The House of Mondavi chronicles the rise and fall of the famed Mondavi family of Napa. It’s the real life version of Falcon Crest, the 1980’s prime-time soap opera set in wine country and allegedly based on the Mondavi family. Boy, is it a juicy and fascinating read. The book details the Mondavi family’s involvement in the wine industry and it’s intertwinement of the Mondavis and the rebuilding of Napa Valley and it’s eventual explosive growth. And, no-one was more synonymous with Napa Valley than it’s biggest promoter, Robert Mondavi. Pretty heady stuff for an oenophile. I polished off the book in a weekend.
While most of us saw the smiling vision of Robert Mondavi gazing upon us from our television sets, few of us realized the turmoil and conflict that marked the last half of his life. Robert Mondavi packed ten lives into his almost 95 years. The book covers the beginnings of the Mondavi family to his feud with his mother and brother, which resulted in his firing from the Charles Krug Winery in his 50’s to the crumbling of his own winery and family. Despite all of this, Robert Mondavi persevered and started a winery that eventually sold for over a billion dollars and traveled the globe as America’s unofficial wine ambassador. It’s an action packed book.
Some highlights of the book include Caesar Mondavi’s, the patriarch of the family, path from extreme poverty in Italy to mining in Minnesota to grape buying in California to finally owning a winery. Another highlight is the mouth watering descriptions of the food prepared by Rosa Mondavi, the matriarch of the family. It literally made me want to run to the nearest Italian restaurant and chow down when I was reading the book. On a sadder note, the book describes the decades long feud between Robert and Peter Mondavi and their eventual quasi-reconcilation in the year before Robert’s death. Equally as sad, was the eventual split in Robert’s own family that started with the divorce of his first wife, his remarriage and the in-fighting within the Robert Mondavi winery. The book is a testament to the fact that you don’t always see what is happening behind the scenes.
For a peek into the life of the Mondavi’s, for a real-life soap opera, for triumph and tragedy and the history of the Napa Valley and the California wine industry, this book is a must read. I couldn’t put it down. I would give it a 4 olive rating!