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Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business

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In 1965, after a notorious family feud, Robert Mondavi-then fifty-two years old-was thrown out of his family's winery. Far from defeated, Mondavi was dedicated to a vision of creating a superior wine. What has happened since that fateful day is one of the greatest success stories of American business. Today, the Robert Mondavi Winery is one of the most respected in the world, and Mondavi is the man who is most responsible for the worldwide recognition of American wine making, as well as changing America's palate...
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Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business

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Overview


In 1965, after a notorious family feud, Robert Mondavi-then fifty-two years old-was thrown out of his family's winery. Far from defeated, Mondavi was dedicated to a vision of creating a superior wine. What has happened since that fateful day is one of the greatest success stories of American business. Today, the Robert Mondavi Winery is one of the most respected in the world, and Mondavi is the man who is most responsible for the worldwide recognition of American wine making, as well as changing America's palate for fine wine and fine food. In Harvests of Joy, Mondavi shares how, through his passion for excellence, he achieved this extraordinary position, one he reached not without pain and sacrifice. With invaluable insider tips on his approach to both wine making and to running a business, Mondavi's inspirational story is "a grand example of the fact that in America you can pretty much be, do, or accomplish, whatever you set out to." (Ventura County Star)
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“No one has been more closely associated with the California wine revolution than Robert Mondavi. Probably because he started it."-the New York Times
“The hottest wine book for holiday gift-giving is Robert Mondavi's new autobiography Harvests of Joy."-The Ottawa Sun
“For businessmen and dreamers, here's business advice mixed with inspirational enthusiasm from a man who . . . built himself into a world-recognized symbol of quality California wine."-Wine & Spirits
From the Publisher

“No one has been more closely associated with the California wine revolution than Robert Mondavi. Probably because he started it."-the New York Times
“The hottest wine book for holiday gift-giving is Robert Mondavi's new autobiography Harvests of Joy."-The Ottawa Sun
“For businessmen and dreamers, here's business advice mixed with inspirational enthusiasm from a man who . . . built himself into a world-recognized symbol of quality California wine."-Wine & Spirits
Mark Knoblauch
No one else in California has done so much for its wine industry's renown as Robert Mondavi. In his autobiography, he recounts his upbringing in Minnesota, where his miner-turned-saloon-keeper father taught him to appreciate his Italian heritage, especially the joys of wine. Prohibition provided the impetus for a family move to California, and Mondavi's father took up grape wholesaling. The young Mondavi entered the families nascent wine business and began his quest for the best. Mondavi recounts the ups and downs of the route to his goal, which culminated in his alliance with noted French vintner Rothschild to produce the famous Opus One. Mondavi's family battles, played out I the press, culminated in the breakup of his marriage. His autobiography will be rich source material for a comprehensive history of the moguls who created California's wine industry. - Booklist
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry. This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine- making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success. Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading. Regardless of one's feelings toward the man, one cannot help admiring his dogged determination--starting anew at an age when many are retreating into retirement -- and his perennial willingness to experiment, take risks and also to share the fruits of his success.
Library Journal
How Mondavi built one of the country's great wineries, starting at age 52.
Booknews
A living legend regarded as the California wine industry's foremost ambassador, Mondavi reveals the secrets behind his success and talks candidly about his personal approach to winemaking and running a family business. From the perspective of age and time, he outlines his basic tenets on love, family, and work against the backdrop of his dramatic life story. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Ted Loos
. . .Harvests of Joy is not worthy of Mondavi's achievements. . . .[the book] is also marred by frequent cliches and mixed metaphors. . . .To his credit, Mondavi acknowledges his faults, and not just textual ones. . . .But the qualities of single-mindedness and enthusiasm. . .do not serve his interests when let unchecked on the page. . . .Even great men need good editors. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156010566
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Series: Harvest Book Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 267,349
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Table of Contents

PART ONE THE ROOTS
1 * Heart and Soul 3
2 * A Passion for Perfection 27
3 * To Kalon 55
4 * The Innovators 79
5 * Taste 109
6 * The Extended Family 129
7 * Good as Gold 145
8 * The Touch 159
9 * The Breakthrough 177
PART TWO THE FLOWERING
10 * Marrying Wine and the Arts 195
11 * Bring on the Baron 211
12 * The Revolution 233
13 * Prices to Pay 251
14 * The Gamble 269
15 * To Be a Pioneer 283
16 * The Future of Wine Making 301
17 * Globalization 321
18 * The Feast 339
Acknowledgments 355
Index 357
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First Chapter

0151003467 Chapter 1 Heart and Soul

At the age of fifty-two, I should have been a happy man.

