Robert Gerald Mondavi (June 18, 1913 – May 16, 2008) was a leading California vineyard operator whose technical improvements and marketing strategies brought worldwide recognition for the wines of the Napa Valley in California. From an early period, Mondavi aggressively promoted labeling wines varietally rather than generically. This is now the standard for New World wines. The Robert Mondavi Institute (RMI) for Wine and Food Science at the University of California, Davis opened October 2008 in his honor.
Robert Mondavi’s parents emigrated from the Marche region of Italy and settled in the Minnesota city of Hibbing. Robert Gerald Mondavi was born in Virginia, Minnesota. From Minnesota the Mondavi family moved to Lodi, California, where he attended Lodi High School. In Lodi, his father, Cesare, established a successful fruit packing business under the name C. Mondavi and Sons, packing and shipping grapes to the east coast primarily for home winemaking. Mondavi graduated from Stanford University in 1937 with a degree in economics and business administration. While at Stanford he was a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. In 1943, Mondavi joined his father and brother Peter after the family acquired the Charles Krug Winery located in St. Helena from James Moffitt. The winery had first been established by Charles Krug in 1861. In 1965 Mondavi was fired from the family winery after a feud with his younger brother Peter over the direction of winemaking at Krug. Subsequently Mondavi started his own winery in Oakville. Today, the Robert Mondavi Winery is located between Oakville and Rutherford (though its corporate headquarters are in nearby St. Helena).
In 1966, he founded the Robert Mondavi Winery with his sons Michael and Tim Mondavi in the Napa Valley with the goal of producing wines that would rival the finest wines of Europe. Robert Mondavi was the first major winery built in Napa Valley in the post-Prohibition era. Part of Mondavi’s original vineyard land included the To Kalon (a Greek term meaning “the beautiful”) vineyard originally established by Napa Valley pioneer H.W. Crabb in 1868. The winery bearing Mondavi’s name produced high quality wine in the California mission style.
Robert Mondavi had three children, Michael Mondavi, Marcia Mondavi and Tim Mondavi. Michael Mondavi the eldest was in charge of the sales and marketing for Robert and Tim was the winemaker.
In 1967, the woman who would later become Robert Mondavi’s second wife, Margrit (Kellenberger) Biever Mondavi, joined the winery. They married in 1980 in Palm Springs.