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Mondavi sisters make their mark in wine

Mondavi sisters make their mark in wine

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Sometimes it seems that there are a lot of Mondavis in Napa Valley, but four who aren’t well known today are soon going to become much more prominent.

Angelina, Alycia, Riana and Giovanna — the four daughters of Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug Winery — have been chosen as honorary chairwomen for Auction Napa Valley in 2018.

Having four siblings chair the important event is significant, but that’s only a part of what the busy sisters are doing.

All four are partners in Dark Matter, unusual long-aged wines made from their immediate family’s vineyards.

In addition, Alycia is general manager of Aloft, a premium Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon distinct from Charles Krug wines.

Riana is northern sales manager for C. Mondavi and Family, the family brand that owns Charles Krug and CK Mondavi as well as CR Cellars and Purple Heart.

Giovanna (Gigi) lives in Boston and works in the financial world, but also is involved in Dark Matter.

Angelina also makes Fourth Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon with her second cousin, Rob Mondavi, grandson of Robert Mondavi and son of Michael Mondavi.

All are the fourth generation of Mondavis in the wine business in the valley. Their great-grandparents were Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, who bought Charles Krug in 1943. Cesare and Rosa’s sons, Robert Mondavi and Peter Mondavi Sr., were brothers.

The four Mondavi sisters are also the granddaughters of Peter Mondavi Sr., who died earlier this year at 101 after quietly pioneering many innovations in the Napa wine industry.

An inevitable direction?

It’s hardly surprising that the girls ended up working in wine.

They received their first paychecks for 25 cents an hour, starting when they were 10, as apprentices working around the winery cleaning tanks, soaking bottles, pulling samples, routing hoses, and even running analyses under the direction of Grandpa Peter, father Marc and Uncle Pete. They also worked in the hospitality center.

At that age, they probably weren’t really aware of their legacy: Charles Krug winery is the oldest still-extant winery in Napa Valley and remains one of the largest family-owned wineries in the valley and one with a reputation for innovation.

All of the daughters went off to study, creating a virtual executive suite: production (Angelina), sales (Riana), marketing (Alycia) and finance (Giovanna), but the family has a rule that everyone has to work somewhere else for at least two years before joining the family business.

Angelina Mondavi

Angelina Mondavi, 33, attended Villanova University and majored in chemistry with a minor in business.

Her first job after graduation was with Hess Collection, where she worked as a lab rat during harvest.

She next took a harvest position at the Yalumba Wine Company in Barossa Valley, Australia. While in Australia, she earned a master’s degree in oenology and viticulture from the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus.

She became assistant winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards in 2007, where she worked with Stacy Clark, now winemaker at Charles Krug.

Angelina was even de facto winemaker for six months after the winemaker left, although respected winemaker Craig Williams helped out.

Angelina next joined Jayson Woodbridge at One True Vine, LLC in 2010 as assistant winemaker, responsible for Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie and Layer Cake.

“I discovered that I liked being outdoors. I didn’t like being confined to an office. My wine nerdiness began coming out,” she admits, and her sisters agree jokingly. “She’s the quiet one,” said Riana, who is the opposite.

Earlier this year, Angelina left One True Vine to set up her own wine consultancy, A. Mondavi & Co. “My focus is small-volume, high-quality clients who make 500 to 1,000 cases from their own vineyards. They’re more committed and interested in the wine, and you don’t have to search for good fruit.”

She also is the winemaker for Dark Matter Wines, and co-winemaker for Fourth Leaf.

Alycia Mondavi

Alycia Mondavi, 31, graduated from the University of San Diego with degrees in marketing and management in 2007.

She earned her paralegal certificate in 2008 and worked in a law firm in Napa Valley.

She considered becoming a lawyer before choosing wine, but that legal experience has proven useful as she pursued her wine career.

She also worked as an assistant to marketing consultant Kathy Simpson at Cognoscente Fine Wine Marketing helping clients promote their ultra-premium wines. “This helped me get my hands around cult wines,” said Alycia.

In 2012, she joined C. Mondavi & Family, managing the family’s high-end brand Aloft.

In addition to her full-time job with her family’s company, she oversees the marketing and customer relations for Dark Matter Wines. She has also started working with Kathy Simpson in marketing consulting again.

Riana Mondavi

Riana Mondavi, 28, manages Northern California regional sales for the family’s portfolio.

She developed a passion for food and traveling during high school, but she decided to try her hand in wine sales only after she graduated from Villanova University Business School in 2009. That was a terrible year to look for a job, as the market had just crashed.

