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Mondavi brothers make wine together again

Forty years after a feud that rocked California wine country, brothers Robert and Peter Mondavi are making wine together again.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Forty years after a feud that rocked California wine country, brothers Robert and Peter Mondavi are making wine together again.

"It's the right time, right now," says Tim Mondavi, Robert's son, who is working with his uncle and cousins on the multigenerational venture.

The new wine, a single barrel of a cabernet blend, will be offered at this year's Auction Napa Valley, the 25th anniversary of the famous wine charity event.

The lot, "Ancora Una Volta," or "Once Again," has bittersweet overtones. The auction — largely the brainchild of Robert Mondavi — is taking place without a Mondavi at the helm of the Robert Mondavi Corp., which was sold to Constellation Brands last year for $1.3 billion.

Still, it was the sale that opened the door to the family winemaking venture.

In an interview at his family's Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, the elder Peter Mondavi said the families had discussed making wine together for years but he had been reluctant to do that as long as his brother was the head of a public corporation.

"We've been always family oriented. We grew up that way," he said. "When you go public, your stockholders are not inclined to be in the wine business except for the almighty dollar. So, it's a question of money vs. love of the product. That's the way we feel about it."

With the sale, the idea for the brothers to make one last barrel together was on and "it's amazing how well they've got on together," he said.

The new wine is made half from grapes from Peter Mondavi's Yountville vineyards and half from the Robert Mondavi Oakville ToKalon vineyards. The buyer gets lunch and a sample of the wine with the Mondavis the day after the June 4 auction, as well as a spring lunch to see how things are shaping up and a release dinner in August 2006. There'll be enough wine to make 60 magnums — 1.5-liter bottles.

The younger generation has done day-to-day work on the wine, but Peter and Robert Mondavi, who are both in their 90s, have been involved in tasting and approving blends.

"It's a powerful wine. Dark in color. Rich in character," says Peter Mondavi, Jr.

The Mondavi wine will be sold at a redesigned auction which has been trimmed from a six-hour afternoon marathon to a shorter evening affair. Ticket prices were tripled, to $7,500 per couple for the full four-day event, and talk show star Jay Leno has been hired as host.

Tim Mondavi remembers going with his father when he first presented the idea of an auction to Napa Valley vintners and getting reactions ranging from "There goes crazy Bob again!" to "What a great idea!"

The idea stuck, raising more than $50 million for local health care, housing and other causes over the years. The event hit a high of $9.5 million in 2000, but totals since then have dropped. Last year, the auction brought in about $5 million.

By the time the auction was founded, in 1981, the Mondavis had already split apart.

The Mondavi story goes back to 1906 when family patriarch Cesare Mondavi moved from Italy to Minnesota. The family later moved to California and got into the grape business, buying the Krug winery in the Napa Valley in 1943.

For 20 years, the winery was a family business. But Robert and Peter, the younger brother by 14 months, clashed frequently. Robert Mondavi had ambitious plans for the winery; Peter Mondavi had a more conservative style. According to Robert Mondavi's autobiography "Harvests of Joy," matters came to a head in November 1965 when the brothers got into a fist fight at Krug.

"When it was all over, there were no apologies and no handshake," wrote Robert Mondavi.

Instead came a fierce court battle that ended with Robert founding his namesake winery in 1966, starting over at age 52.

Robert Mondavi went on to become a world-renowned champion of Napa Valley wines, pioneering new technology and spreading a message that California wines could compete with the French greats.

Peter Mondavi, the quieter brother, remained the head of Krug, running it with his family.

Over time, Peter and Robert Mondavi reconciled. But it appeared the 1965 vintage at Krug would be the last for the brothers.

Until now.

"This story, really," says Tim Mondavi, "is about these two brothers that have committed their lives to great wine in Napa Valley."