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Michael Mondavi says of growing up in California’s now famous Napa Valley, that “the [wine] cellar was my jungle gym and the cellar master my baby sitter.”

Recently, I spent time with Mondavi as he shared a refreshing look at Napa Valley.

He recalls that in those early days, the beginning of the school year was delayed not for the grape harvest, but for the picking of plums. Back then, for every grapevine, there was a plum tree.

In 1943, Mondavi’s family bought the venerable Charles Krug Winery — later one of the first “tasting rooms” in Napa Valley. Then, the most popular grape for tasting was not today’s trendy cabernet, merlot or chardonnay varieties but chenin blanc.

Napa Valley experienced transformation and growth through the late 1960s. It was about that time, Mondavi recalls, that his grandmother gave him some life-changing advice. He had offered her a glass of wine and asked what she thought of it.

“Make a wine that tastes good … not just one glass … but when they go home, they will want more than just one glass,” she remarked. Her counsel was straightforward:

“Don’t just make wines for the rich … make it a staple of the table, not just liquid food.”

Mondavi held to his grandmother’s advice by bringing home samples from the winery for his family to taste, always searching for a wine to be enjoyed glass after glass.

With the creation of the Woodbridge winery in Lodi, the Mondavi empire would adhere to producing quality wine at a reasonable price. But that story does not offer as much nostalgia as does his grandmother’s advice.

“The late ’60s and early ’70s were tough times, and the Woodbridge label was created to pay the bills,” he says.

Today, Mondavi is still creating world-class wines through his company, Folio Fine Wine Partners, which offers bottles from premier and emerging wine regions around the world.


  • 2006 Danzante Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $15 retail)


  • 2005 Hangtime Cellar Pinot Noir, France (about $19 retail)