Remembering Peter Mondavi Sr.

Words: Sam Wittwer

March 20 2016

As a kid growing up in the Sacramento valley, the Mondavi name was omnipresent. It was on the table at seemingly all family gatherings, elegantly scrawled across promotional boards in every Raley’s and Bel Air within a hundred miles, and an essential landmark along I-80 during family trips to The Bay. It was a name, and a family, that was a part of the wallpaper of my youth, both incidental and ubiquitous

It was with sadness that the name returned to my life with the recent passing of Peter Mondavi. At 101, his passing was a testament to a life well lived, one he credited to good genes, hard work, pasta Bolognese and a daily glass of cabernet sauvignon.

Son of Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, Peter was born in 1914, just a year after his brother Robert. The family moved to Lodi, California in the early twenties where Cesare would establish himself as a shipper of wine grapes. Peter’s first job was in the family business, assembling and packing the grapes for shipping.

Peter studied Economics at Stanford and later Chemistry UC Berkley (a radical combination considering the modern Cal-Stanford rivalry) before serving in WWII. He returned to the family business and was placed in charge of wine production at the Charles Krug Winery, a vineyard he and his brother had convinced their father to purchase three years previous. It was here that Peter would make his greatest contributions to the wine industry, and help establish the Napa Valley as a hub of reputable wine making.

Peter’s research into the cold fermentation, filtration techniques, and the use of french oak barrels are just a fraction of the work that contributed to him being named one of the twelve “Living Legends” declared by the Napa Valley Vintners Association in the late nineties. However, these advances were often overshadowed by the rivalry between Peter and his brother, Robert. It was a clash of personalities that came to blows in the mid sixties, whence Robert was forced of the family business. He would later go on to found the Robert Mondavi Winery just down the road, and it was in large part due to his charisma and grand visions that the Mondavi name peppered my and so many other lives.

Peter remained at Charles Krug, and in his slow and mannered way, built the business to be one of the most reputable and respectable in the valley – and one of the few that can still claim to be family owned. He and his brother Robert put aside their differences in 2005, just long enough to produce a single cabernet blend as a token of their amends.

Peter’s legacy is carried on by his sons Marc and Peter Jr., who are in charge of operations at the Charles Krug Winery. He is also survived by his daughter, Siena, nine grand children and two great-grandchildren.