thing." It was very successful. It was beyond anybody's
expectations, and we had the tremendous support of the community.
We broke up the community into committees and they all worked, and
worked hard, especially the women. It was a community-spirited
thing that went through.
Then the following year, the Vintners gave it their full
support. Each succeeding year was better than the year before.
But it became a big job. That's why I said, "We should have a
manager to manage this thing. Do you realize he's going to spend
half or two thirds of his time on the wine auction? And they
should make a big profit." Sure enough, they finally have put a
manager now on here, and I felt that whatever time he puts in this
should be charged against the wine auction. In addition to that,
the symposium that we had should be charged too as a part of the
function of the Vintners. So that's why I was so upset when they
didn't carry on the symposium here this year, because the man that
we have should have been able to carry on that function as well.
This year the auction was very successful, and I say: if we
have the right man we can get more old wines that we can auction,
and we can make this become the most successful auction of its
type in the world.
Teiser: All wines are donated by the wineries?
Mondavi: Not necessarily. We said, "O.K. for those that want to, they can
charge their wholesale price (I mean the price that they sell to a
distributor) if they wanted to. We donated all our wine, others
have donated, and the majority are donating, but some of the
smaller vintners we knew could not afford to do these things so
therefore the auction is paying them. They put up a minimum price
[on their wines] and then the people at the auction bid from there
on. The small vintners are covered, you see; they get paid. It's
been very successful.
The Winery Tour with Margrit Biever
Teiser: One other thing I had thought of, we have no verbal description of
a winery tour.
Mondavi: Oh, my wife was the one that started it.
Teiser: I know, and so if she could tell briefly, on the tape, what the
tour consists of
Mondavi: You would love it! She's good at it!
I'll tell you, we believed in this, that our tours are very
educational. We have absolutely no secrets in our winery. We
tell everybody. As long as other wine-makers are willing to be
open and discuss things, we tell them everything we do. We have
enough confidence in ourselves for the future. We continually
learn and we can learn from other people and we do that. We are
willing to exchange ideas with people.
Teiser: I understand that you yourself are always interested in new ideas.
Mondavi: Oh, definitely. We travel the world over for that. You get
nuances of different things, why people do certain things in
winemaking. You don't realize it at times until you get there and
you see for yourself. Then, you have to sit down and drink wine
with food to understand the difference not in the lab. The lab
is fine for technical understanding, but to appreciate wine, it
should be at the table. People don't realize that.
Now Margrit's daughter even cooks luncheons for us, the
smaller luncheons. (We have a caterer for the big ones). I said
to my sons, "You can never appreciate wine in a lab, you have to
have it with lunch or dinner." Now we have that, so now they take
advantage of that. They have lunch quite frequently and they
taste wines with lunch so they have a better appreciation of it.
All of this plays a part in what we're doing.
My dear wife is the one that has created all the public
relations. In the beginning it was Griswold. Mr. Griswold had
worked at Charles Krug winery for us years ago. Then when I came
over here he went to work at Inglenook for a while, we had just
built the winery here and he came to me and said, "Bob, I know
that you are starting a new winery here. If you see fit I'd like
to work with you when the company's very small. I would be
happy to take the tours in the beginning." I said, "Gee, fine
Griz, I think that would be swell."
So, as soon as we opened up in I think it was March or April
of 1967, we had only some white wine and rosb ready. He came over
and he took tours. He said, "I'll do it for about six months, no
more than a year," he said, "until you can get started." Well I
was so busy that a year went by, almost a year and a half. He
then hired Margrit Biever. Then, after being there for about a
year or more he came to me and said, "Bob, remember I told you I
was going to only work a few months on this. I don't want the
full responsibility of this. I would like to have you bring
someone in who could take charge." Well I didn't get anyone.
Finally, he came up to me about six months later and said, "Bob, I
have just the person for you." I said, "Fine, who is it?" "It's
Margrit Biever." I said, "Margrit Biever?" He said, "Yes. You
know, she understands your philosophy. She understands what you
want to do, the graciousness of what you have and all. She will
be ideal for you." I said, "Are you sure?" I discussed this
further. He said, "Bob without a doubt." I said, "Okay. Let me
talk to her."