On the surface, life was good. The year was 1965, and America was prospering. I had a lovely, devoted wife, three delightful children-Michael, Marcia, and Tim-and we lived in what I knew was one of the most idyllic spots on the planet, the Napa Valley. For twenty-three years my brother, Peter, and I had been running a small family business, the Charles Krug Winery, and we were doing pretty well. While my wife Marge and I had to be very careful about what we spent, we were secure enough to live comfortably and provide for our children.

I also adored my work. For some people in the Napa Valley, wine was just a business, an agreeable way to earn a living. Not for me. Wine for me had always been something much larger and it still is. Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the Art of Living. Wine has been with us for seven thousand years, almost since the dawn of civilization, and for centuries poets, painters, musicians, and philosophers have sung its praises. Even the Bible applauds its virtues. And wine to me is even more. When I pour a glass of truly fine wine, when I hold it up to the light and admire its color, when I raise it to my nose and savor its bouquet and essence, I know that wine is, above all else, a blessing, a gift of nature, a joy as pure and elemental as the soil and vines and sunshine from which it springs. "Wine is Life," Petronius said two thousand years ago, and I know exactly what he meant.

For most men and women, what I had would have been the makings of a wonderful, contented life. But not for me. In truth, I was feeling stifled at Krug. Like so many people who reach a critical juncture in their lives and careers, I felt I was not making the most of my business savvy and creativity. I was working hard, as always, but my enthusiasm was on the wane. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, we had been making good table wines at Krug. We were considered to be among the "Big Five" of the Napa Valley, along with Beaulieu Vineyard, Inglenook, Louis Martini, and Beringer Brothers. We had built our reputation on the strength of our white wines, and our cabernet sauvignon was considered among the best in the valley. Still, I felt our ambitions were just too tame. We in California had enormous potential; I knew we could become one of the great wine-producing regions of the world. But the American wine industry was still in its infancy, and no one seemed to have the knowledge, the vision, or the guts to reach for the gold, to make wines that could stand proudly next to the very best from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain.

I wanted to move Krug in a bold new direction. In 1962 I had traveled around Europe for the first time, visiting many of the great wine-producing regions of the world to see how they made their wines. In Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, and the Moselle region of Germany, I explored some of the most prestigious wineries in the world. I toured their vineyards and cellars, examined their equipment, talked with their wine makers, and, of course, tasted their wines. Above all, in these vineyards and cellars and tasting rooms, I imbibed the spirit, the passion, and the commitment that inspired the creation of truly great wines.

Much of what I saw was a revelation. At the great chGteaus, the way of growing grapes and making wine was far different from what we had been doing for generations in California. While we had one basic approach for our red wines and another for our whites, their approach was far more subtle and sophisticated. They treated each variety of grape differently, and they had a distinct method and style for each type of wine they made. We made wines in bulk, using huge tanks; they kept their output small to maximize quality, and they aged their wines in small oak barrels to create gentleness, subtlety, and complex layers of flavor. The differences ran much deeper than method and equipment. We were a big, young country, oriented toward mass production and scientific research, and in our wine making we emphasized crop yields, sugar levels, and profit margins. The great European wineries, with centuries of tradition and craft behind them, put their emphasis on less tangible qualities such as style, character, and bouquet. To my mind, the contrast was stark: we were treating wine as a business; the great European chGteaus were treating wine as high art.

