Napa Valley trailblazer held on to family winery

Peter Mondavi led Charles Krug Winery for more than 50 years and pioneered cold fermentation to produce white wines

LOS ANGELES • Peter Mondavi, a trailblazer in developing Napa Valley's wine industry who steered his family's Charles Krug Winery for more than half a century and used cold fermentation to produce crisper, fruitier white wines, has died. He was 101.

He died last Saturday at his home in St Helena, California, on the Charles Krug estate, the wine company said in a statement.

No cause of death was given.

Mondavi began his career in Napa in 1943 when his parents bought the winery, which was founded in 1861 by Prussian emigrant Charles Krug, making it the oldest operating winery in the region today. He became the chief executive officer after his mother's death in 1976 and retired in 2015, turning the operations to his two sons, Marc and Peter Jr.

Peter and his brother Robert ran the winery for 22 years. A dispute over how to run the business led Robert to leave Krug in 1965. A year later, he started Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, the first built in the Napa region since Prohibition. It was acquired by Constellation Brands in 2004. He died in 2008.

Charles Krug was the first winery in Napa to import French oak barrels for ageing and was among the pioneering vintners which cultivated pinot noir and chardonnay grape plants where dairy cows had previously dominated the Carneros region of the valley.

Asked late in life to note his proudest accomplishment, he said: "Never losing control of our family winery. If I could, I would tell my father, 'I did the best I could during the difficult years. I was determined and we held on.'"

Mondavi was born on Nov 8, 1914, in the northern Minnesota town of Virginia, a once-thriving home for iron-ore mining. He was the youngest of four children.

The seeds for the family's wine- making empire were planted there. His mother, Rosa, ran a boarding house for Italian iron miners while his father, Cesare, opened a saloon.

Prodded by other Italians, Cesare began making and selling wine. He travelled to California to buy grapes and, in 1922, the family moved to Lodi in San Joaquin County.

Back then, Napa was known for fruit-growing but inexpensive, poor quality wine.

Peter Mondavi got his start as a boy nailing grape crates shut for his father's business, later earning an economics degree from Stanford University in 1938. He conducted wine-making research at the University of California in Berkeley before serving in the military overseas during World War II.

He was among the first to use vintage years on varietal wines.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Napa Valley trailblazer held on to family winery'. Print Edition | Subscribe