55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
This is a terrific history of the Mondavi family and the rise and fall of its wine empire. Family infighting and unwise business decisions and a dash of bad luck are part and parcel of this story. The author, Julia Flynn Siler, writes in a spellbinding manner. The approach and theme (page ix): "Over a period of two and a half years, the author interviewed all of the principle family members involved in the events leading to the sale of Robert Mondavi Corporation, seeking to understand how and why a seemingly "takeover proof" family-controlled company was sold over the objections of several key family members."
The book takes us through four generations of the family. There at the beginning: Cesare and Rosa Mondavi (there is a useful genealogy on the inside of the cover page). The book describes their journey to California and the start of the family wine business.
The book is divided into four parts--Foundation, Construction, Expansion, and the lugubrious finale, Demolition.
Key themes: family infighting. Cesare's two sons, Robert and Peter had a major falling out, with Peter winning the family battle and ousting him from the family business. The father had sought a single condition when he began the purchase of the Charles Krug Winery--(page 23): "Robert and Peter must work together to build the business." The promise failed.
After he left Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi engaged in a legal scorched earth policy against his brother and mother (who sided with Peter). The end result? Robert won and the rest of the family, in essence, lost. This sad story is told engagingly and leaves one scratching one's head as to what could have accounted for a family meltdown.
Robert began his own wine business and brought his sons and daughter into key positions. Over time, he acquired other businesses and the venture expanded. However, eerily reminiscent of his own family falling out, his two sons had serious tensions between them, with very different visions of where the company should go.
Interesting vignettes: the joint venture with the legendary Baron Philippe de Rothschild and his wife, who took aver the reins after the Baron's death, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild.
The book itself reads almost like a Greek tragedy, where the reader can see all the fault lines and can see disaster looming; however, the characters themselves as they lived their lives were unable to control events.
This is a well written book that brings one into the world of winemaking and one family's successes and failures.
85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
I had an opportunity to meet Robert Mondavi in 1995 at his Napa vineyard during one the famed "Summer Concerts in the Vineyard." We had a shared interest since we were both involved in IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) managed by Goldman Sachs. He took the family business, Robert Mondavi Corp., public in 1993 and I was taking a life science business, KeraVision, Inc., public in 1995. Mondavi impressed me then as an American gem - hard working, visionary, entrepreneurial, humble and generous.
Julia Flynn Siler's "House of Mondavi" chronicles the life of this American gem, how he changed the wine industry in America and how his generosity caused him to lose control of a his company during the turbulent early 2000s. Generosity, not greed, brought the downfall - an outlier in a period when greed was the headline story.
After being banished from the family in 1965, Robert, the son of an Italian peasant, started over with virtually nothing and built the biggest name in the American wine industry. His wines took their place proudly with the world's finest.
His generosity with major gifts, including the largest single gift of $35 million (in pledged stock) to the University of California at Davis for a cultural center, put him in harm's way when the Mondavi share price plummeted. A board coup followed with Mondavi Chairman, and former Mckinsey & Co. partner, Ted Hall, firing Mondavi's son, Michael, and putting an end to the dual class ownership of the company's stock...and a loss of control by the Mondavi family.
The book also sheds light on the fragility of family succession and control in even the most established of enterprises - and how botched transfers of power from one generation to another caused conflicts that separated the family from its legacy. Running any family business is notoriously troublesome and very few ever make it into the fifth generation. This one did not as the public spotlight on Michael Mondavi's performance in a time of crisis (a general collapse of wine prices)weighed heavily in the final outcome.
Julia Flynn Siler has written a tight, well researched book that will keep most readers turning each page - particularly those interested in behind the scenes business stories, entrepreneurs, large family-run businesses, Napa Valley and its wine industry, and/or Robert Mondavi the person.
The story does not end with the loss of control as there is a silver lining which saved the Mondavi family from financial ruin. I will leave that and other details of the Mondavi chronicles for the reader to learn first hand.