This realization stirred something deep inside me, but I did not understand what until one day when Marge and I had lunch at La Pyramide, one of the great restaurants of France and the world. I still remember that day vividly. I had a meeting that morning in Lyons with a potential business associate, and Marge and I had a huge breakfast with him. Talking, discussing business, we lingered at the table until about eleven o'clock. "My god," I thought, "here we're going to have lunch in one of the best restaurants in the world, one with three stars in the Michelin Guide, and I'm already stuffed! What am I going to do?"

An hour and a half later, we drove into Vienne, a little village outside Lyons, and found our way to La Pyramide. The setting and atmosphere of the restaurant were tasteful and elegant, without being pretentious, and we sat down to a meal that was absolutely unbelievable. Each and every dish we tried was heavenly and distinctive, with flavors I had never tasted before. Nothing was heavy or too filling, and there were none of those rich cream or butter sauces you found in many French restaurants in those days. Every forkful was light and pure in the mouth; in every bite we could taste the passion and the artistry of the chef.

What really dazzled me was how each dish complemented and enhanced the other, the way the sounds of different instruments meld into a symphony. The wines we tasted during the meal were not big and bold like ours in California; they were gentle and complex, and they artfully accentuated the many sensations and feelings that the cuisine inspired. I'd go so far as to say that the food and the wine transported us into a world of gentleness and balance, of grace and harmony. La Pyramide to me epitomized the artistry and aesthetics we had been discovering all across Europe, and it inspired in me both a vision and a vow:

"This is the kind of wine I want to create," I told Marge. "Wines that have grace and style, harmony and balance."

During my travels in Europe, I was impressed with something else: an opportunity. I saw great extremes in wine making in Europe. The First Growth Bordeaux chGteaus-ChGteau Mouton-Rothschild, ChGteau Lafite, ChGteau Margaux, ChGteau Haut-Brion, and ChGteau PTtrus-made marvelous wine, subtle and complex, with flavors that were always crisp and clean. And I discovered the reason: these top chGteaus were all using only new French oak barrels. Almost everyone else was producing wine the exact same way their forefathers had, and the results were not, to my taste, exceptional. I found many supposedly fine wines that proved to have off characters and bacterial defects. And I saw why: they were making their wine in oak barrels that were used, not new. This was one reason for those sorts of defects and "spent" flavors. To my critical eye, many of the European producers seemed to be asleep, content with the status quo; and so, frankly, I saw an opening. I felt certain that we in the Napa Valley could do just as well or better!

It would take time, patience, money, and a full-blown education in how to make wine the way the great Bordeaux chGteaus did, but I felt sure we could succeed. And what an exciting challenge it would be!

I left Europe elated. Some of the wines I had tasted there were exceptional, but I believed that we in California could do just as well and, in time, even better. Our soil, climate, and rootstocks were just as good as what I saw in Europe and in many ways better. We also had the right varieties of grapes to make great wine: cabernet, pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. True, we did not have the Europeans' know-how or their craft and tradition. But

I felt absolutely certain that we could learn quickly and make significant leaps in the quality of our wines. Over the following days, a great business and creative venture took shape before my eyes: I wanted to take American technology, management techniques, and marketing savvy and fuse them together with Old World tradition and elegance in the art of making fine wine. We would need passion, conviction, and courage, along with a willingness to invest in the necessary research, development, and new equipment. But with this combination, I felt confident that Napa Valley and California could ultimately create wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the great wines in the world.

I returned to the Napa Valley energized and ready to go. I wanted Krug to take up the challenge, jump in with both feet. I wanted us to shed our inhibitions, our complacency, our contentment with the status quo. I wanted my family and our company to commit ourselves to a true quest for excellence in our vineyards, in our wine making, and in our marketing and sales. The Napa Valley, in my view, was ready for just this sort of challenge. We were, in fact, a sleepy little farm community, with no sophistication, little economic vitality, and no fine restaurants. Our wine industry was by no means vibrant, either. At the time, we had only about twenty wineries in the whole valley, and only a half dozen were making quality wine. The situation around the state was not much better. The bulk of production in California at that time was jug wine, and the largest producers were Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, Roma Wine Company in Lodi and Fresno, and Ernest and Julio Gallo, located farther south in the Central Valley. But to me the potential was clear. We had magnificent climate and vineyards, a beautiful landscape, and proximity to cosmopolitan San Francisco. I was sure that we had what it took to become one of the great wine-producing regions of the world-provided someone would take the lead. I wanted that someone to be Krug.

