In her recently-released memoir, Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook, the widow of famed winemaker Robert Mondavi—and the winery’s current vice president of cultural affairs—shares poignant tales of her childhood in Switzerland and the fascinating life that led her to Napa Valley.
While Mondavi was in town promoting her book ($35) last week, we dined at North Pond one evening. James Beard Award-winning chef Bruce Sherman’s winter cuisine paired perfectly with my host’s two wine picks from the Robert Mondavi Winery: the Fume Blanc Reserve 2010 came first, followed by the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009. While we ate, the octogenarian regaled me with stories, both hilarious (a description of the way Robert drank his coffee: with red wine and sugar), and informative even to the most avid oenophile. She laughed as she recounted the story of Opus One, Robert Mondavi’s famous venture with partner Baron Phillipe de Rothschild. The plans were laid out on a yellow legal pad (Robert used such pads for everything) in the bedroom of the baron’s French chateau, while he lounged in his pajamas. Somewhere—Mondavi knows not where, though she’s fairly certain it still exists—are the handwritten origins of what was to become one of the most famous wineries in the nation.
For Mondavi’s part, she was a tour guide at the Mondavi Winery before marrying “the boss,” she says. Between exclamations of “fantastic!” and “delicious!” to the chef and servers, she recounted stories about the winery—events planned, dinners attended, and more. Based on notes from the diaries she has kept all her life, these are the types of personal, touching tales laid out in Sketchbook. The multi-faceted book also includes many of Mondavi’s paintings, favorite recipes, and reflections from people whose lives she has touched with her wit and charm, from Mondavi’s son, Tim, to noted chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.