More than 1,100 friends and associates of Robert Mondavi gathered at his Oakville winery Wednesday to commemorate the life of a Napa icon on what would have been his 95th birthday. A birthday party had been planned before Mondavi passed away on May 16, but his friends and family expanded it into a touching tribute.
The invite list included hundreds of past and present employees of Robert Mondavi Winery. The event managed to be half-party, half-tribute, with some guests dressed somberly and others in shorts and flip-flops. The 95-degree weather kept most people searching for shade as they sipped Mondavi Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Representatives from more than a dozen local restaurants were there, serving snacks to the crowd, including Bouchon, Mustards, La Toque and Terra. On display were proclamations from the California State Legislature, as well as a statement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a letter from President George W. Bush.
Some of the vintners in attendance included Diamond Creek's Boots Brounstein, Larry Hyde, Christian Moueix of Dominus, Lang and Reed's John Skupny, Pete Seghesio, Delia Viader and Agustin Huneeus of Quintessa.
Several people spoke to the crowd to share memories of Mondavi, including Jose Fernandez, CEO of Constellation Wines U.S., and Richard Sands, chairman of Constellation Inc., which purchased the Robert Mondavi Winery in 2003. Vintner Bob Pecota of Robert Pecota Winery and Southern Wine and Sprits president Mel Dick also shared stories.
One of the most touching tributes came from chef Richard Reddington of Yountville's Redd restaurant. He explained how when he first opened Redd, Mondavi asked to see the kitchen, and then insisted on meeting every person on staff, including every dishwasher. According to Reddington, Mondavi went up to each person with a handshake and introduced himself by saying, "Hi, I'm Bob Mondavi. You're doing a great job. Thank you for being here."
Mondavi's daughter Marcia and son Tim also spoke to the crowd. Marcia acknowledged the winery alumni in the audience, acknowledging that they were all part of the extended family, "I know [Robert Mondavi] was 'dad' to a lot of people, and I'm happy to share him with you," she said. Tim made an emotional toast to his father, saying, "Dad, thank you from all of us for all you have done for us as a family, for all you have done for us as a community."
An invite-only event was scheduled for Thursday at the Woodbridge winery in Lodi for the grower community and employees there. The Napa winery will host two open houses for the public on July 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and July 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No formal presentations will be made, but guests will be allowed to sign a memory book and enjoy a glass of Fumé Blanc, light snacks and music.
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