Archway welcoming guests to the Robert Mondavi Winery /Photo Michelle Locke
Margrit Mondavi was not a large person, nor a loud person, but when she was in the room, people knew it.
Instantly recognizable with her broad smile, huge eyes and blonde bob — Wine Country’s answer to Carol Channing — she only had to walk into a restaurant or event to set off a chain reaction of turned heads and smiles. “Oh look! Margrit’s here.” (A lot of people, including myself, never got around to calling her husband, the late, great Robert Mondavi, “Bob,” even though we were assured he wouldn’t mind, but Margrit was almost always Margrit.)
I first met both Mondavis in the early 2000s when I wrote a story about their charitable giving. I’ve never been great with celebrities/rich people and wasn’t feeling all that comfortable until Margrit paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “I do like your dress. So cheerful.” I was instantly disarmed and quite forgot to be flustered.
Margrit and Bob were THE Napa Valley power couple. He was the gregarious one, never happier than when he was expounding on the marvels of California wine. She was quieter but a real power in her own right, giving and raising millions for causes she believed in. I saw them occasionally at events and would sometimes get a quote or two for a story. One of my favorite memories of them is from one of the annual Napa Valley wine auctions. It had been a hot day and most of us were pretty wilted. But not the Mondavis. They were still on the dance floor, slow-dancing like the last two teens at prom.
Accolades have poured in, as you might imagine, following Margrit’s death just before Labor Day, and a few people have referred to her as the grande dame of wine. In a way, she was, but I’ll always remember her as the person who took a minute to put an awkward reporter at ease.
Photo via Napa Valley Register