In The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, veteran Wall Street Journal writer Julia Flynn Siler chronicles the turbulence that has roiled four generations of Mondavis and the business they built into an empire. Drawing on meticulous research and hundreds of interviews, The House of Mondavi is a fascinating behind-the-scenes portrait of a family business that has produced as many sensational headlines as exceptional wines.
Flynn Siler has performed a remarkable reporting feat, penetrating the inner circle of Mondavis and their closest advisors to create finely-textured portraits of the characters that shaped the story: from the Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa, who got their start wholesaling grapes, down to great-grandchild Carlo, whose promoting of his grape-based skincare business landed him in financial hot water. At the core of the drama is the bitter rivalry between Cesare and Rosa’s sons, the charismatic and visionary Robert and the guarded Peter that culminated in the banishment of Robert from the family’s Charles Krug Winery. The resilient Robert promptly launched the hugely successful Mondavi brand, which brought American wines and the Napa Valley to an international audience.
The House of Mondavi provides deep insight into Robert’s fierce commitment to integrity and the innovation that transformed the family business into a winemaking powerhouse. Early on, Robert adopted European wine making techniques; was among the first to offer tastings at the winery; and also demonstrated a nose for synergy by supporting top chefs. Yet Robert’s single-mindedness also took a personal toll on his family, which was wracked by such problems as alcoholism, suicide attempts, and the emotional repercussions of adultery as Robert pursued his passions.
Tragically, Robert’s sons Timothy and Michael repeated the bitter rivalry of their father and uncle with equally disastrous effects on the Mondavi empire. This ultimately led the board of directors to strip the family of substantive operating control. The House of Mondavi is a classic example of both the brilliance and destructiveness of a family whose business and personal relationships went awry.
Flynn Siler navigates the financial and legal twists with a sure hand, describing the effects of “corrosive nepotism;” Robert’s philanthropic overreaching; and the failed venture with Disney all of which combined to bring the Mondavi empire crashing down.
For the first time, she reveals the closely-guarded secret that lay behind the board’s coup which explains why Robert Mondavis’ family members turned against each other during the boardroom drama.
The House of Mondavi is both a complex business story and a compelling family drama.