Have You Read?: Grapes of discord
October 2, 2008
I grew up in a house where the big people explained the news to the little people on a frequent basis, which is how I come to have a childhood memory from the mid-’60s that involves my mother describing to me, a grade-schooler, how the Mondavi family was breaking up over control of their Krug winery. With a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle of Krug in the other, her version placed great emphasis on the power of the mother, Mrs. Mondavi, as she tried to mediate between her two sons. I was impressed: Who knew a mother could control a business? The other details of the breakup were lost on me.
So it was with great anticipation that I picked up a copy of “The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty,” in the hopes that I could finally understand what my mother was trying to explain decades ago. It can be summed up quickly: Successful father has two sons; they fight over control and break up. One starts his own winery to spite his father; his two sons ultimately fight over control of it. Hmmm, should we be surprised?
This book goes down like a glass of oaky chardonnay, so easy to drink. Unfortunately, I prefer cabernet: richer, deeper, more substantial. Hold a copy of “The House of Mondavi” up to the light, and you can see through it easily. I would have preferred less emphasis on who had an affair with whom and more discussion of the changing wine-drinking habits of Americans and how the Mondavis helped to bring about that change. Sure, it is sort of sneaky fun to read about what goes on under the label, but I really wanted to come away knowing more about the wine business itself. You know, the stuff my mom was trying to explain to me back in the day.
What brought it all down? Robert Mondavi’s own desire to give on a grand scale: the charitable promises that he made to several large projects, Copia in Napa, and UC Davis’ Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Once Mondavi went public in an effort to tap into the wealth they had built in the company, their fortunes were tied to the rise and fall of their stock price. And once it fell, Robert was caught in a position of not being able to meet his pledges easily. The ultimate solution to his money problem relieved his family of control.
– Jennifer Sander is the co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.” She owns Write by the Lake, a women’s writing retreat.