A few years back, a friend asked me to donate a unique item to a fund-raiser for a local non-profit, the Marin Art & Garden Center. I would lead the winning auction bidders on a bike tour of Napa Valley, showing them favorite spots I’d discovered in my research for The House of Mondavi, my first book which began as a front page story for the Wall Street Journal.
Last weekend, as the grapes still hung on Napa’s vines during this unusually cool growing season, I met up with the winning bidders for our day of pedaling and wine-tasting together. For me, it was an opportunity to check in with friends in the Valley about what had changed since The House of Mondavi came out three years ago. My book had detailed the rise and fall of the pioneering Mondavi family’s wine business, a story full of visionary brilliance as well as painful family discord.
Peter Mondavi Sr., I learned, still goes to work every day at the original family business, the Charles Krug Winery. Last weekend, it drew seven hundred visitors for its annual Tastings on the Lawn gathering, which first began in 1951 with wine tasting and music on the Carriage House Lawn. Although he sadly lost his wife Blanche earlier this year, he’s still enjoying life — including a glass of his winery’s Family Reserve Generations each evening at about six.
Robert Mondavi, who helped build Napa’s reputation as a world-class wine region, had passed away in 2008, but according to our guide at the Charles Krug winery, his remains didn’t end up joining those of his parents and sisters at the Mondavi family crypt at St. Helena’s Holy Cross Cemetery. Instead, our guide said he had discovered a plain stone marker for Robert at the non-denominational St. Helena Cemetery. Did that mean the rift between Robert, his second wife, Margrit, and the Peter Mondavi side of the family had never fully healed? I hope not.
Robert’s eldest son, Michael, is now owner of Folio Fine Wine Partners, producing wine and marketing other small brands. Michael’s brother Timothy and sister Marcia are partners in another venture, the Continuum Estate. Margrit Mondavi, Robert’s widow, is the only member of the family still working for the Robert Mondavi Winery, as vice president for cultural affairs.
While Mrs. Mondavi can still call the winery home, the house she and Robert built off the Silverado Trail, which they called Wappo Hill, is for sale. Michael Mondavi and his siblings are trustees of the estate, which is on the market for $25 million.
Wappo Hill’s 11,500-square-foot home was built in 1984 in a design by Cliff May, who is probably best known for designing Sunset magazine’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The house has an open floor plan, with just two bedrooms and an indoor swimming pool adjoining the living area – perhaps a testament to Robert Mondavi’s preference for open spaces. In a 1989 piece about the house in Architectural Digest, he told the reporter, “I hate the feeling of being confined.”
You can take a peek at photos of Wappo Hill here. Whoever buys the house will be neighbors with Robert’s sons, who built their own homes nearby. Let’s hope whoever buys it will honor the spirit of the home’s original owners and raise many a glass there among friends (as well as by plunging into the 50′ pool during exuberant parties!).
[…] Revisiting the Mondavis | Julia Flynn SilerSep 15, 2010 … Wappo Hill’s 11500-square-foot home was built in 1984 in a design by Cliff May, who is … You can take a peek at photos of Wappo Hill here. […]