Enter your emailSOCIAL DIARYPARTY PICTURESDIARY FEATURESCALENDARARCHIVESNYSD BEAUTYFriday, November 4, 2016San Francisco Social Diary: The First Lady of NapaThe Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley. The late vintners and philanthropists Margrit andRobert Mondavi were instrumental in transforming Napa Valley into a wine, food, and culture mecca.by Jeanne LawrenceNAPA VALLEY – “SALUTE, SANTE, CHEERS, MARGRIT! Tonight we raiseour glass to you!” read the invitation from Festival Napa Valley, for a tribute toMargrit Biever Mondavi this past July.The 91-year-old widow of vintner Robert Mondavi, who is credited withputting California wines on the world map, Margrit was honored for her morethan four decades of dedicated work to help fine art, music, food, and wineflourish in the California wine country.I flew in for the occasion to be with my dear friend, knowing she had been illand fearing this Festival might be her last. Indeed, just weeks later, onSeptember 2, Margrit’s remarkable life came to an end.Though each of the ten evening events at Festival 2016 was extraordinary, theone honoring Margrit at the Far Niente Winery was to me the mostextraordinary of all.Type name or keywordGOSEARCH
Margrit Mondavi, one of Napa’s most revered and influential figures, showcased fine food and wine, andencouraged and supported great vintners, chefs, artists, and musicians.Robert and Margrit Mondavi celebrated his 90th birthday in June 2003, five years before he passedaway. During their 28-year marriage, they traveled the world to promote California wines.FAR NIENTE WINERYI’ve attended Festival Napa Valley every July since it launched in 2005, and
consider the festivities at Far Niente Winery to always be among the best. Inpart, that’s because the historic stone winery that overlooks the Valley makesme feel like I’m on a movie set.Founded in 1885, Far Niente—Italian for “without a care”—is set back from the main road, Highway 29,near Oakville Crossing.ALSO IN ACROSS THENATION/ACROSS THEWORLD10.21.16: Miami SocialDiaryArriving for cocktails were Jan Shrem, Beatrice Ruini, Camilla Ruini, Rick Walker, Sophia Loren, MariaManetti Shrem, Carlo Ponti Jr., and Andrea Mészáros Ponti.10.6.16: CHINAINSTITUTECELEBRATES 90th YEARGALA9.28.16: Boca Raton SocialDiary9.13.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary7.29.16: July in Paris: Allthat glitters6.24.16: Santa BarbaraPhotoplay, Part II6.15.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary: 2016 FestivalNapa Valley, Part II6.13.16: West Coast Diary6.3.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary: 2016 FestivalNapa Valley5.27.16: South FloridaSocial Diary: Ft.Lauderdale & Palm Beach
5.24.16: Washington SocialDiary: The WashingtonOpera Ball5.16.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary4.22.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary: The Oscar dela Renta Gala4.13.16: Sarasota SocialDiary3.30.16: San FranciscoSocial Diary: The SanFrancisco Ballet & FOGDesign Art FairMore Across TheNation/Across The World Tesla, one of the 2016 Festival sponsors, displayed their luxurious electric cars in the WoodlandGardens, one of the most verdant landscapes in the Valley.A STAR-STUDDED TRIBUTEMore than 300 guests came to pay tribute to the irrepressible Margrit,including family and friends, fellow vintners, artists and celebrities from otherfields.Among them was another legend: the Academy Awards-winning Italianactress Sophia Loren, who flew in from Switzerland accompanied by her son,conductor Carlo Ponti Jr., and his wife, violinist Andrea Mészáros Ponti.Often referred to as “the First Lady of Napa,” Margrit Mondavi was recalled for her charm, her warmth,her quick sense of humor, and her joie de vivre.
Actress Sophia Loren, who has appeared in more than 100 movies and is still working, with her son,conductor Carlo Ponti Jr.Lidia Bastianich, host of “Lidia’s Kitchen,” the TV show, opened herrenowned New York Italian restaurant Felidia in 1981. She came to honor hergood friend Margrit’s contribution to Napa Valley food and wine culture.Italian chef Fortunato Nicotra greeted his compatriot Sophia Loren byexclaiming, “You’ve been my idol since way back.”Lidia Bastianich and Fortunato Nicotra, the executive chef at Lidia’s New York dining institution Felidia.MARGRIT BIEVER MONDAVI, “THE AMBASSADOR OF NAPA VALLEY”“No one better exemplifies the philanthropic spirit and the passion for art,music, food, and wine of the Festival than Margrit,” said new Festival BoardChair Timothy Blackburn.Her encouragement and nurturing of the Festival have made it part of herlegacy. Festival President Rick Walker said she inspired everyone to live lifeto its fullest.
