California wine patriarch Robert Mondavi, one of the great modern-day benefactors of UC Davis, died Friday at his Napa Valley home. He was 94.
Mondavi donated $25 million to help establish UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, scheduled to open in October. He also contributed $10 million to the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002 and has attracted highly acclaimed performers from throughout the world.
“Mondavi and his family have given much to UC Davis, and not just through his time and financial support, but also through the association of the Mondavi name,” wrote UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef in a tribute that appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday. “His generosity touched so much of the transformational research, stellar teaching and superb programs that this campus offers today.”
“Mondavi truly opened a new era of opportunity for UC Davis. We are deeply grateful for his inspiration,” Vanderhoef wrote.
Many on the Davis campus expressed gratitude for Mondavi’s generosity.
“Mr. Mondavi was a lifelong friend of UC Davis; it was an honor to be associated with him,” said Andrew Waterhouse, chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “He was a very strong supporter of public education and public research institutions like ours.
“We are very thankful for his support, and, of course, we are very thankful for his vision of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science,” he said, adding that the Institute will include research and teaching labs and a sensory theatre for wine- and food-tasting classes.
“Mondavi was an incredible visionary, and we are going to miss him tremendously. It’s the end of an era,” said Clare Hasler, executive director of the university’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. “He was a wonderful benefactor to UC Davis.”
Because of Mondavi’s support, UC Davis’ programs in wine and food science will remain “preeminent in the world,” she said.
Mondavi and his wife Margrit were also dedicated to the performing arts.
“Not only did their generosity help make the Mondavi Center possible, but they were also passionate about what went on inside the center,” said Don Roth, executive director of UC Davis’ Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Roth said the Mondavis recently attended performances by Israeli-American violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman and world-renowned soprano and New Zealand native Kiri Te Kanawa
“The Mondavis’ attendance at events showed people … they were passionate about [the center]; their presence was very exciting,” Roth said.
Mondavi is credited with helping the California wine industry reach international fame.
The son of Italian immigrants, Mondavi was born in Virginia, Minn., and moved to California in his youth. He attended Stanford University in the 1930s, earning a degree in economics.
Mondavi then worked in the family wine business in Napa Valley. In 1966 he established the Robert Mondavi Winery, the first major winery built in the Napa Valley since the 1933 repeal of the Prohibition Act. Mondavi combined European craft and tradition with the latest in American technology and used educational efforts to sell his wines, according to a biography on the Winery’s website.
The website cites Mondavi’s pioneering work in fine winemaking techniques such as cold fermentation, stainless steel tanks and the use of French oak barrels; by the 1970s his wines were recognized for their quality internationally.
Mondavi is survived by his wife Margrit Biever Mondavi; his three children Michael, Marcia and Timothy; nine grandchildren; and his brother, Peter.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to COPIA, UC Davis, The Oxbow School and Stanford University.
ANNA OPALKA can be reached at email@example.com.