I pushed my ideas hard inside Krug and with my family, and I did so in my usual ebullient, single-minded way. But the harder I pushed, the more resistance I encountered, especially after my father passed away. My father had always been open to my suggestions. To most of my family, what I was pushing sounded risky and pointless. We already had a respected business, and our extended family lived comfortably on the beautiful, historic grounds of the Krug Winery. So why rock the boat? Why tamper with our modest but stable success?

So I was stymied. We were a family business; I could not make decisions on my own. In our corporation, established in 1946, my parents controlled 40 percent of the stock. My brother, Peter, and I each had 20 percent, and my sisters, Helen and Mary, had the remaining 20 percent. When my father died in 1959, he left control of the corporation in the hands of my mother, who had no experience in business. We were a comfortable family business, but I felt we needed a great dream, a defining mission, a higher calling. I made my case again and again, but no one in the family, apart from Marge and my children, shared my larger vision. So in the months and years that followed, my frustrations only deepened.

I gave my younger brother, Peter, the most heat. Ever since childhood, our temperaments and ambitions had been very different, but we had followed parallel paths. In high school I played football, then he played football. I went to Stanford, then he went to Stanford. After graduation, I spent part of my summer vacation being tutored in wine making by Professor Vic Enriques of U.C. Berkeley. Peter later studied wine making at U.C. Berkeley. Then I did an apprenticeship in wine making in the Napa Valley; Peter did an apprenticeship at a winery down in California's Central Valley. In 1943, when I talked my father into buying the Charles Krug Winery, Dad had only one condition: that Peter and I run the business together. We agreed. Peter was serving in the U.S. Army, at the height of World War II, and so I set up all the wine-making operations at Krug. After the war, I took charge of marketing and sales and turned over the wine making to Peter. In the years that followed, we often clashed about wine making and other business matters, but whenever we failed to sort things through, my father would always step in and settle the dispute. After he died in 1959, we held an even keel for a while. But when I returned from Europe in 1962 and urged Peter to make dramatic changes to upgrade the quality of our wines, he really got his back up. I guess Peter felt I was encroaching on his turf. For my part, I felt Peter just did not share my ambition to commit Krug to the challenge and demands of making world-class wines. Peter, of course, might dispute that, but then again we always seemed to disagree and see things from very different perspectives. We still do!

At heart, I think it was a question of temperament. Peter was quiet, gentle, and self-effacing, a family man who loved to fish and adored spending time with his wife and children. When he was a small boy, the family affectionately nicknamed him Babe, and more than forty years later everyone in the family still called him that. By contrast, I was always hard driving and ambitious, and no one ever accused me of being quiet or self-effacing. I never had enough time to fish; I was always too busy thinking of ways to improve our wines and grow our company. My business goals were clear and far-reaching: I wanted Krug to pioneer a whole new approach to wine making in America. Through our work and that of like-minded wineries, I dreamed of putting the whole Napa Valley onto the map of world-class wines, right beside Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Tuscany. Peter, I imagine, thought I was an ego out of control.

My vision for the Napa Valley did turn out to be prophetic, of course, but Destiny did not play out quite as I had anticipated.

Looking back now, I guess the turning point came the year after I returned from Europe, on a fall afternoon when we were busy harvesting at Krug. In the mail that day, in an envelope with fancy lettering and a golden seal, I received a startling invitation. President John F. Kennedy was inviting me and Marge to attend a state dinner at the White House. The dinner was to honor the prime minister of Italy, and I was asked to attend as part of a group of prominent Italian Americans. I took the invitation as a tremendous honor and a golden opportunity for the Charles Krug Winery. President Kennedy and Jackie apparently wanted to show the Italian leader that our young country was starting to make some pretty good wines.

