Widow of pioneer winemaker Robert Mondavi dies at 91

Posted at 10:47 AM, Sep 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 13:47:51-04

Margrit Biever Mondavi, the widow of California wine pioneer Robert G. Mondavi who served as the company's cultural affairs director for decades, has died. She was 91.

Mondavi died Friday afternoon of cancer at her Napa home, said Keith Roberts, her son-in-law.

"She was the great lady of Napa Valley and the wine world in general. She was a gift to all of us," Roberts said. "She and her husband invented the modern wine business in California, and the United States."

The Swiss-born Mondavi joined Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967, a year after it was founded. She married Robert G. Mondavi in 1980. It was the second marriage for both. He died in 2008.

The Mondavis were among pioneering Napa Valley producers who helped turn the agricultural area northeast of San Francisco into a world-renowned wine growing region.

Mondavi, an accomplished painter, was the winery's vice president of cultural affairs and had a dream of combining wine with fine art, music and food, according to a statement from the winery.

"She created a showplace for painters, sculptors, photographers, jazz and classical musicians and the great chefs and winemakers of the world," the statement said.

Mondavi founded the winery's Summer Music Festival in 1969 as a benefit for the local symphony. Over the years, it has drawn performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett. A winter classical music series was created later to benefit local music organizations.

Mondavi also introduced cooking classes that evolved into a "Great Chefs" series at the winery.

She and her husband also endowed arts centers and schools and a local opera house.

"Like painting and music, wine and food speak to the heart," she said, according to the winery statement. "By honoring the world of the senses, of memory and emotions, the rites of the table express our humanity."