The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty

The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty

Set in California’s lush Napa Valley and spanning four generations of a talented and visionary family, The House of Mondavi is a tale of genius, sibling rivalry, and betrayal. From 1906, when Italian immigrant Cesare Mondavi passed through Ellis Island, to the Robert Mondavi Corporation’s twenty-first-century battle over a billion-dollar fortune, award-winning journalist Julia Flynn Siler brings to life both the place and the people in this riveting family drama. The blood feuds are as spectacular as the business triumphs. Cesare’s sons, Robert and Peter, literally came to blows in the 1960s during a dispute touched off by the purchase of a mink coat, resulting in Robert’s exile from the family—and his subsequent founding of a winery that would set off a revolution in American winemaking. Robert’s sons, Michael and Timothy, as passionate in their own ways as their visionary father, waged battle with each other for control of the company before Michael’s expansive ambitions ultimately led to a board coup and the sale of the business to an international conglomerate. A meticulously reported narrative based on thousands of hours of interviews, The House of Mondavi is bound to become a classic.

Details

  • Publisher: Tantor Audio; MP3 - Unabridged CD edition (July 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400154804
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400154807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
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4 comments

  1. This is a terrific history of the Mondavi family and the rise and fall of its wine empire. Family infighting and unwise business decisions and a dash of bad luck are part and parcel of this story. The author, Julia Flynn Siler, writes in a spellbinding manner. The approach and theme (page ix): “Over a period of two and a half years, the author interviewed all of the principle family members involved in the events leading to the sale of Robert Mondavi Corporation, seeking to understand how and why a seemingly “takeover proof” family-controlled company was sold over the objections of several key family members.”

    The book takes us through four generations of the family. There at the beginning: Cesare and Rosa Mondavi (there is a useful genealogy on the inside of the cover page). The book describes their journey to California and the start of the family wine business.

    The book is divided into four parts–Foundation, Construction, Expansion, and the lugubrious finale, Demolition.

    Key themes: family infighting. Cesare’s two sons, Robert and Peter had a major falling out, with Peter winning the family battle and ousting him from the family business. The father had sought a single condition when he began the purchase of the Charles Krug Winery–(page 23): “Robert and Peter must work together to build the business.” The promise failed.

    After he left Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi engaged in a legal scorched earth policy against his brother and mother (who sided with Peter). The end result? Robert won and the rest of the family, in essence, lost. This sad story is told engagingly and leaves one scratching one’s head as to what could have accounted for a family meltdown.Read more ›

  2. I had an opportunity to meet Robert Mondavi in 1995 at his Napa vineyard during one the famed “Summer Concerts in the Vineyard.” We had a shared interest since we were both involved in IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) managed by Goldman Sachs. He took the family business, Robert Mondavi Corp., public in 1993 and I was taking a life science business, KeraVision, Inc., public in 1995. Mondavi impressed me then as an American gem – hard working, visionary, entrepreneurial, humble and generous.

    Julia Flynn Siler’s “House of Mondavi” chronicles the life of this American gem, how he changed the wine industry in America and how his generosity caused him to lose control of a his company during the turbulent early 2000s. Generosity, not greed, brought the downfall – an outlier in a period when greed was the headline story.

    After being banished from the family in 1965, Robert, the son of an Italian peasant, started over with virtually nothing and built the biggest name in the American wine industry. His wines took their place proudly with the world’s finest.

    His generosity with major gifts, including the largest single gift of $35 million (in pledged stock) to the University of California at Davis for a cultural center, put him in harm’s way when the Mondavi share price plummeted. A board coup followed with Mondavi Chairman, and former Mckinsey & Co. partner, Ted Hall, firing Mondavi’s son, Michael, and putting an end to the dual class ownership of the company’s stock…and a loss of control by the Mondavi family.

    The book also sheds light on the fragility of family succession and control in even the most established of enterprises – and how botched transfers of power from one generation to another caused conflicts that separated the family from its legacy.Read more ›

  3. I just finished the book after a few days of intense reading and I loved it. This is a great read whether you’re a wine enthusiast, a Napa lover or a student of American business. The book is well-researched and fair to all parties involved, even though I imagine it must have been tremendously difficult to be impartial at times.

    One minor criticism, though, that kept this from being a 5 star book – what is with all the typos? About a 1/3 of the way through the book, I started keeping track of the mistakes and found more than 25 misspellings, typos, missing words, missing punctuation marks, etc. The book is packaged beautifully and the story is great, so why not hire someone to do some basic copy editing? At points, I was almost embarrassed for Ms. Siler, and I hope future editions correct some of the errors. They don’t take away from the read, but they certainly distracted me.

  4. This meticulously researched story about the rise and fall of the House that Robert built was a revelation. So much has been writen about Robert Mondavi. He’s an icon, a charismatic visionary who not only built a small winery into an empire, but was responsible, more than any other individual, for giving the maligned American wine industry the world-wide respect it now enjoys. As far as I know, this is the first book that explains how and why the House of Mondavi fell in 2004. The answer is complex, of course, but is rooted in Robert Mondavi’s determination to have a family-owned company. That family — all 4 generations of it — is colorful, volitile and driven by conflicting views. The author paints individuals easy to remember, as are the outsiders who become involved in the business. No need to have a winemaking or busines background to follow what’s happening. Thanks to Flynn-Siler’s story-telling skill, the reader learns, while engrossed in the conflict and poignancy of the human drama occuring as the business rises and falls. Highly recommended. Note: Even the finest vintage contains the occasional sour grape, apparently. Noticing ‘Whines’s review in October made me wonder if he’s read the same book as the NY Times reviewer and I. Very puzzling.

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