Flattered though we were, Marge and I were very nervous. After all, we came from what was then a small, struggling farm community. We had no wealth and next to no big-city sophistication. We were just small-town people running a small family business. So Marge and I were worried: How in the world would we fare at the Kennedy White House, with the charismatic president and his famous wife, surrounded by all the glamour of Camelot? Marge also had a more specific worry: What in the dickens should she wear to a White House dinner? What dress? What shoes? What bag? What jewelry? What coat?

Marge was particularly worried about a winter coat. She had a coat that was fine for the mild, damp winters in St. Helena, but it was not stylish, nothing suitable to meet a first lady who was always elegantly outfitted by the finest designers in Paris. In search of a solution, Marge went to the modest shops in St. Helena and the town of Napa, but she found nothing to her liking. So one day I took off from work and we drove into San Francisco to shop in the big department stores and fashionable boutiques around Union Square.

We both knew, though, that we had to be careful. The Charles Krug Winery was by no means booming and we had three children to feed, clothe, and put through school. As I recall, at that time I was earning only about $24,000 a year; hardly a princely sum. So after a thorough review of what we could afford, I had budgeted up to $1,500 for a coat for Marge. Even that was a stretch, but how many times in your life do you get invited to the White House? We went to I. Magnin and Marge tried on several different coats. None really caught her fancy and none seemed suitable for a dinner at the White House. Then the saleslady brought out something special: a mink coat. Mink! And it was gorgeous. Right away we both knew it would look perfect on Marge and it was just the thing to wear to the Kennedy White House. Alas, we also knew it would be way too expensive for our modest means. Prudence told us to stop right there and run out of the store. On a lark, though, Marge decided to try on the coat, just to see how she'd feel wrapped in mink. Well, the coat fit perfectly and Marge looked smashing. She loved the way it made her look and feel. Still, the price tag was a staggering $5,000, way beyond our means, and that was that. We left I. Magnin thinking, "Oh well, maybe one day, maybe one day . . ."

A few weeks later, though, Marge still had not found a coat, and when we went back to I. Magnin we found that same mink coat on sale for only $2,500. Now we faced a terrible temptation. Splurge? Or be prudent? Even on sale, the coat was a difficult stretch for us. And in a business where one bad crop or one bad storm can leave you bankrupt, who goes around buying mink coats? No one in my family, that was for sure. Still, we had to look our best on this proud occasion, and surely no one in the Mondavi family would want us to look like bumpkins next to the president and first lady, would they?

So, after long, agonizing deliberation, Marge and I made a pact. We would cut back on all nonessential spending over the next year. We would watch every nickel and dime, give up restaurants and movies, and even cut back on our food budget. This was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, dinner at the White House. So Marge and I decided to cast prudence to the winds and buy that beautiful mink coat. Alas, this soon proved to be a fateful decision, for reasons I was too blind to foresee.

When he heard about that mink, my brother, Peter, couldn't understand it. I think he already believed I had developed an irresponsible taste for the high life-who, after all, needed to have lunch at La Pyramide?-and in his eyes the mink was just further proof of my lavish, irresponsible ways. I think his wife, Blanche, was probably annoyed as well. I imagine she was thinking, "Why does Marge get a mink and not me? For that matter, why are they going to the White House and not us?" There was no open conflict at that time, but I believe that mink coat ignited what proved to be a long, slow-burning fuse.

For all that, we never did get to go to the Kennedy White House for our taste of Camelot. The president was assassinated on November 22, 1963, before the dinner was to take place. The visit of the Italian premier was later rescheduled and it became President Lyndon Johnson's first state dinner; we were on hand at the White House for what turned out to be a rather subdued but elegant affair.

That fuse kept burning though, through the next two years of simmering tensions and sometimes open conflict. Then one day in November 1965, all the Mondavis assembled at one of our big family gatherings at the winery for what was supposed to be a happy, festive occasion. It turned out to be anything but. I don't remember exactly how it started, but at some point, Peter and I started to squabble. Tempers flared and Peter accused me of spending too much company money on travel and promotion. Then he really lost his temper and accused me of taking money from the winery. How else could I afford to buy that mink coat? In essence, I felt my own brother was accusing me of being a thief and a swindler.

