One name kept on coming up in the cult wine episode, so the biddies decided to investigate! Robert Mondavi helped influence a lot of California’s influential winemakers, helped basically invent the wine style that is known as Fume Blanc and helped to both elevate Californian wine and make some super affordable wines for everyone. Tune in to learn more!


Listen here.

On Spotify

On Apple Podcasts

We’re also on Stitcher, iHeartRadio,, Overcast, CastBox and iVox


Wine Enthusiast, “Robert Mondavi: Life of a Legend”

The Washington Post, “Fifty Years Ago, Robert Mondavi Transformed Napa Valley – and American Wine”

Mashed, “The Untold Truth of Robert Mondavi Wines”

VinePair, “10 Things You Should Know About Robert Mondavi Winery”

Forbes, “Robert Mondavi, Fume Blanc

Image credit: The New York Times

Study Notes for Robert Mondavi:

*Please note that some of these notes may be directly copied and pasted from sources above

  • He’s dead. Died on May 16, 2008 at 94 years old
  • Born on June 18, 1913 to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi
  • Emigrated from the Marche region of Italy to Hibbing, Minnesota in 1906
    • Originally just Cesare came over but he returned to Italy to court Rosa in 1908 and then made it back to the US
    • Cesare worked in the mines in Minnesota with his brother who sadly died in a mining accident so he left mining
    • Opened a small grocery store but then sold that to purchase a saloon that catered to Italian immigrants
  • He wrote a memoir called “Harvests of Joy”
  • Wine always had a major role in in the Mondavi household
    • “A strong, homemade red wine” specifically
  • In 1919, the Italian-American community selected Cesare to go to California in order to buy grapes and ship them back home
  • At this time it’s prohibition but the Volstead act allowed people to make 200 gallons a year for family consumption
    • He was forced to close his saloon in Prohibition so he started his grape moving business 
  • Cesare fell in love with California and in 1921 he sold his saloon and moved permanently to Lodi, California where he started a grape-shipping business
  • Robert Mondavi graduated from Stanford University and moved to Napa in 1936 to work at the old Sunny St. Helena Winery, now the home of Merryvale
  • 1943 – defining year: The Charles Krug Winery had fallen on hard times and was going to be put up for sale and Robert convinced Cesare to purchase it for 75,000
    • At this time, Charles Krug Winery was the oldest winery in Napa Valley
    • Robert and his brother Peter ran the winery for 23 years
    • Turned into a massive and very famous family feud in American wine history – it as a FIST FIGHT and Robert was forced out of the winery
    • Robert tried to sue for his share but Peter ended up gaining full ownership of the Charles Krug name and Robert obtained the majority of the vineyards
    • Decade long fight 
    • In 1965 created his own winery with his son, R. Michael, called “Robert Mondavi winery” that turned him into the famous wine maker that we know today
    • Peter died at age 101 and his sons Marc & Peter Jr own Charles Krug still
    • The brothers did team up to make a wine in 2005, 40 years later
      • They made one barrel of a Cabernet blend using grapes from half of Peter’s Yountville vineyards of half of Robert’s Oakville To Kalon Vineyard 
      • Titled: Ancora Una Volta (“Once Again”) and it sold at the 25th anniversary of the AUction Napa Valley in 2005 
  • This winery had numerous achievements including:
    • Pioneered the use of Fume Blanc
    • Improved the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Culturally – argued for the quality of Napa Valley wine
  • 1979 – Mondavi started his Woodbridge line – inexpensive varieties
    • Based in Lodi, early wines were called “Bob Red” and “Bob White” are were sold in jugs
    • Became some of the most popular wines in the early 1980s 
    • His younger son, Tim joined the winery and eventually became chief winemaker
    • At the same time, Mondavi entered an agreement to work with Baron phillipe de Rothschil of Chateau Mouton Rothschild to create Opus One Winery in Oakville 
  • He also set up joint ventures with partners in Europe, South America, Australia 
  • Him and his wife Margrit were the chief contributors to the Mondavi Center in Davis, California which was the city’s leading performing arts venue
  • Founders and major benefactors behind Napa’s COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and Arts” (opened in November 2001)
  • 1990s – company went public and seemed to succumb to the demands of shareholders to boost it stock price which led the wine quality to decline
    • “Too much, too soon” – control was lost in 2005 when they were kicked off the board of directors of the Robert Mondavi Corporation and the board sold to Constellation brands for $1 billion
    • They were very rich but an “inglorious end to a stunning success story”


  • Known for its Mission-style archway that became an iconic symbol of California
  • The first major winery to open in Napa since Prohibition
    • At the time Napa land was more devoted to plum trees than to grapevines
  • Two fold and contradictory vision to his winery:
    • Wanted to prove that California could make world-class wine which led him to focus on quality in the vineyard and innovation in the winery
    • Argued that wineries should bottle estate wine rather than sell bulk
    • Used new French barrels and temperature-controlled fermentation for white wines
    • Used stainless steel barrels early on
    • Pioneered environmental stewardship in vineyard farming practices throughout California
    • Established the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine & Food Science
    • He also wanted wine to become a daily staple at the dinner table so as Napa wines skyrocketed in price and luxury, he created Woodbrige and Robert Mondavi Private Selection


  • First two winemakers he hired were Warren Winiarski and Miljenko Mike Grgich
    • Winiarski –  Stags Leap (Judgment of Paris winning winemaker)
    • Grgich – Chateau Montelena (Judgment of Paris winning winemaker)
  • Zelma Long – Simi Winery in Alexander Valley; Chadon Estates, Long Vineyards
  • Paul Hobbs – inaugural Opus One Team, Simi Winery, Peter Michael and Lewis Cellars, Argentina’s Bodegas Catena, Paul Hobbs Winery
  • Charles Thomas – Opus One, Rudd Oakville, Edge Hill, Quintessa


  • The top winemakers are female
  • After the sale to Constellation, many top tier positions within the winery were filled by new people
  • 2018 – Genevieve Jansssens transitioned from Director of Winemaking to Chief Winemaker
    • Morocco-born, France-raised has been managing vineyards around the world since 1977 as was a lab enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery from 1978-1979
  • Acquired Sally Johnson Blum in July 2022 to serve as director of winemaking
    • Serves alongside other female team winemakers like Lauren Oliver


According to Janssen: 

  • Robert Mondavi changed the perception of Sauvignon Blanc in the late 1960s when he popularized Fumé Blanc
  • a name he coined for dry-fermented, high-quality Sauvignon Blanc
  • At that time, Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. was a sweet wine, non-varietal, and generally not a pleasurable experience.  
  • He found his inspiration in France’s Loire Valley and produced this wine in response to a growing consumer demand for dry wines to accompany food. His blends were almost 100% Sauvignon Blanc, blended with just a touch of Semillon.
  • name Fumé Blanc was derived from the classic Pouilly-Fumé, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. 
  • Both Fumé Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are the same grape, but as the word fumé in French means “smoky,” 
  • Mondavi saw his examples of the grape as having something of a smoky or herbal quality, often with a touch of freshly cut grass in the aromas. 
  • There are a few other producers in California that label their Sauvignon Blanc as Fumé Blanc, but it was Mondavi that was the originator of this labeling in California