When Peter Mondavi Sr. was born in 1914, no one could have imagined that the youngest son of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, Italian immigrants who recently arrived in the U.S., would grow up to be one of the most revered figures in Napa Valley.
He was born 2,000 miles from California, in northeast Minnesota’s hardscrabble Iron Range, several lifestyles away from Napa Valley’s lush, green countryside.
But by the Prohibition year of 1922, the family had packed up and moved to Lodi, in the Sacramento Delta, where Cesare’s business—selling grapes for homemade wine back east—prospered.
From that hopeful beginning, Peter’s future path was carved.
During World War II—which Peter served in—Cesare and Rosa purchased the old Charles Krug Winery, in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.
Founded in 1861 by Charles Krug, a Prussian immigrant, the winery passed into the ownership of the Moffitt family upon Krug’s death in 1892. The Moffitts owned it until 1943, when the Mondavis purchased the winery for $75,000.
After Cesare died in 1959, Rosa took charge, assisted by her sons, Peter and his older brother Robert. Robert left the family business and started his own eponymous winery in 1966.
When Rosa died in 1976, Peter became company president in addition to CEO and lead ambassador. Today, at age 99, he’s still happily involved in the business.
“Longevity has its place,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked. But beyond his remarkable and productive longevity, Peter Mondavi Sr.—who turns 100 next year—has more than made his mark on the history and quality of California wine.
Named one of only 12 Living Legends of Napa Valley by the Napa Valley Vintners, Peter’s research into cold fermentation (resulting in cleaner, fruitier, crisper wines) and his work in sterile filtration helped push quality to today’s exacting standards.
Last year, his contributions were again cited when he was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame.
Perhaps even more important than his technical achievements are what Peter Mondavi Jr., the patriarch’s younger son, calls his father’s “passion and ability to make his dedication to this business transcend generations.”
With the fourth generation now working in the company, his father’s “tremendous legacy” is assured, says Peter Jr.
“Dad made sure to align our priorities,” says Peter Jr. “We’re not chasing profits. We’re committed to remaining a prosperous family business above all else.”
For his part, Peter Sr. is characteristically humble about the role he’s played both at the winery and in Napa Valley. Asked how it feels to be a legend, he replies, with twinkling eyes, “Well, I really don’t know. I just carry on. I need something to keep me busy.”
And with that, he’s off to the winery laboratory, to evaluate the latest vintage.