I talked to her and I said, "You know Griswold gave you a
high recommendation. He felt you were ideal, that your philosophy
and mine were the same, and that you would be ideal for this
position." She said, "Well, I'm sorry. I'm honored, but frankly
I don't think I'm qualified to run the retail room and the tours."
I said, "Well, Griswold was quite convinced that you were." She
said, "Well, I appreciate the offer but I'm not qualified." I
couldn't talk her into it.
Then Griswold came to me and said, "Bab, would you mind if I
talked to Margrit?" I said, "No, fine." So he made a deal with
Margrit. You know in European countries the women always worked
with the husbands, and she never ran men. Here she had two or
three, I forgot how many, men who are tour guides.
Griswold said, "I'll handle the tour guides for one year.
You come in and do the receiving and little by little I'll
transfer the responsibility." That's exactly what took place, and
in a short little while she began to realize she could do
everything and make it work well. She carried that on and
developed many new PR ideas up until four years ago when we
brought Harvey Posert in. Then he took over part of the public
relations responsibility. Margrit became my wife. My wife began
to do the special events only, which was a full-time job. She did
the jazz festivals, the cooking classes, the Great Chefs of France
and of America, the art shows, plus all the other special events.
She's the one that created those things. So, I thought she should
tell her story, and so it will be good for you to talk with her.
[The interview continued in one of the winery reception rooms.]
Teiser: You came to this winery in 1967 just shortly after it started?
Biever: I guess I was one of the first woman tour guides in Napa Valley
when I worked for Krug from 1964 to 1966. Then I joined the Robert
Mondavi organization in 1967 when it was a very young winery. The
first new winery*, as you know, built after Prohibition. It was
that rainy year of '67, and there were three of us. It took three
of us because one had to stay back while one went on tour, and the
third one had to come in on our days off. [laughs]
We were often wondering, "Would there be a day when nobody
[no visitors] would come?" But the day never happened. The
minimum we had were three persons. We were somewhat historical
because we served rose, our Camay Rose, and our Riesling, which
was a Sylvaner Riesling. These are wines which we don't have
any more. Then, the Fume Blanc was introduced as the first dry
Sauvignon Blanc with wood aging. So, therefore, that became one
of the big innovations and successes.
But here we were around the fire in the fireplace, counting
those few little people that came in. [laughs] Today, as you have
seen, Ruth, we have probably on a Monday a thousand visitors, and
we can't accommodate everybody that would like to come and see the
Teiser: On a summer weekend, how many a day?
Biever: Well, we have to limit it to about twelve, fourteen hundred,
because physically there just isn't any place to go any more.
Teiser: You have some tour busses
Biever: We accept tour busses. Busses to us in a way are easy because
they bring less cars and it's sort of a compact idea of people
*In the Napa Valley.
coming and departing. We love everybody but there just isn't
enough room, [laughs] It's just sometimes we don't know where to
go, but it is wonderful this wine interest in our nation.
Teiser: Could you describe when a group arrives what you do?
Biever: Yes, we greet them and we will tell them at what point the next
tour is leaving never making them wait more than ten to fifteen
Teiser: Where do they wait?
Biever: They wait all in the reception room that you have seen because now
the weather is getting a little cool. Or, they may go under the
arch, sit on the bench, take a few pictures, and find other people
to talk with until the tour leaves.
Our tour guides are a very dedicated group of young people
that have sometimes taken a rest in their careers. Like, they may
have finished school, they have a degree they may even have an
advanced degree and they don't quite want to go into something
yet. So they say, "We want to learn about wine," and maybe for a
year or two they become tour guides here. Many of our people have
then stayed because the life was nice. There is a character,
quality of life, when you live in the vineyards, that is good.
They have stayed and they have been tour guides with us for two,
three, four years now.
They are knowledgeable because there is like a fire burning
in there, and if you don't know soon everything that you can
possibly accrue of winemaking, it's like water seeking its own
level you are suffocated. They're all very, very anxious to know
and have the fire. We think they are very knowledgeable, and they
give a tour that's based on information and education.
Teiser: Do they speak before they go out into the winery?