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2007
I just finished the book after a few days of intense reading and I loved it. This is a great read whether you're a wine enthusiast, a Napa lover or a student of American business. The book is well-researched and fair to all parties involved, even though I imagine it must have been tremendously difficult to be impartial at times.
One minor criticism, though, that kept this from being a 5 star book - what is with all the typos? About a 1/3 of the way through the book, I started keeping track of the mistakes and found more than 25 misspellings, typos, missing words, missing punctuation marks, etc. The book is packaged beautifully and the story is great, so why not hire someone to do some basic copy editing? At points, I was almost embarrassed for Ms. Siler, and I hope future editions correct some of the errors. They don't take away from the read, but they certainly distracted me.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2007
This meticulously researched story about the rise and fall of the House that Robert built was a revelation. So much has been writen about Robert Mondavi. He's an icon, a charismatic visionary who not only built a small winery into an empire, but was responsible, more than any other individual, for giving the maligned American wine industry the world-wide respect it now enjoys. As far as I know, this is the first book that explains how and why the House of Mondavi fell in 2004. The answer is complex, of course, but is rooted in Robert Mondavi's determination to have a family-owned company. That family -- all 4 generations of it -- is colorful, volitile and driven by conflicting views. The author paints individuals easy to remember, as are the outsiders who become involved in the business. No need to have a winemaking or busines background to follow what's happening. Thanks to Flynn-Siler's story-telling skill, the reader learns, while engrossed in the conflict and poignancy of the human drama occuring as the business rises and falls. Highly recommended. Note: Even the finest vintage contains the occasional sour grape, apparently. Noticing 'Whines's review in October made me wonder if he's read the same book as the NY Times reviewer and I. Very puzzling.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2007
A terrific story with an almost biblical feel. Sibling rivalry, generational friction, love, infidelity, modern business, success, craftmanship, family pride, hubris and ambition all intersect in the picturesque Napa Valley. Despite its almost 400 page length, the book is a quick, exciting read. You'll never open a bottle of wine from Napa Valley without thinking about the story of the valley's first family.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2007
Not only was this book so well written I could hardly put it down, but the author definitely did her research. I have lived in the Napa Valley for 22 years, and know a lot of the people in the book....! The book was not only entertaining but very informative about our beautiful Napa Valley.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2007
Our entire family enjoys good wine. Working in the food business for many decades, we've had several opportunities for private tours at Robert Mondavi and Opus One in Napa Valley, and Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux as well as many, many other wineries. All of the tours were enlightening, but I never gained such insight into the Mondavi empire until I read this great book. Understanding the personalities of the players involved from the first generation forward gave me a clear picture of the rise and fall of this remarkable family business. For those who love to travel and visit the wine regions of the world, you too will enjoy The House of Mondavi.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2007
This is a big, sprawling epic of a biography, centered on the legendary vintner and California wine promoter Robert Mondavi but really about the Mondavi family, beginning with Robert's father Cesare, an Italian immigrant.
After some bootstrapping struggles in the Minnesota mine fields, Cesare moves his family to California's San Joaquin Valley, where he prospers as a grape wholesaler and bulk winemaker. Family conflicts develop early as Robert and his younger brother Peter compete for their parents' approval, conflicts that build to the point that Robert is ultimately forced from the family's properous Napa Valley winery. The split results in a famous lawsuit which eventually leads to Robert's apotheosis as the head of his own eponymous winery and his role as the elder statesman of California wines.
Robert repeats his parents' mistakes in raising his own family, resulting in fights between his two sons for primacy in his winery and the ultimate loss of control of his legacy.