"Say that again and I'll hit you," I warned him.

He said it again.

Then I gave him a third chance: "Take it back."

"No."

So I smacked him, hard. Twice.

Growing up, Peter and I rarely fought. I do recall going at it once as teenagers, in one of our bedrooms, and we really tore the place up. But after that, never. So here we were, two men in our early fifties, acting like kids in a school yard-with terrible consequences. When it was all over, there were no apologies and no handshake. Quite the contrary. Like a cleaver, the fight split our family in two, and there was no repairing the damage. It broke my mother's heart, divided our sisters, and left our children hurt and confused. The Mondavis, up to then a close-knit Italian family, were now deeply-and very publicly-split.

The fight and its aftermath soon became notorious across the Napa Valley and throughout the American wine industry. Some evil-tongued gossips spoke of it as a modern-day version of Cain and Abel. My father might have been able to impose a peace in the family, but by then he had been dead for several years and it was just too much for my mother to handle. Lawyers and mediators were brought in.

One of those mediators was Joe Alioto, a prominent San Francisco attorney who would later become the city's mayor. At this stage, Joe had already been on our board for a year or two and had become a trusted adviser to the family. Later, he would serve as Peter's chief lawyer when Peter and I squared off in court. Immediately after the fight, it was Joe who came in to mediate, along with Fred Ferroggiaro, chairman of the Finance Committee of the Bank of America and also a member of our board of directors. After the family met, it was Fred who delivered the verdict: I was to be put on six months' paid leave. Then Joe Alioto took me aside. This was a turbulent, confusing moment in my life, and I remember it to this day. We were walking under the orange trees at Krug, between my mother's house and my house, and Alioto and I had a heart-to-heart chat. He said something I'll never forget:

"Bob, let me give you a piece of advice. As a friend. Hire the smartest attorney you can, so that we don't steal you blind." Needless to say, I followed his advice.

That leave was supposed to be a cooling-off period, for all sides, but the attempt proved futile. My son Michael was about to graduate from Santa Clara University, and the family and its advisers for some reason-I think it was probably because Peter wanted to keep Krug for his own children-decided to bar Michael from working at Krug. To me, that just added insult to injury. So the rift deepened. I held on to my Krug stock, though, and Peter and I later headed into an ugly and very costly legal battle, one that would take years to settle. It was a gruesome experience, and even now, more than thirty years later, though Peter and I have managed to reconcile, some of those wounds have yet to heal.

Out of our terrible fight, though, came my liberation. Once I was put on leave at Krug, I was forced to rethink my entire direction in life. In 1965, at the age of fifty-two, I was at a decisive crossroads and I knew it. If I was ever going to make a dramatic change in my life, if I was ever going to summon the courage to follow my own star, now was the time to do it. That winter I took Marge to Hawaii so that we could rest and reflect on what to do next. When we returned home to our house on the grounds at Krug, I continued to ponder. I'd take a card table and chair and set them up out in the vineyards. To think, to reassess, and to evaluate my options.

What I needed now was a fresh start, an exciting new challenge. But what? And where? Despite my love of the wine business, all the upheavals at Krug had left me dispirited, and I wanted to consider fresh options. I still had significant financial obligations; Michael, I knew, could find work, but Marcia and Tim were still in school and that was costly. So I wanted to find a direction that would be both prudent and stimulating, not just for tomorrow and the day after, but for the rest of my life. Still, the question remained: What to do? What would ignite my passion and my imagination and creative energies? To what great challenge could I dedicate myself now, sweat and blood, heart and soul?

During my reflections, I considered several different businesses. But my heart kept leading me back to wine. It was my life, it was my way of life, and it had been that ever since I was a boy. When my parents, Rosa and Cesare Mondavi, came here as immigrants from Italy at the start of the century, they were dirt poor, with next to no education. But they brought with them warmth and optimism, strength of character, and a rock-solid belief in both family and the value of hard work. When I was growing up, the center of our existence was always the kitchen. Mother would work at the kitchen table, making pasta or polenta from scratch, and my brother and sisters and I would gather round her and talk and laugh and sing songs and help in any way we could. Meals were a sacred time for us, the gathering of the family, and wine always enjoyed a prominent place on our table. Throughout my childhood, good food and festive meals were not something we went out to restaurants for; they were the bedrock of our daily lives at home. They were-and they remain-the very heart and soul of our family and the Italian way of life.

