February 24, 2016 – Peter Mondavi, Sr. of Charles Krug Winery, died at his home in St. Helena on February 20. He was the last of the Twelve Living Legends of the Napa Valley created by the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1986.
His parents Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, who had emigrated from Marches, Italy in 1906, purchased the Charles Krug Winery in 1943. They first settled in Minnesota but moved to Lodi, California in 1922. Prohibition was in full force but Cesare built a good business selling grapes from California to home winemakers across the country. Home winemaking was still legal.
Peter obtained a degree in economics from Stanford then went on to research enology at U.C. Berkeley. After serving in the military for four years during World War II, he returned to California and he and his older brother Robert worked at the Krug Winery. Their mother Rosa became President of the winery after Cesare died in 1959 and the two sons divided the running of the winery between them, Robert concentrating on marketing and Peter on winemaking.
Peter is credited with many innovations that changed the industry including cold fermentation of white and rosé wines, which created crisp wines that retained their fruit characteristics. He was also the first winemaker in the Napa Valley to import French oak barrels, which cost $35 each. They now cost about $1,000 each but in 1963, $35 was a lot of money.
In 1965, there was a famous fist fight between the two brothers resulting in Robert being terminated by his mother. He went on to found the Robert Mondavi Winery and he became an icon in the Napa Valley for his tireless promotion of its wines. Robert Mondavi Winery was sold in 2004 to Constellation Brands for $1.3 billion.
A gracious and modest man, Peter Mondavi, Sr. was especially proud that he was able to keep Charles Krug Winery in the family. The Krug winery produces premium wines while the C.K. Mondavi Winery produces less expensive wines from the San Joaquin Valley.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Peter Mondavi, Sr. retired as CEO coming the winery daily, climbing the staircase to the second floor to sign checks and taste wine. The historic winery is now in the hands of his sons, Marc and Peter, Jr.