Anyone driving east from San Francisco on Highway 80, the 10-lane transcontinental highway to Nevada and points east, can’t miss the name Mondavi. In California’s Central Valley, where the Mondavi family first made its name in the grape wholesaling business in the 1920s and then became America’s foremost wine dynasty, Robert and Margrit Mondavi have passed into legend – so much so that their names are heralded for all to see from the freeway.The elegant Mondavi arts center, above, is a dramatic addition to the rural landscape of Davis -- and it will soon be joined by the Robert Mondavi Institute, depicted in an artists' rendering below.
This past week, I gave talks on my book, The House of Mondavi, in Sacramento and the nearby town of Davis, where the University of California’s renowned viticulture program is based. Davis is home to both the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. You can see the sign for the Mondavi Center on one side of the I-80 and the construction site for the new RMI on the other.
When I told a good friend from Alabama about these author events, she teased, “Oh, Julie, it’s just Mo’ Bob Mon …” -- meaning that talking about the late Bob Mondavi had become a long-standing routine. In fact, it’s been Mo’ Bob Mon for more than 15 months now, and that’s why I was was not much looking forward to what had threatened to be a long and taxing day in the Central Valley.
But to my surprise, the two events were some of the liveliest and most though-provoking I’ve yet attended. The first took place at a breakfast for about 50 members and guests of the Capital Region Family Business Center, a non-profit group made up of second-, third-, and even a few fourth- and fifth-generation members of local family businesses. Not only did they ask unusually astute questions about the challenges the Mondavis faced in passing on their family business to the next generation -- but to my delight, one member suggested that Holly Hunter be cast in the role of the intrepid reporter in the film version of “The House of Mondavi.” I’d prefer Tina Fey, but, hey, who’s complaining?
That evening, I made my way to the Avid Reader bookstore in Davis, where several members of a book club that had already read “The House of Mondavi” turned the evening into a salon, rather than a soliloquy. Even better, a woman who had been one of the first employees of Copia, the food and wine center Mr. Mondavi spearheaded in Napa, joined us and shared her first-hand observations of him in Copia board meetings and his relations with the rest of the family.
Once again, though, the evening ended with a guessing game: who should be cast in the role of Robert Mondavi? (Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall?) Margrit? (Meryl Streep, plying her skills with foreign accents, or Carol Channing?) Michael? (Robert De Niro?)
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and learned much from the region where the Mondavi dynasty got its start. Those who are interested in what Michael Mondavi learned from the events I describe in The House of Mondavi may wish to attend a conversation between him and Professor Robert Smiley at U.C. Davis’s Graduate School of Management, which will take place Wednesday, Nov. 12.
I’m sure it will be a good evening, but for me, with a lot of work ahead for my next book, it’s No Mo’ Bob Mon!