Biever: Yes, they welcome everybody. We give a little of the history from
the beginning of Robert Mondavi's family arriving from Italy in
1906. Living in Minnesota in the iron mines. To Cesar e's
development, being at some point a sort of an entrepreneur, and
being picked by the Italian community up there in this cold, iron-
mine country of Minnesota, to come to California every year and
purchase the grapes from which then the Italians made their wine.
Through the time that he brought his family here in 1923, and then
after repeal when he go involved in Sunny St. Helena. In '43 the
family bought Charles Krug. The rise, the -energy that they put
into Charles Krug making it quite successful. Then, Cesare died
in 1959, and to the differences of ideas between the brothers to
the separation in 1966. Bob feeling that he had enough time,
enough energy, the know-how, and three children that wanted to
follow his footsteps, that he could start anew.
From then on we tell a little bit about the winery as being
one of the most modern wineries at the time. Now of course many
more have come in, with technology and tradition playing a role.
We talk about the vineyards. Our own, how we have slowly
acquired them, and that we now have seven hundred acres around the
winery. This is the winery with the most acreage contiguous to
the winery in Napa Valley. And the other vineyard near the
Oakville Crossroad, where we have another five hundred and eighty
Then we talk about Napa Valley as a prime region for grape
growing. The climatic conditions, the zones from Carneros to
Calistoga, talk about micro-climate the hill versus the river,
what the fog from the Pacific does, the balance of cold and warm
that we do not need to irrigate, why. Obviously there is a lot of
ground water, the root of the grape is deep. The life of the
grape, how it was brought from the old country.
Then the phylloxera history, the grafting, what has been done
in grafting. The clone selecting. The interest in vineyards now.
Soils, the planting of the grape, the life of the grape. The work
in the vineyards from the harvest going backwards to the pruning,
to the plowing of the soil.
After that we will stop as you can see this little group
here is stopping by a vine. We will show them the vine. We want
to familiarize them with the vine. We also bring up such things
as the dangers the pests and the frosts. Why we have so many
frost protection methods and what is best what we feel is best.
Where it's necessary and where it isn't and so forth.
Then we get somehow by the crusher. We now discuss the
picking of the grapes. Manual, about eighty percent to about
twenty percent with the machine. We tell them about the labor
situation, that we have about seventy percent indigenous (mostly
Mexican) labor in the fields, as you well know. Besides some
supervisory people, the rest is one hundred percent Mexican. And
it's a very important part to be able to have these very trained
and good, good people in the fields. Then, during harvests, we
had about thirty percent of migrant labor or labor that is not
used all year round.
We explain the crushing, we explain how we crush the grapes
with the crusher. White versus red and machine-picked versus
hand-picked. The whole story kind of while we show how the stems
are ejected and the recycling of the stems; and in some cases in
the Pinot noir, the readjoining the stems to the must. That's to
give the wine a little more tannic character; the green tannin of
the stems gives it more liveliness. That is explained there.
Then we proceed into the cellars where we talk about
fermentation. Again, quite a chapter on the whites. How the
stainless-steel tanks have the temperature control due to the
lining where the glycol can circulate, which is in turn controlled
by a Hewlett-Packard computer (it's like having a baby-sitter).
We used to stay a little bit away from telling too much about the
technical control because you take away the romance of the little
old wine-maker, [laughs] But, we all feel everybody has grown up
today, and therefore, it is fully discussed how the control works
on the temperature. We talk about how long the skins are retained
with the must, I mean with the juice, in the beginning from six to
maybe twenty hours, depending on whether they are Chardonnay's or
lighter wines. And also the states of the grapes and so forth.
Then we go into the red fermentation. Fermentation is
discussed in this area, and the rotating tanks where we do a lot of
the fermentation of the reds are explained. Keeping the skins in
contact with the juice for the extraction of the color pigment of
the tannin and the body. What you gain from that. The
temperature again, higher more rapid violent fermentation.
Then we go on to clarification and explain that, again, it's
an individual situation. You may want your sedimentation on
racking. On the other hand you may want to add something like, I
think, bentonite. We used to use a centrifuge; not so much
any more it is used for some wines and musts. We talk then about
the fining of the wines with the egg whites. All our reds are
fined with fresh egg whites.
By that time we pass by the bottling. We're not quite
chronological. We come by the bottling first. That's totally
visual. You just have to see and that's that. We tell them,
however, that it's done under air pressure for sanitary reasons.