Like "Moneyball", which told the story of the success of the Oakland Athletics baseball club, "The House of Mondavi" is about much more that the wine business, and will no doubt find a place on business school reading lists as a cautionary tale of how not to develop a family business. Very readable, it is written with great authority by a former Wall Street Journal reporter. Anyone interested in the wine business, or business and entrepreneurism generally should find it fascinating.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I have read many biography books and many business books but I haven't read many that combine these two genres into one. "House of Mondavi" is one such book. It covers the foundation of the Mondavi's in the wine business; the decision by Robert to break away and start his own company; the bitter fight between Peter and Robert over the Mondavi name; the personal lives of the men in the family; and the ultimate loss of the winery after going public.
I don't consume very much wine but even a non- connoisseur like me knows the Mondavi name. The name is synonymous with wine, and when I heard about this book, I was anxious to read it. I knew about the Mondavi's but I was generally unaware of the family saga so often associated with the Mondavi name. I did not know about the family feuds, the endless fighting, the legal battles, etc., that had plagued the Mondavi family for so many years. I also did not know that the Mondavi family no longer controlled the Robert Mondavi Winery. These and many other interesting facts are uncovered in this book, and they make it a definite page- turner.
When I first decided to read this volume, I was interested in two key points: First, I wanted to know how the family got into the wine business and what seeds were planted that led to the family squabbles. Second, I wanted to know what caused the company to fall from grace. From reading this book, I discovered when the Mondavi family got into the business and I found out all I ever wanted to know about the legal fight between Peter and Robert. I also found out many other things along the way; like the tendency of the Mondavi men to let their eyes wander; the broken families; the secret affairs; the decision to become a stock company; and the slow demise of the business thanks to the inability of Michael and Timothy (Robert's sons) to run the company.
One thing I like about this book is that it doesn't waste time with unimportant details. It jumps right into the action in the first chapter, talking about Cesare Mondavi and his migration to the United States. His time living and working in Minnesota are not that significant to the book's outcome, so it switches quickly to the warm California sun and the decision by Cesare and wife Rosa to enter the wine- making business. Then, in Part II, the book moves quickly to the fighting between Peter and Robert for control of the Mondavi name, and it remains focused on this subject for the duration of the reading. I like that Julia Siler doesn't waste the reader's time talking about insignificant life events in the early years. The book is mostly about the family tensions and the ultimate loss of the winery, so it makes sense that it devotes most of its pages to these topics.
This book has a certain tragic feel to it, and it's something I knew was coming based on the book's title. And as I read more and more about the background of the Mondavi's and the events that led to the ultimate takeover, I felt like I was reading scenes from a tragic novel. Cesare Mondavi labored long and hard to build his business and he and his wife fully expected Peter and Robert to run the company, and then later pass it on to their own sons. Never would Cesare have predicted what happened. His two sons could not agree on much and the tensions continued to the point that Robert broke from the ranks to found his own business. He and Peter should have been able to resolve their differences, but they seem to have one problem after another. It really is sad to think that they lost everything their father had built for them all because of some simple disagreements and the lack of any effort to compromise.
This book offers meticulous research to back its story. Julia Siler includes notes, bibliography, sources, and an index along with two sections of black and white photos. She spent a great deal of time finding out facts about the Mondavi family, both personal and business, and she includes a little bit of everything in this book. She talks about the business decisions that led to the collapse of the business as well as the numerous affairs that led all of the Modavi men (except for Cesare) to make several appearances in courts of law, either for the purpose of obtaining a divorce or for the purpose of working out child custody issues.
Overall, House of Mondavi is a very good book that will be enjoyed by anyone with either an interest in wine or an interest in family business biographies. There are lessons to be learned in this book, and it serves as a reminder that any business- even a family business that seems safe and secure- can falter and even collapse under pressure. The Mondavi winery was lost for several reasons, but at the core of the issues was the family feud between Robert and Peter. It is a tragic case of bruised egos and bad decisions and it shows what can happen when personal lives get too intertwined with the realities of the business world.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2007
Great book. I couldn't put it down and read it in 4 days. Anyone who enjoys Napa wines and is interested in the history of the region will enjoy the book (although at times it felt like I was reading the Napa version of US Weekly). Highly recommend it.