Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> The House of Mondavi

The House of Mondavi
by Julia Flynn Siler

A three-hour flight delay during my trip to Washington this month allowed me to finish "The House of Mondavi," a new book by Wall Street Journal writer Julia Flynn Siler. And I have to admit...it does pull you in. Part Horatio Alger and part Greek tragedy, the book chronicles the rise of Robert Mondavi and his winery, from the fist fight with his brother, Peter, that forced him to leave the family's Krug Winery, to his becoming the visionary leader of the American wine industry...and along the way, the hubris, the extravagance and the interfamily turmoil that led to the ultimate sale of the business.

Robert Mondavi truly was one of the founding fathers of the American wine industry. He had a flair for marketing and a knack for developing the right product at the right time. By emulating the French, striving for the highest quality, and ceaselessly promoting his wines, he did more to establish Napa as a source of world-class wines than perhaps any other single person. He developed the Woodbridge label just as Americans were ready for higher quality wines in the grocery store. And, his crowning achievement was forging a partnership with the Rothschild family to produce Opus One. From the outside, it looked like the Mondavi family could do no wrong, but on the inside it was a different story.

In the end, this was a family that through three generations simply could not agree on anything. Robert so dominated the company and intimidated his bickering sons that they were obviously ill-equipped to pick up the reins. It's all there - probably enough for an epic mini-series: genius, wealth, hubris, extravagance, infidelity, divorce, greed, interfamily lawsuits, the great successes like Opus One and the Reserve Cabernet, along with the costly failures in Chile, France and Disneyland. All this, along with philanthropy on a scale so grand that at one point, before the sale of the company, Robert's charitable commitments exceeded the value of his stock.

This book has kicked up quite a controversy for so thoroughly airing the Mondavi family's laundry. The Napa Valley Register reviewed it under the headline "New Mondavi book focuses on the salacious." And perhaps it is a little salacious, but God knows the Mondavi family gave Siler plenty of material to work with. And she seems to have done her homework, conducting over 250 interviews and assembling 37 pages of footnotes to document the research.

At 393 pages, this is not a light read, but certainly an interesting one, with plenty of insights into the wine business underneath its almost biblical theme. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand... this book pretty much proves that he's still right.

— Doug Pendleton