Readers will find some of the drama amusing. Third-generation Michael Mondavi enters into an ill-conceived partnership with Disney, for instance, despite the obvious foolishness of mixing Mickey with merlot. Walt Disney himself was a teetotaler when it came to his theme park: "I like a drink, but if people want one, they can get it elsewhere." The people, in this case, agreed. California Adventure regulations mandated that wine be served in acrylic instead of glass, so Mondavi had them custom-made. They outfitted the working winery-cum-amusement park exhibit with granite wine bars and hand-forged, wrought iron doors, which closed to the public when the experiment failed after just eight months.
The failed venture presaged the hostile takeover to come. While Flynn Siler overdoes it on the details at times (do we really need to know what Isabel's bridesmaids wore at her wedding to Michael Mondavi?), there's a redeeming lesson for a capitalist society at work in this tome: You can be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or in this case, a silver wine cork, and still lose it all. Nothing is ever guaranteed, not even wealth and power. Not that you should cry a river for the Mondavis; it's unlikely any of them will be taking on minimum wage jobs anytime soon, or worrying over health care.
And it stands to reason that what fueled Robert Mondavi's aggressive promotion of Napa Valley wine for four decades was the choice his mother made. Perhaps he wanted to prove to her that she had backed the wrong son.
"There are clues that he wanted to learn from the French, go globally even while he was still with Charles Krug," says Flynn Siler, "but I have a hunch that those ambitions were fueled by a sense of proving his mother wrong."
He certainly built his own winery in a big way. Robert Mondavi hired celebrated architect Clifford May to design it, and the image of the Mission-style tower and graceful winged arch adorn wines like Fumé Blanc to this day. Then he set out to change attitudes toward California wine, beginning with the French, who thought that wine from the U.S. was for cooking, not drinking. The pejorative "wino" came about during Prohibition, when rot-gut wines, some from Napa Valley, were the norm.