From there we go into one of our many cellars. Of course, since
we have over thirty thousand French wood barrels, ninety-nine
percent French out of thirty thousand, we stop there to explain
the importance of wood for Robert Mondavi, and what wood does. We
also take them right to the barrels where wines are fermented in
the barrels such as the reserve Chardonnay and some of the
regular Chardonnay, part of the regular Fumfe Blanc, the reserve
Fume Blanc. So they can really see, especially now, that the
action (fermentation) is still going on. Whatever goes on in the
cellars is explained, be it topping, be it blending.
I think a living cellar for a tour, to' me is a must. When I
leave a cellar, the element of excitement, of work as work, is
lost. You can also bring in the fact that now we have several
women at work in the cellars. Historically that's a big change.
After that, what happens after who blends, who thinks, and
we explain the lab. What could happen. The big decisions. The
brain where you have to know when is it bottled? Is it right?
The tasting of it, everything goes through the human palate, I
mean it's all an art it's not simply a craft. The importance of
the art versus only a craft.
By that time we then come out, and now we come in for
tasting. Also a time for questions. Questions are all the time,
but sometimes in the tasting room there is a more intimate
feeling, where the guide is right in front of you. Then we taste
very thoroughly about three wines, telling our guests how to
taste, what to look for in wine. The three tasting steps: the
visual, then of course the bouquet, the smell, and finally how to
appreciate the wine by not just swallowing it the first time, but
give the taste buds the chance to appreciate it.
Transcriber: Ernie Galvan
Final Typist: Richard Shapiro
Fane Blanc - When we started the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 it was
our policy to buy all of the grapes that the growrs may have had and
we had several growers who had Sauvignon Blanc. We realized that the
Sauvignon Blanc was not well accepted by the American people. Most
of the Sauvignon Blanc wines being produced were very sweet or very
coarse and not accepted.
I realized we had to create a new style of wine and I didn't want to
call it Sauvignon Blanc, we tried hard to select a proprietary name
but were unable to think of a good one I therefore suggested the
name Fume Blanc. Blanc Fume is the French name for the Sauvignon
Blanc produced in the Loire Valley. By reversing the words I felt
it was more harmonious for the American people.
I realized when we created the Chenin Blanc at Charles Krug the wine
had approximately 1.57 to 27o sugar. We did not want to duplicate this
so made our wine very dry and by fermenting the wine cold and ag ing
it in the barrel we could produce a wine that had its own individual
When this wine was shipped to the market it was an instant success
and has been ever since. It has also been accepted by many other
winemakers who have produced their own version of Fume Blanc.
I do think it is a wine of distinctive character and can be sold at
a reasonable price in the national and international markets.
The only thing I did not do was to trademark the name Fume Blanc in
the beginning, because immediately after the acceptance of the wine
in the market other winemakers began using the name. Now it is an
accepted name for the production of dry Sauvignon Blanc.