So in my years at Krug, when I traveled around America doing promotion and sales, I was not just selling wine. I was a man on a mission, a man with a calling. When I talked wine, I was not peddling my wares-I was preaching the gospel. And I was trying to plant deep into the soil of our young country the same values, traditions, and daily pleasures that my mother and father had brought with them from the hills and valleys of central Italy: good food, good wine, and love of family.

The more I pondered this, at my card table out in the vineyards, the more clearly a new path began to emerge. In Europe three years before, I had formulated a vision and a vow: to do whatever it took to make great wines and to put the Napa Valley on the map right alongside the great wine-making centers of Europe. I had envisioned doing all this via Krug, but it was not to be. So what if I went out on my own? If I wanted to start a winery from scratch, with the sole intention of making world-class wines, what would it take?

I'd need capital. I'd need prime vineyard land. I'd need to build my own winery. I'd need to enlist experts in the arts of growing grapes and making fine wine the European way. Everything we did would have to be of the absolute highest quality, even if it cost top dollar. After three decades in the wine business, I knew a great deal, but I also knew I had much more to learn. To succeed would demand hard work and team effort in the vineyards, in the cellars, and in sales and marketing. The performance of each person would be crucial to our overall success. One common goal and one common ethic would have to unite us: the unwavering quest for excellence.

I also had to plan this business for the long term. There was just no way we could dramatically improve the quality of our wines overnight; the process would take years, perhaps even a generation or more. This was not a venture for anyone looking for a quick return on capital or for anyone who didn't understand how capricious the weather could be-or how damaging one frost could be for an entire grape crop. With so much to build and to learn, mistakes would be inevitable; this was not an adventure for the faint of heart. I'd have to choose my partners wisely, and I'd have to keep looking ahead, five years, ten years, even twenty and beyond.

I knew the risks were incalculable; we were entering uncharted waters. No winery in California had ever launched a full-blown campaign to make world-class wines, at least not successfully. In terms of image, the Napa Valley did not give us much to build on, either. St. Helena, where Krug was located, was a delightful little town and in many ways typified the entire valley: it was quintessential small-town America. But it was hardly the obvious platform for a national marketing campaign or the birth of a brand name.

I faced another formidable obstacle: there was simply no significant market in America for fine wine at that time. While Italian families like ours ate and drank as our parents and ancestors had for centuries, we were the exception. For the vast majority, America was still a steak, potatoes, and beer kind of country. To millions of consumers, cheese meant Velveeta and bread meant Wonder or Roman Meal. In big-city restaurants, where there was a demand for quality and elegance, fine wine meant French, Italian, or German; in most of America's finest restaurants you could not even find one California wine on the wine list. As a result, the prevailing wisdom in the Napa Valley back in 1966 was that if you wanted to make truly fine wines to compete with the French and Italians in that very narrow niche in the marketplace, good luck. In fact, while Marge and my children were supportive of my ambitions, most of the friends I consulted believed that creating a winery to make truly fine wines would be a one-way ticket to financial disaster. "Start a new winery from scratch?" some of my friends said, shaking their heads. "Bob, be serious." A few even said, or intimated, "Swallow your pride, Bob. Go back to Krug."

But I was not about to back down, and as I pondered moving forward, I clung to my conviction. I was convinced that we could create a substantial market in America for fine wines. The key was education. We had to teach people how to appreciate fine food and wine and the crafts and artistry behind them. In our home, with Marge and the kids, and in the homes of our Italian friends, we didn't eat fried chicken and hamburgers. We ate pasta made from scratch and fresh greens from our gardens. Our mothers and wives cooked with olive oil, baked their own bread and rolls, made their own soups and preserves. We didn't grow up eating Velveeta; we ate parmigiano, pecorino, and Gorgonzola. When I was a boy, everyone who came to our house loved my mother's cooking; I dreamed of inviting all of America into her kitchen to see her cook, taste her food, and sample some fine Italian wines. With one Sunday lunch at her house, I felt sure we could convert the entire country to the joys of fine food and wine!

