Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wine Industry Memo: California Wine Industry Pioneer and Global Champion For Wine and Food Robert Mondavi Dead at 94

"He had the single greatest influence in this country (United States) with respect to high quality wine and its place at the table."---Wine critic Robert Parker speaking today on the death of Robert Mondavi at age 94.

The dean and commander-in-chief of the California wine industry, and head-cheerleader for the pairing of wine with food, vintner Robert Mondavi, has died.

Mondavi, a global wine industry pioneer, food and wine-pairing champion, philanthropist and the patriarch of California's wine industry, died at his home in Napa Valley, California Friday morning.

Mondavi wasn't just a California wine industry pioneer, he was arguably the best spokesman for wine, and the pairing of wine with food, in the world.

Mondavi's life--and his life story--isn't one even the best fiction writer could invent. It includes starting a winery from nothing, a falling-out and long estangement from hid business-partner/brother, and other dramatic high and low moments.

In life, as in business--particularly the business of wine--Mondavi did it all with passion.

In fact, when talking about Robert Mondavi's life, one can't even separate the business of wine from living; for the Italian-American vintner there was no life without wine and good, fresh, quality food. Along with family and the arts, wine and food were indispensable ingredients for living for Mondavi, an enthusiasm he shared with all.

The specialty and natural foods industries also owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Mondavi. Through his tireless work throughout the world, but especially in the U.S., he taught, demonstrated and argued that good food and good wine go together like the horse and carriage of his boyhood

In 1981, Mondavi, along with the late Julia Child, founded the American Institute for Wine and Food, dedicated to promoting good food (with wine) and dining together as a cultural experience. Today, the institute, which is the premiere food and wine organization in the U.S., has 25 chapters with 4,000 members nationwide.

Were it not for Mondavi and others who joined his cause, Northern California's Napa and Sonoma Valley's would not only be far less well-known as world-class wine-making regions, but the reputation the region has today as a premiere specialty farming and food-producing region just might not even exist.

Robert Mondavi encouraged and assisted hundreds of Northern California specialty foods producers--sometimes with money--but always with support and encouragement.

The dean of the California wine industry spoke on every ocasion he could about how important it was to create a world class food culture and industry in the Napa-Sonoma region to sit side-by-side with its famed wine industry.

Robert Mondavi never met a specialty, natural or artisan quality food producer he didn't fall in love with.

We wish the Mondavi family all the best as they mourn their husband, father, grandfather and uncle. But Robert Mondavi lived a good, long and productive life. As you often liked to say: "The good life."

Mr. Mondavi also leaves a legacy as a philanthropist. He gave away tens of millions of dollars to causes of every kind.

Part of that legacy includes a donation of $35 million in 2001 to the University of California, Davis, one of the premier wine (enology, viticulture) and food science educational and research institutions in the world, and the top wine and food science university in the United States.

That performing arts center, a world-class facility, opened as the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in 2002.

The Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, which is already being called one of the best of its kind in the world, is set to open in October of this year.

Mondavi also gave $20 million in 1988 to establish COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, which opened on the banks of the Napa river in Napa, California in 2001.

Mondavi lived to see the center open, fulfilling his dream of having a facility dedicated to educating the public on the cultural and lifestyle pleasures of food, wine and the arts.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo readers in the wine and specialty foods'-oriented businesses--along with those who merely enjoy wine and good food-- should take some time today after reading this, or learning about Mondavi's death elsewhere, to pour a glass of wine, hold it high, and toast not to the death of the wine industry pioneer, but to his long life--a life well-lived not just for himself but for others as well.


Below is a selection of obituaries and articles published today about the death--and life--of Robert Mondavi, who died Friday morning at his home on the Silverado Trail in Napa, California. We chose these pieces because we think they are the best written, as well as when read together offering a nice diversity of information about the life and times of Robert Mondavi.

The Los Angeles has a legacy guestbook for Robert Mondavi and his family. You can click here to view the guest book, where you can read what people are saying about Mr. Mondavi's life, along with leaving comments of your own if you choose.

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