Added by Robert Mondavi
Robert Mondavi y . 100 ,
in March 1986
TAPE GUIDE Robert Mondavi
Interview 2: April 19, 1984
tape 3, side A
tape 3, side B
tape 4, side A
Interview 3: April 20, 1984
tape 4, side B
tape 5, side A
insert from tape 7, side A [10/15/84]
tape 5, side B
tape 6, side A [side B not recorded]
Interview 4: October 15, 1984
tape 7, side A [side B not recorded]
INDEX -- Robert Mondavi
Abruzzini, Fred, 31
Acampo Winery and Distillery, 6, 9, 17
Adams, Clifford S. (Cliff), 49
Alexander, Paul, 12, 13, 14-15, 69
Alioto, Joseph L. (Joe), 37, 39
Antinori, Piero, 42
B. V. See Beaulieu Vineyard
Bank of America, 12, 37, 41
Barengo, Dino, 9
Barengo family, 2
Beard, James (Jimmy), 26, 27
Beaulieu Vineyard, 10, 11, 20, 27, 28, 31, 70, 71, 72
Bergier, Roger, 51
Beringer Brothers, Inc. 10, 20, 28, 31
Beroldo, Fred, 12-13
Beroldo, Rena Riorda (Mrs. Fred), 12-13
Biever, Margrit (second Mrs. Robert Mondavi), 50, 96-102
Bocuse, Paul, 51
Boffa, Pio, 43
Borger, Marcia Mondavi (Marcie), 40-41, 48-49, 57, 79-80, 81, 83-84, 87
Bradford winery, 9
Brennan, Ella, 90-91
Broadbent, Michael, 25, 94
Brunetti family, 1
C. K. label, 19, 30, 36
California State Fair, 20
Calistoga viticutural area, 75, 76
Carneros viticultural area, 47, 52
Cella, J. B., (John B.), 70
Cella family, 13, 16
Cellini, Arthur (Archie) 9
Charles Krug label, 19
Chateau Montelena, 49
Cherokee Vineyard Association, 59
Christian Brothers winery, 31
Conn Valley viticultural area, 47, 73
cooperage, 23-25, 42, 43, 47-48, 52, 62, 71, 101
Cottin, Philippe, 82, 83, 86
Cristiani, Henry, 27
Crocker First National Bank, 14-15
de Pins, Helene de Latour, 72
Daniel, John, Jr., 10, 31, 69-70, 93
Dean, Malette, 26
Delapenna, R. U. 18-19, 26
Dora, Miklos (Mickey), 83
Enriques, Hilary J. (Vic), 9
Fabrini, Aldo, 31
Felice family, 60
Ferguson, Allen, 44-46
Ferroggiaro, Fred, 37, 39
Flagroni, Larry, 91
Freese, Phil, 78
Gallo, E. and J. Winery, 13
Gazzara , Joe
Gerard, Michel, 51
Gomberg, Louis (Lou), 31
Gould, Frank (Paco), 26-27
Grgich, Miljenko (Mike), 49
Grgich Hills Cellar, 49
Griswold, , 97-98
grower relations, 27, 44, 47, 56, 72-
Grubb, Patrick, 66
Guild [Wineries and Distilleries], 40
Gundert , J. B. , 6
Hall, Bill, 92
Hart, Ina, 41
Hart, William (Bill), 41
Holmes, Fred, 39, 41, 44, 45, 64
imported wines, 33-34, 35, 68, 76, 92
Inglenook Vineyard, 10, 11, 20, 28, 31, 59, 69, 70, 97
Johnson, Hugh, 25
Krug, Charles, Winery, 12-41, 42, 50, 71-72, 89, 97, 98, 99
Lane, Melvin B. (Mel), 63
Lane, William (Bill), 63-64
Larkmead Vineyards, 10
Lodi viticultural area, 61
Long, Zelma, 49
malo-lactic fermentation, 73
marketing orders, 35. See also Wine Advisory Board and Winegrowers
Martini, Louis M., 69, 70, 71
Martini, Louis M., winery, 28
Martini, Louis P. 95
May, Cliff, 64-65
McDonald, Gordon, 44-46
McKesson & Robbins, 26
Mercier, Andre, 65
Mirassou, Edmund A., 31
Mirassou family, 40, 41
Mirassou Vineyards, 40
Moet et Chandon, 64-65
Moffitt, James K., 12, 14-15, 16
Molson Companies, 44
Mondavi, C. & Sons, 17-41 passim, 46, 59-60, 62, 70, 79.
