Rise and Fall of a Wine Icon

It’s been called a real-life Falcon Crest. New book The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty was released this week, and traces the fortunes of this famous winemaking family who, over the course of 40 years, built their brand into a $1 billion business, ultimately losing control of their own company. At the center of the book is Robert Mondavi, the charismatic patriarch who worked to put both his wines and the Napa Valley on the map.

The Northern California wine community has been bracing for the release of the book, which the publisher decided was too controversial to offer advance copies for review. As an article in the San Francisco Chronicle explains, “Friends and followers are loath to see public criticism of a man often viewed as the valley’s patron saint.” Indeed, Robert Mondavi’s many philanthropic projects—including founding Napa Valley’s food and wine center, Copia—added to the financial pressure that led to the sale of the company in 2004.

Author Julia Flynn Siler, who completed more than 500 hours of interviews while working on the book, thinks Mondavi’s legacy as a “tireless pitchman for the Napa Valley, California and the American wine industry” is safe, regardless of disclosures within. In an interview with the Press Democrat’s WineAbout blog, she says, “I don’t think my book will in any way hurt that legacy, I think it will deepen people’s understanding of what it took to do what he did, which took a pretty focused, driven personality.” Though in another interview, on the Cork Board, she admits the book “may be controversial because it looks closely at issues that many in the wine industry were aware of surrounding the Mondavi family but few were willing to fully explore.”

It seems as though we like our wine with a hint of scandal: At press time, the book was ranked 31st on Amazon.com.

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