The much-anticipated The House of Mondavi (Gotham Books, $28) by Julia Flynn Siler is a riveting read that follows the triumphs and tribulations of wine’s great Caesar, Robert Mondavi, and his family. At times a dark story, the book discusses sins of the father and sons, which repeat generationally as parents deceive their progeny and siblings battle and betray. Telling tales of boardroom machinations and barbarians at the vineyard arch, in the form of Constellation Brands, are a modern Aesop for family businesses.
But for all its focus on familial failings, the book also explores the Mondavi family’s great successes, namely, the building of a brand that became synonymous with wine.
Siler offers a realistic but fair take on the drama that eventually resulted in Robert’s philanthropic over-extension and sale to Constellation. We also follow Robert’s innovations, interwoven with California’s fertile wine history, including the Opus One joint venture and the creation of a functioning vineyard at Disney’s California Adventure. Mondavi’s wife Margrit’s pioneering in the world of food and wine enjoyment—including the company involvement with the Great Chefs program and Copia, is also highlighted.
There are many great stories in this book: stories of business and family, of betrayal and pride’s price, and of the incremental erosion that destroys a great empire. But ultimately, like any great story, this is one of people, and what fascinating people they are.
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