Last Saturday we attended the Burlingame Foundation Luncheon. Julia Flynn Siler, the author of the House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, was one of three featured authors. We did not attend so much to hear Julia but to support the Burlingame Library Foundation, but having Julia speak was a huge bonus. Her presentation was limited to 20 minutes but she gave us a fascinating account of her trials and tribulations in writing the book about one of the most famous families in the world of wine.
Shortly after writing a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal in June of 2004 about the Mondavi Family struggles, Julia received an email from a publisher asking her if she would be interested in writing a book about Robert Mondavi. She was undecided until she attended the Napa Valley Wine Auction. Here she witnessed the dynamics and interactions of this famous wine auction. She sat at the Trinchero Family table, a family that had made their mark with “White Zinfandel” years back. She observed first hand the decline of Robert Mondavi, not so much in his physical health, but in the decline in the prestige of his wines. His wine no longer commanded the highest bids and many “cult” wines were auctioned off for many times more than the Mondavi wine. It was then that she decided to write the book.
There were many obstacles to writing the book, the largest one being that no one in the Mondavi family wanted to be interviewed by Julia. But, two and a half years later armed with 525 interview hours, Julia completed her fabulous book.
This being a library luncheon, Julia commented on the importance of libraries and alluded to the fact that she spent many hours of research at the St. Helena Library. “It may be the only library in the world with a vineyard,” she stated. She also mentioned it was at the St. Helena library that she interviewed Timothy Mondavi for 2 hours. He had been ousted from the Robert Mondavi Winery and no longer had an office in the Napa Valley.
The book is a great read and we suggest it for anyone who enjoys California wines. We often wonder what the Napa Valley would be like without a Robert Mondavi.
The real tragedy here is that an important story, a very large and fascinating subject was burdened with such an amature author. If her book stands as the only book of record for the rise and fall of the Mondavi empire then we have all lost out. I cannot remember a time in my life where an authors inability has so completely ruined such an important narrative. Don’t buy this book, don’t read this book, and please could someone out there with the talent and ability do this story justice.
Rose Marie Morse says
Dear Joe, I have enjoyed your endorsement of Julia’s book and you are right on on every point. (I should reveal that I was Julia’s publicist when the book came out in hardcover.) Your second sentence, however, was disappointing or perhaps misleading. Had I not read further I would have assumed the you did not like the book. The blog is announced on Google only with the first couple of lines and I almost did not read further.