See also Krug, Charles, Winery
Mondavi, Cesare, 1-23, 30, 34, 36, 37, 99
Mondavi, Helen (sister of Robert Mondavi), 19
Mondavi, Marcia (Marcie). See Borger, Marcia Mondavi
Mondavi, Marjorie Declusin (first Mrs. Robert Mondavi), 27, 40-41
Mondavi, Mary (sister of Robert Mondavi), 19
Mondavi, Michael (Mike), 31, 37, 39-41, 44, 48, 79-82, 94-95
Mondavi, Peter, 2, 7-8, 9, 13, 14-15, 19, 23, 25, 36-37, 39, 40
Mondavi, Robert Michael. See Mondavi, Michael
Mondavi, Robert, Winery. See Robert Mondavi Winery
Mondavi, Rosa Grassi (Mrs .~C~esare) , 1, 5, 14, 19, 22, 36-39
Mondavi, Timothy J. (Tim), 31, 40-41, 48, 49, 56, 63, 77, 80-81, 86, 87
Montandon, Pat, 93-95
Montcalm Vintners, 59
Napa Valley, passim
Napa Valley Technical Group, 28
Napa Valley Vintners, 68-69, 92-93, 94-95
Napa Valley Wine Auction, 93-96
Napa Valley Wine Symposium, 92-93, 95
Napa Wine Company, 70
Oakville label, 59
Oakville viticultural area, 52, 75, 75, 76
Oakville Winery, 58-59
Ogden, Bradley, 91
"Opus One" Cabernet Sauvignon, 82-90
Pate, Susan, 87
Peters, Leon, 41
Peters, Pete, 41
Peynaud, Emil, 42
Pio Cesare winery, Italy, 43
Pope Valley viticultural area, 47, 73
Poser t, Harvey, 98
premium wines public relations program, 31-32
Prohibition, 1-2, 8, 20, 21
Prudhomme, Paul, 91
Puck, Wolfgang, 91
Rainier Brewery, 44-46, 58, 65
Ramona, Gary, 49, 79, 92
Ray, Cyril, 25
redwood tanks, 24
restaurants, wine in, 27, 29
Riorda, Jack, 8-10, 14, 22
Robert Mondavi Winery, 28, 30, 39-102
Robert Mondavi Winery, Woodbridge facility, 30, 59-63, 77
Roma Wine Company, 13, 70
Romano, Lawrence (Larry), 43
Rothschild, Philippe de, 82-88
Schoch, Ivan, 39, 41, 44, 45
Serlis, Harry, 85
shipping grapes, 2-5, 6, 8, 17-18, 22
Silva, Mike, 93
Simi Winery, 49
Sionneau, Lucien, 86-87
Stralla, Louis, 16, 69, 70
Sunny Hill Winery, 8, 10. See also Sunny St. Helena Winery
Sunny St. Helena Winery, 8-11, 12-13, 18, 22, 30, 99
Sunset Magazine headquarters, 63-64
Tchelistcheff , Andre", 27, 28, 42, 71-72
Timothy, Brother, 31
University of California, 21
University of California, Davis, 35, 48, 79
Valley Foundry and Machine Works, 41
Van Loben Sels, Wilfred E. (Bud), 58
Warner, Brad, 49
Waters, Alice, 91
Williams, Charles (Charlie), 77
Wine Advisory Board, 31-32
Wine Institute, 30-31, 34, 63, 70, 82, 85
wine and food societies, 79
Winegrowers of California, 31, 33
Grapes Mentioned in the Interview
Alicante Bouschet, 4
Cabernet Sauvignon, 18, 21, 47, 48, 52, 53, 75, 76, 82
Cabernet franc, 48
Chardonnay, 18, 21, 47, 48, 52, 53, 76
Muscat, 2, 4
Petit Sirah, 76
Pinot noir, 21, 47, 48, 52, 53, 76
Riesling, 18, 21, 53
Sauvignon blanc, 21, 47, 53, 76, 77
Thompson Seedless, 4
Zinfandel 2, 4, 76
Wines Mentioned in the Interview
Cabernet Sauvignon, 20, 23, 24, 34, 53, 54, 82-90, 101
Cabernet Franc, 53, 86
Chardonnay, 20, 3, 24, 34, 53, 54, 101
Chenin Blanc, 54
Fume Blanc. See Sauvignon Blanc
Camay, 20, 537~5~4
Camay Rose, 20, 98
Johannisberg Riesling, 34
Merlot, 53, 86
Pinot Noir, 20, 23, 24, 34, 53, 54, 71, 100-101
Riesling, 20, 23, 24, 34
Sauvignon Blanc, 34, 53, 54, 98
Sylvaner Riesling, 98
"Vintage Red," 60-62, 77
"Vintage Rose," 60-62, 77
"Vintage White," 60-62, 77
Zinfandel, 20, 24, 53, 54
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay
Area in 1932 and has lived here ever since.
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English;
further graduate work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco
since 1943, writing on local history and
business and social life of the Bay Area.
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle,
Co-author of Winemaking in California, a
An interviewer-editor in the Regional Oral
History Office since 1965.