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Peter Mondavi, Sr. Dies at 101

Peter Mondavi, the patriarch of Charles Krug Winery for more than half a century died Feb. 20 at his home in St. Helena, Calif., on the Charles Krug estate. He was 101. 


Peter Mondavi Sr. was president, CEO and lead ambassador for C. Mondavi & Family and the Charles Krug Winery. Many honors have been bestowed upon him throughout his distinguished career. In 1989 the Napa Valley Vintners Association named Peter one of the twelve Living Legends in Napa Valley wine history. In 2009 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Napa Valley vintners from the California State Fair. In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown honored him along with the legacy of the Charles Krug Winery with a proclamation for his contributions to the wine industry. Congress honored him and the winery on his 97th birthday in the Congressional Record.

Peter's father, Cesare, brought his mother, Rosa, to settle in the United States in 1908, after first emigrating from Italy in 1906. The youngest of four children, Peter was born in the town of Virginia, Minnesota. Eventually the family moved to Lodi, California, where his father operated an ambitious wine grape-shipping firm started in 1922, purchasing and shipping California wine grapes to fellow Italian immigrants in Minnesota. There, he and older brother Robert spent summers packing 30-pound boxes of zinfandel grapes. They helped their father make a little table wine for their own table, which he remembers tasting from about the age of eight and cut with water as was the custom in Italian families.

Peter Mondavi studied economics, earning his degree at Stanford University in 1938. Yet winemaking was never far from his mind, and he pursued graduate studies in chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. There, he learned about the importance of cold fermentation for white and rosé wines. Under the tutelage of the highly respected Dr. William V. Cruess, he conducted revolutionary research on cold fermentation, enabling the production of exceptionally crisp, fruity white wines that became the industry standard. “Most of the wines at that time were made at higher temperatures, where they would lose their fruit character through oxidation,” he explains.

The family's formal entrance into the wine business began in 1943, when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi purchased the Charles Krug Winery. With an honorable discharge from the Army in 1946 after serving in the military during World War II, Peter Mondavi returned home to work in the new business where he pioneered new approaches to wine production, including the cold fermentation techniques he learned at U.C. Berkeley. He and his family undertook an extensive program to develop quality vineyards, enhance winemaking techniques and increase marketing efforts.

In 1959, upon the death of her husband, Rosa became president of the Charles Krug Winery and, along with her sons Robert and Peter, operated the winery until 1965, when Robert moved a few miles south to Oakville to set up his own winery. (Robert has since sold his winery to Constellation Brands Inc., a global wine conglomerate). Peter was later named president of the Charles Krug Winery.

In 1963 he introduced French oak barrels to age wines, citing their superior quality to the American oak popular at that time. He also introduced the use of glass-lined tanks to gain more control over the winemaking process. The winery was also among the first California producers to label wines by varietal.

The Mondavi family also launched California’s first winery newsletter, Bottles & Bins, in 1949. It was another way to promote their wines and educate consumers at a time when people knew very little about wine. Bottles & Bins now serves as the official newsletter for wine club members. Tastings on the Lawn, another consumer education effort introduced by the family (1951) continues to this day, drawing hundreds of visitors each autumn to the winery’s Great Lawn adjacent to the Carriage House.

Through 70-plus years of winemaking at Charles Krug, Peter Mondavi has been involved in every aspect of the winery's operations. His favorite place has always been and continues to be, in the laboratory, tasting and evaluating wine.

In 1999, Peter Mondavi led the effort to extensively replant the Charles Krug vineyards. Over a ten-year period, the family invested $25.6 million to replant many of the older vines with Bordeaux grapes that thrive best in the Napa Valley. Now all 850 acres of Napa Valley vineyard land are proudly farmed with sustainable agriculture methods.

Peter Mondavi celebrated his 100th birthday on November 8th 2014, and was determined to keep the Charles Krug Winery in the family. His two sons, Marc and Peter Jr., worked side by side with their father. “I am president and CEO but now I have my sons do most of the work,” said Mondavi. In addition, members of the fourth generation are entering the family business, further ensuring that the winery remains a family owned entity.