Margrit Mondavi. A Lighthouse for the Arts
New Jersey summers are spent ‘down the shore.’ Every year my family heads south to read books on the beach, create music on the deck, and paint. Over the course of our vacation the growing collection of watercolor paintings, almost exclusively seascapes, flowers and lighthouses, compete for a coveted spot on the refrigerator door.
My wife Caroline brings her favorite watercolor books for inspiration and for the last few years that has included Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook, Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life. Caroline owns two copies of Margrit’s autobiography. The first copy, dog-eared, sand filled and paint spattered, comes with us to the beach. The second copy, pristine and autographed, is kept safely tucked away at home and in Caroline’s heart.
Caroline bought the second copy when a friend invited us to a Napa Valley dinner party where she was seated next to Margrit Mondavi. Over dinner Caroline and Margrit talked about food and art, children and family, and of the love affair Margrit shared with Robert Mondavi, her husband from 1980 until his death in 2008.
At various seminars, luncheons, and dinners my wife and I have enjoyed the company of Tim and Michael Mondavi but we never met their father Robert. Much has been written about the tremendous contributions Robert has made to the California wine industry but at the Robert Mondavi winery it was Margrit who combined fine arts and music with the wine experience.
“My dad’s vision for the winery was always that it should be welcoming and celebrate wine, food, and arts,” wrote Tim Mondavi in Margrit’s autobiography, “but Margrit gave his vision content and amplified it.”¹
Margrit was instrumental in creating the Summer Concert Series and the Great Chef’s program at the winery, often hand painting the menus, invitations and posters herself. Like her enthusiastic watercolors, Margrit was colorful and outgoing; a bold juxtaposition of worldly exuberance and restrained taste.
Tim Mondavi declared, “Margrit is a bundle of focused energy with a wealth of knowledge about life … She and my father were a fabulous couple. Each of them had a high level of energy and ambition and a tremendous overlap of values, the things they loved in life. Both were gregarious and outgoing, but they thrived on each other’s company. No matter where they were in the world, they had each other and they were “home.”¹
On Friday Margrit Mondavi passed away at the age of 91 and she and Robert are “home”once again.
Margrit Mondavi was a lighthouse for the arts, a beacon to world-renowned painters, sculptors and musicians, guiding them to the culture of wine and to safe harbor in Napa Valley. The next time we head ‘down the shore’ Margrit’s spirit will join us in the form of a dog-eared, sand filled, and paint spattered book. A book that continues to surprise and inspire us.
¹Mondavi, M. (2012) Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook, Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life, 58