Festival Board Chair Timothy Blackburn with hiswife Athena Blackburn.Festival President Rick Walker with his wife KarenWalker.DRINKS UNDER THE CANOPYAt the sold-out evening event, guests arrived amid an enchanted forest oftowering redwoods, acacias, dogwoods, and century-old cork oak trees.We enjoyed nibbles and Far Niente wines on an ideally balmy summer evening.
Charles Rashall, Kathleen Korb, and Michael Polenske.Peter and Merle Mullin, from Los Angeles.Shahpar and Darioush Khaledi, proprietors ofDarioush Winery.
Steven and Claire Stull, with Martha Bredon.Olivia Decker with Michael and Pepper Jackson, fromPalm Beach and Napa Valley.Dario Sattui, owner of Castello di Amorosa inCalistoga, and Irina Yartseva.Daru Kawalkowski, Roger and Anne Walther, and Alton Irby.
Guests enjoyed creative passed hors d’oeuvres by celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich.Gallerists Serge and Tatiana Sorokko.Lisa and John Grotts.Vintners Agustin Huneeus, of Quintessa Winery, and Clarke Swanson, of Swanson Vineyards.
Vintners Elizabeth and Clarke Swanson.Jeanne Lawrence and Olivia Decker.THE OFFICIAL WELCOME AND TOASTSAs they have every year since the Festival began, Far Niente co-owners BethNickel and Larry Maguire generously hosted an event. Their vineyard was aperfect place to honor Margit, since it is next door to the Mondavi Vineyard,and Far Niente founders Beth Nickel and her late husband, Gil Nickel,enjoyed a long friendship with the Mondavis.Larry Maguire, co-owner and President of FarNiente Winery, with his wife Karen Maguire.Festival President Rick Walker and Far Niente Wineryco-owner Beth Nickel.In his welcoming speech, Larry Maguire noted that during his childhood inNapa, “Italian food” meant spaghetti and meatballs. Then Margrit arrived andinspired locals to think more seriously about both food and art. He offered hera toast of thanks.The current Michelin Guide gives three-star status to two Napa Valleyrestaurants: Chef Keller’s The French Laundry and Chef Kostow’s TheRestaurant at Meadowood.
Dinner guests gathered under a tent surrounded by the serene Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards inOakville.Larry Maguire, co-owner and President of Far Niente Winery.Beth Nickel, co-owner of Far Niente Winery.Maria Manetti Shrem thanked Margrit for her and her husband’s work in
turning Napa Valley into a sophisticated paradise, called Margrit “my idol,”and fondly acknowledged Margrit’s joy and passion for “the art of living.”Far Niente and the Festival hosted the 2016 dinner, with additional support by Maria Manetti Shrem andJan Shrem.CONDUCTOR CARLO PONTI JR.Sophia Loren came in support of both her friend Margrit and her son CarloPonti Jr., who conducted the orchestra on the Festival’s last night. He wasmusic director and principal conductor of the San Bernardino Symphony from2001 until 2012, and in 2013 he founded the Los Angeles Virtuosi Orchestra.“I’m honored to be part of this special night,” Carlo said, adding, “I still havethe bottle of wine you gave us when we married.”“If I were you, I’d drink it!” was Margrit’s riposte.“We did drink it” Carlo said, “. but we kept the bottle,” drawing chuckles fromthe crowd.Carlo Ponti Jr. has been associate conductor of the Russian National Orchestra since 2000.
Margrit Mondavi, Jeanne Lawrence, Maria Manetti Shrem, and Sophia Loren. Though Ms. Loren’sluggage arrived only an hour before the 6 p.m. dinner, she managed to appear on time, lookingstunning.MARGRIT TAKES THE MICROPHONEFrom her wheelchair, Margrit responded to the accolades with a speech thatwas the evening’s highlight.She said she was overwhelmed and overjoyed “a thousand times,” told someanecdotes about her more than forty years in the Napa Valley, and thankedSophia Loren for her support, adding that the she would have liked to havehad long legs just like the film star. The crowd was enchanted by Margrit’sspirit and wit.When Sophia kissed her on the cheek, Margrit said, “I’m never going to wash my face again!” to thecrowd’s amusement.
Margrit encouraged Maria Manetti Shrem and Jan Shrem to build the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art atUC Davis and donated 2 million in seed money.THE MUSICAL PERFORMANCEBefore dinner, jazz superstar Dave Koz and Grammy-nominated vocalistMonica Mancini (daughter of composer Henry Mancini) offeredentertainment.Many in the audience were moved by the performance of “Hope,” whichstirred up many wonderful memories of Margrit mixed with regrets about herillness.The lyrics “Touch of hope” and “What you leave behind” were especially apropos for an evening thatwas a tribute to Margrit and her legacy.