Fortunately, she was hired as a wines sales associate Miami for Southern Wine & Spirits, the country’s largest wine and spirits distributor.

She was assigned to on-premise sales in one of the most aggressive sales territories in the country. “They just sort of threw you to the wolves to learn the business,” said Riana, but admits that it was fun.

She added, “I couldn’t do the job I do now without that experience.”

After spending two years learning wine sales, she joined her family’s business as northwest regional sales manager for C. Mondavi & Family in Seattle in January 2011.

Riana moved closer to home in fall 2014 and manages Northern California regional sales for the family’s portfolio. She lives in Walnut Creek.

She oversees sales and brand management for Dark Matter Wines.

Giovanna Mondavi

Giovanna Mondavi (Gigi), 23, spent her high school years at Brentwood College, a boarding school on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

She continued her education in Boston, and in 2015, she graduated from the D’Amore McKim School of Business at Northeastern University.

Having completed three six-month internships, she decided to stay in Boston to focus her career in sales with MFS Investments. “Hopefully, she’ll bring management skills to us one day,” Riana said.

Gigi manages the social media and assists in the daily operations of Dark Matter wines.

Dark Matter wine

Angelina worked with winemaker Jayson Woodbridge to create the first vintage of Dark Matter Howell Mountain zinfandel from 2 acres of their parent’s vineyard in 2006.

Under the tutelage of their father, Marc Mondavi, the four sisters launched the wine from 2 acres of their parents vineyard in 2012.

Each vintage is barrel-aged for four years and bottle-aged for an additional two years prior to release, far longer than most Napa Valley wines.

Staying true to the winemaking style of Dark Matter wines, the sisters recently launched a mountain cabernet sauvignon from their parent’s vineyard.

They picked just enough grapes for 140 cases, and call the wine Dark Matter Limitless. The sisters have chosen innovative packaging to further set the wine apart. “We want it to look different,” said Angelina.

The zinfandel sells for $100 per bottle and the cabernet $185, each in three packs.

Aloft Wine

After a soft 2008 release, Marc Mondavi relaunched 2009 Aloft cabernet with 100 cases in 2011. Thomas Brown now makes 300-400 cases of the pure cabernet from the pick of Marc Mondavi’s 25 acres of vineyards on Howell Mountain.

The wine is not made at Charles Krug, although the family owns the brand. It’s distributed in three states as well as California and sells for $150 in three-packs only.

One ironic benefit of the brand is that it’s the only one in the family’s portfolio that is exported; the Krug name is verboten due to Krug Champagne, and the Mondavi because of the “other” Mondavi wine company. This is giving Alycia useful experience. “We’ve trademarked the name all over the world,” she noted.

It, like Dark Matter, is also sold direct to consumers, another area relatively new to Charles Krug, but one that is expanding with the lure of its renovated tasting room.

Fourth Leaf

Fourth Leaf is a small brand created by Angelina Mondavi and Rob Mondavi. The first wine was 90 cases produced in 2011 from vineyard on Atlas Peak owned by Rob and his sister Deena, and from Angelina’s family vineyard on Howell Mountain.

Since then, they’ve produced about 150 cases per year, and find half from each side works best. The 2012 is the current release. It sells for $155 per bottle in three packs direct only.

They don’t plan to expand production or add varieties.

An era of peace

The Mondavi family is known for strong opinions and disagreements, but the sisters seem to have overcome that background. “Sometimes we do argue and yell, but then it’s all over, and we move on,” said Alycia, adding that their mom often gets involved when they disagree. Riana agrees. “We can come to agreement,” she said.

“We’re all really passionate about our work, but we realize that we shouldn’t cross over into each other’s work. We’ve learned to respect each other,” said Angelina.

The same is true of past problems with the other side of the Mondavi family. “The family drama is behind us,” said Angelina. “We’re a close circle of a family now.”

The sisters will have plenty of opportunity to disagree and agree as they manage 2018 Auction Napa Valley. To get experience, Alycia is chairing the e-auction this year, and her mother Janice is recruiting the big lots.

And there are more Mondavis coming. Their uncle, Peter Mondavi Jr., has two children, Lucio, 21, at Stanford Business School and Lia, 19, at Harvard. No one is betting that they won’t join the family business some day.

In addition, Angelina is getting married in June, so one day we may have more Mondavis in that clan. And it should be noted than Rob and Lydia Mondavi have two young sons, too.

The fifth leaf of Mondavis is emerging.

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