With this conviction, and with a deep reservoir of confidence in myself and my family, I finally made the leap of faith. I decided to create a winery with several interlocking layers of ambition. One, to make great world-class wines. Two, to combine European craft and tradition with the latest in American technology and management and marketing know-how. Three, I wanted the winery to be stunningly beautiful, so that it would become a magnet for tourists and wine lovers from all over the globe. Four, every day we would invite visitors in to taste our wines, and via tours and educational events, we would help them learn how to appreciate fine food and wine. Maybe there was no market yet for fine wine in America, but so what? I was determined to create the market we needed, even if we had to do it one visitor at a time! I knew that if we made an outstanding wine, the market would follow.

Everyone thought I was crazy, of course. As soon as word spread of my plan to build my own winery-the first new winery in the Napa Valley since the late 1930s-I began to get skeptical looks and comments. Start a new winery? Make wine that would stand beside the greatest wines in the world? Set out to transform the eating and drinking habits of an entire nation? What arrogance! What folly! Bob Mondavi has a screw loose. He's spent too much time with his head in his barrels.

I could hear the guffaws up and down the Napa Valley, but I paid no attention; I had too much to prove and too much to do. Let others be naysayers, let them shy away from risk and seek shelter in the status quo. I knew I was embarking on a great adventure and a colossal gamble, loaded with risks and obstacles. But I was not going to retreat or stay on the sidelines. I was going to roll up my sleeves and plunge in. I might fail, but it would not be for fear of trying. And this was for sure: I would not one day go to my grave wondering what I might have achieved with my life if only I had had the courage to follow my passions and reach for the stars.

Making bold decisions can be so energizing. Once I decided to set out on my own, I felt totally reborn. I had left an unhappy, confining situation at Krug and now I felt free. Now I had a clearly charted direction to follow and a path to blaze. Now I would rise or fall on the strength of my own talents, my own resources, my own gumption and wit. I was like a little kid again, bursting with energy, ready to climb the mountain, conquer the world, go for the gold. Yes, at the unlikely age of fifty-two, the great adventure of my life had finally begun.

But could I really pull it off?

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2014

    Black Ninja

    Name: Black Ninja. Age: 16. Gender: Female wolf. Personality: funny, smart, a skillfull fighter(duh), some what shy. Powers: idk yet. Status: no kate yet. Other: ask me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2014

    Britta :)

    Name. Britta. Age. 15 1/2. Powers. Wolf/ alpha female. Mate. Jacob. Eyes. Blue. Hair. Medium brown. Height. 5' 3". Anything else just ask!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    Jacob

    Name; jacob age: 17 powers: werewolf mate: britta apearane: brown hair green eyes personality: funny smart and i guess goodlooking other: ask

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2003

    Wine, Money, Real Estate, Love and Life...This is it!

    his is a fascinating tell of Mr.Mondavi's first life and his second life. His first life begins with his growing up on his family's vineyard. His second life, and where the real story begins, is his having to break away from the family, in his 40's, and start all over again from scratch. Everyone knows Sam Walton's late entreperneurial start, more people should know Mr.Mondavi's story. By all accounts he was the father of the Napa Valley boom and every bit of the story is riveting. I was thoroughly impressed by this work and learned a prime lesson on individuality. Mr.Mondavi had a dream that was counter to his family and he could do nothing but pursue it. He had to set the trend and he did. Wine lovers around the world should be grateful to him. Thanks Mr.Mondavi, this book was really a Harvest of Joy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    'Character'

    Mondovi moves us through his personal exploration through family changes, to his triumphant business savvy in creating California's most inspirational success story. Mondovi is fluid and transparent throughout the pages of this fantastic novel. You can taste the flavors as he maps out his life story in the creation of Napa Valley's finest winery.

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