SF: What Special Gift Did Margrit Mondavi Get On Her 90th Birthday?

Margrit Mondavi
Margrit Mondavi

Photo Credit: Robert Mondavi Winery
What do you give Margrit Mondavi, the doyenne of Napa Valley, for her 90th birthday? How about her own room? That’s exactly what the grand dame received on Aug. 2 when the Robert Mondavi Winery renamed its Vineyard Room in honor of its cultural ambassador for nearly half a century. Timed to her milestone birthday, the dedication of the “Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room” recognized the incalculable contributions of Margrit Biever Mondavi, who envisioned the winery as a community gathering place for uniting fine wine with fine arts, music and culinary artistry. As a result of her groundbreaking and original programs, which showcased emerging as well as recognized artists, musicians and some of the greatest chefs from around the world, she helped catapult the winery–and Napa Valley–from a relatively unknown farming community onto the world stage for winemaking excellence and cultural abundance.

Margrit first joined Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967 at a time when there were very few visitors to the region and before the Vineyard Room was constructed. With the enthusiastic support of founder Robert G. Mondavi, whom she later married in 1980, Margrit vision for the winery began with a modest Sunday art show accompanied by wine and food. Eventually the fine arts program at the winery evolved to the stature it holds today with such prominent artists as Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Nathan Oliveira among its participants. Margrit likewise pioneered the winery’s popular Summer Concert Series (now in its 46th year), beginning with the winery’s Summer Music Festival in 1969 to benefit the Napa Valley Symphony. Such noted headliners as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, Julio Iglesias, Gavin De Graw, Melissa Etheridge and more have since graced the Robert Mondavi Winery stage. Margrit is also credited with starting the Great Chefs of France and the Great Chefs of America programs–the internationally respected culinary series that brought such world-renowned culinary talents as Paul Bocuse, Alice Waters and Thomas Keller to Napa Valley. The respect for California wines that resulted from these programs, especially among European chefs, is an immense sense of pride for Margrit.

“Like painting and music, wine and food speak to the heart and contribute to an enhanced quality of life,” noted Margrit at the private dedication. “It is gratifying to think that I have had a hand in fusing all of these elements together at the Robert Mondavi Winery and to showing the world the goodness that is all around us here in the Napa Valley.”

A number of Margrit’s earliest winery programs took place in the Vineyard Room. While the winery was constructed by her late husband, those familiar with the space believe that Margrit’s heart and soul are keenly felt in this vibrant gathering place within the winery. A working artist in her own right, many of Margrit’s artworks have adorned the room over the decades, and a new commission was unveiled at the August 2 dedication ceremony.

Added Glenn Workman, VP & General Manager of Robert Mondavi Winery, “It was in the Vineyard Room where Margrit first pioneered her dream, establishing it as a community gathering place for wine, food and the arts – a first-of-its-kind space in the Napa Valley. In the many decades since, she has steadfastly continued to champion these causes. On the occasion of her 90th birthday, we are thrilled to dedicate this cherished site in her honor and we salute her many contributions to our winery, community and to the region over many decades.”