Saying Margrit “lived life like a work of art,” Dave Koz dedicated his saxophone rendition of“Somewhere over the Rainbow” to her.Monica Mancini’s heartfelt introduction and singing moved many to tears.CELEBRITY CHEF DINNERAfter Far Niente Winery CEO Larry Maguire introduced celebrity chef LidiaBastianich as “kitchen royalty,” she took the stage and explained that herlong friendship with Robert and Margrit began when they were earlysupporters of Felidia, which she opened more than three decades ago.“With all my heart,” she said to Margrit, “today I celebrate all you do forhumanity and culture.”
Jeanne Lawrence, Chef Lidia Bastianich, and Ken Monnens.Chef LidiaBastianich and Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra prepared asuperb meal that began with lobster salad with heirloom tomato paired with2013 Far Niente Cave Collection Chardonnay. The main course was a beefstriploin tagliata with 2013 Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon anda 2009 Far Niente Cave Collection Cabernet Sauvignon.The lobster “caprese” salad reflected how both Italian and Californian cuisines emphasize fresh, localingredients.
Of course, dinner was accompanied by Far Niente’s superlative Cabernet and Chardonnay vintages.DESSERT IN THE GARDENAfter dinner, guests headed to the Cabernet Grill to choose among the dessertbuffet temptations and share comments about how special the night was.Reluctant to tear ourselves away from the “Liquid Gold” 2010 Far NienteDolce and the delicious lemon meringue tarts, our group was one of the last toleave. As the evening drew to a close, we could hear crickets chirping,enjoyed the twinkling stars overhead, and savored the special atmosphere ofNapa Valley wine country.
THE FESTIVAL FINALE: SUNDAY’S OPERA GALAFor its grand finale on the following evening, the Festival presented the OperaGala at Lincoln Center. Carlo Ponti Jr. conducted the Festival OrchestraNAPA, made up of master musicians from around the world. They were joinedby two of opera’s most exciting young stars—tenor Michael Fabiano andmezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.The performance was followed by dinner at the Robert Mondavi Winery, whichcelebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
Mondavi Winery’s historic To Kalon Vineyard produces some of the world’s finest Cabernets Sauvignonand Sauvignon Blanc grapes.Opera singers Michael Fabiano and Isabel Leonard at Robert Mondavi Winery, after their performanceat Lincoln Center.LOSING MARGRIT MONDAVI: THE END OF AN ERASix weeks after the Festival Napa Valley tribute, Margrit Mondavi passedaway. To the end, she was energetic, social, and witty, and still supporting hermany cultural causes, among which the Festival was a favorite.Festival President Rick Walker said Margrit was the guiding light in creatingFestival Napa Valley. He admired her joy and generosity, and noted that shebrought people together through food, wine, and culture, and “brought out thevery best in everyone lucky enough to know her.”
Festival President Rick Walker with Margrit Mondavi at the 2014 Festival Napa Valley.MARGRIT AT FESTIVAL NAPA VALLEY IN RECENT YEARSThe ever-gracious Margrit Mondavi with Craig and Kathryn Hall, of Hall Napa Valley, at QuintessaWinery in 2011.
The grandes dames of Napa Valley: Margrit Mondavi and Carolyn Pride at Pride Mountain Vineyards in2011.Stephanie Lawrence and Margrit Mondavi at the Festival’s Meadowood Gala in St. Helena in 2011.Paul and Vida Vazin, Margrit Mondavi, and Shahpar and Darioush Khaledi at Darioush Winery in 2013.
Pepper Jackson, Jeanne Lawrence, and Margrit Mondavi at Opus One Winery in 2013.Maria Shustorovich, Margrit Mondavi, and Star Jones at Sinegal Family Estate in 2013.Maria Manetti Shrem and Margrit Mondavi in 2015, when Margrit was the “Festival Honoree.”
Margrit and Paul Pelosi at the Meadowood Gala in 2015.THE MONDAVI POWER COUPLE’S LEGACY AND VISIONWhen Robert Mondavi founded his namesake winery fifty years ago, his goalwas to put Napa Valley on the worldwide wine map. Margrit, originally theWinery’s public relations director, integrated cultural and culinary activities intothe plan.As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Robert Mondavi deserves credit forrevolutionizing Napa’s wine industry. Ms. Mondavi deserves just as much fortransforming the valley into a paradise of cultural sophistication.”Under the direction of Robert and Margrit Mondavi, the Mondavi Winery was one of the first to offertours, tastings, and culinary and art programs.
