Friday, June 15, 2007

House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler

The name Mondavi is synonymous throughout the world with fine wine and graceful Napa culture. Well, the reality is a little more grim than that and it is stunningly revealed in Julia Flynn Siler’s new book: House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty. Part of the book is excerpted at the Wall Street Journal.

Julie is a member of my writing group, North 24th, and I am delighted to promote her book. It’s an amazing tale brought to life by Julie’s determination and inability to accept no as an answer. When she first started reporting the book, almost everyone in the Napa Valley was too intimidated by the powerful Mondavi family to talk to her. Even the Mondavis shunned her, as they were convinced that she just wanted to do a hit piece.

But Julie soldiered on, pouring through thousands of pages of court documents and interviewing hundreds of people. She flew to Italy to see the birthplace of Cesare Mondavi, the patriarch of the clan, and glammed herself up to hang out at the very fancy Napa Wine Auction. In short, she applied all the journalistic talents she acquired as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal to the book.

In the end, almost every member of the Mondavi family spoke with her, including Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit. Julie talked to people who were in the room that fateful day the Mondavis lost control of their once very successful wine empire and recreated that tense scene in the book. She also shows how the Mondavis raised the name recognition of California wines throughout the world and ushered in a new era of elegance to the Napa Valley.

Even though the book is well reported and documented, the Mondavis don’t seem thrilled that the details of their family’s infighting are now public. The family is still very influential and most Napa residents do not want to cross them. While the family has not yet said anything publicly about the book, it appears someone has pressured one Napa bookstore, Copperfield's, to withdraw its offer to have Julie come and read from the book. It also has been very difficult for Julie to set up any reading dates.


Susan said...

Julia is in your writing group?! Lucky you!! I just met her this weekend. What a lovely, intelligent person. And I saw her piece in the WSJ today. Amazing work. She must have absolute nerves of steel. Hey..... I wonder if she would like a reading date at a certain literary salon at Shepherd Canyon?

Anonymous said...

They are a farmers, not the mafia. As a lifetime resident of the Napa Valley I find your statement that we are afraid to "cross the family" absolutely hilarious! What exactly do you think would happen if we crossed them? Would I end up with a horse head in my bed? Do you think that Robert sent thugs to Copperfield's and said to cancel the reading "OR ELSE!" Thanks for the laugh.
Also I love the part about Julia "glamming it up" for the wine auction. Yes, I'm sure it was a big departure for her coming up from her million dollar home in Ross. Having said that and having "crashed" the reading the other night (incognito of course) to get a look at this Julia person, that everyone here seems to have such distaste for, she did seem like a lovely person and not the monster I thought. Maybe if you Mondavi haters would spend some time with the family you would see that they are not the mosters that Julia describes.

Frances said...

I don't think House of Mondavi sets out to paint the Mondavi family as monsters or anything. Julia spent a long time gathering information to show both the good and bad sides of the family and its business. It would be interesting to hear what you think after you read the book.

Anonymous said...

Not having read the book (because I was employed by Mondavi at the time this all took place and I really dont need to re-live eveything), I am wondering if the book reveals how Constellation has turned Robert's company into one of many factories for generic wine where no one wants to work.

All families have issues. Many have the same issues as the Mondavi's. Divorce, disagreements on how to run a business, etc. The Mondavi's are just more in the limelight than the average family.

The wine industry is more about people, families, history than most industries. The real story that I would like to see is how companies like Constellation are destroying all of what I feel made the wine business unique.

Jen said...

This sounds like a bunch of hoity toity baloney typical of small town gossip that Napa is not immune from. I don't think Ms. Siler was risking life and limb to write this story. It's instant classic material for an "epic tragedy" of sorts, and I don't think there was anything daring about taking on the subject matter.