At Robert Mondavi Winery, sculptor Beniamino Bufano’s St. Francis of Assisi statue references theFranciscan friars who introduced grapes to California 200 years ago.FOUNDERS OF THE SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVALIn 1969, Margrit founded the popular Summer Music Festival to benefit theNapa Valley Symphony. Celebrated participants included Ella Fitzgerald,Harry Belafonte, Boz Scaggs, and Tony Bennett.The Mondavi Winery Summer Music Festival was a casual Sunday evening affair that drew over 700friends and families to enjoy picnic baskets and wine on the lawn.
Margrit Mondavi with Gayle and Pete Wilson, formergovernor of California, at the 2004 Summer MusicFestival.Margrit kicking off the 36th annual SummerMusic Festival in 2005.Hosts Margrit and Bob Mondavi with friends at the Summer Music Festival in 2005.FINE DINING & FINE ART PROGRAMSA passionate cook, Margrit launched The Great Chefs Cooking School at theWinery in 1976. Among the school’s guest chefs were Paul Bocuse, MichelGuérard, Joel Robuchon, Jacques Pepin, Alice Waters, Thomas Keller,Jeremiah Tower, Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, and Martha Stewart.
Margrit Mondavi with chef Alice Waters, who is credited with starting the farm-to-table movement andCalifornia Cuisine.Celebrating birthdays: Margrit and friends dining at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA.Robert and Margrit Mondavi with Julia Child, who introduced French cuisine to America.
Margrit Mondavi with French chef and television personality Jacques Pépin.Also an accomplished painter, Margrit invited illustrious artists such asRichard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Helen Frankenthaler, and NathanOliveira to participate in the Winery’s art programs.After the winery was sold to Constellation Brands in 2004, Margrit received thetitle of Vice President of Cultural Affairs, and continued to curate its culturalprograms.In 2012 at the age of 87, Margrit published Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook: Reflections on Wine, Food,Art, Family, Romance and Life, an autobiography illustrated with her sketches.INTERNATIONAL IMPACTThe Mondavis invited top international winemakers to Mondavi Winery, fromthe French Rothschilds to the Italian Frescobaldis and Antinoris. Robert
founded a second winery, Opus One in Napa Valley’s Oakville, withBaron Philippe de Rothschild, of Bordeaux’s Château Mouton Rothschild.Opus One Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley, founded in 1979.Margrit Mondavi with her husband Robert and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, founding partners of OpusOne winery.
The Mondavis with Valery Gergiev, director of the Russian Mariinsky Theatre, Italian vintner MarchesePiero Antinori, Maria Manetti Shrem, and opera superstar Placido Domingo in 2004.Margrit and Bob Mondavi with Marchese Piero Antinori, of the Florentine wine family, Maria ManettiShrem, and Jeanne Lawrence at a luncheon in honor of Piero in 2005.GENEROUS PHILANTHROPISTSIn addition to their winery and involvement in Festival Napa Valley and otherartistic ventures, Margrit and Bob Mondavi were involved in many otherphilanthropic activities.They gifted 10 million to help establish the Robert and Margrit MondaviCenter for the Performing Arts and 25 million to create the Robert MondaviInstitute for Wine and Food Science, both at University of California Davis.
The Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts offers a diverse selection of publicperformance for students and the community at large.The Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis is one of the top-rankedagriculture schools in the world.In Napa, the Mondavis supported the Napa Valley Symphony with proceedsfrom the winery’s Summer Music Festival, co-founded the Oxbow art school in1998, and launched the now defunct Copia American Center for Wine, Food &the Arts, among many other projects.The Mondavis helped fund the l997 restoration the Italianate-style Napa Valley Opera House, whichopened in 1880 with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.
The couple also founded the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1981, which today has grown into a four-daycharity celebration of food and wine benefitting causes in Napa County.A WELL-LIVED LIFEThe visionary Bob Mondavi championed California wines, while Margrit’spassion for art and gracious living fueled her lifelong efforts to integrate thepleasures of music and art with fine drinking and dining. Together, thecharismatic couple served as ambassadors for California wine and helpedtransform Napa Valley into the epicenter of American wine culture.A toast to you, Margrit and Bob! We’ll miss you both!
Photos by Drew Altizer, Jeanne Lawrence, Festival Napa Valley, Napa Valley Opera House, and UCDavis.FollowBACK TO TOPSUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBEADVERTISE(c) 2015 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.comPRINTEMAIL