Saturday, January 08, 2005

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi (book review)

If you are a real wine enthusiast and especially if you have been to Napa Valley, Harvests of Joy should be fun reading. While I don’t usually get into autobiographies, this one, of the man who truly made Napa Valley what it is today, is fascinating. After reading it I had to immediately pick up a bottle of Mondavi wine. Having read of the ground-breaking innovations mastered by this wine frontiersman, I had to taste the results of decades of diligence and a quest for perfection. I grabbed a Private Selection--Fume Blanc in a frosted glass bottle. Though I have seen it around in the $14 range, I happened to find it on sale for $8. Nice!

But after reading of the elder statesman’s lifelong commitment and struggles to keep the business in the family, it was distressing to learn only a couple weeks after finishing his book, that the Mondavi “family” business had just been sold. Late in December of 2004 drinks giant, Constellation Corp. paid over $1.3 to assume full control. I suppose it makes sense looking at numbers alone but it is the end of an historic era.

When I think of Robert Mondavi, I can not help but think of the wisdom of Solomon who wrote, “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. (Eccles. 2:18-20)

And so after all is said and done, what was a man’s life, is now in the hands of hirelings who will make whatever decisions are necessary in the future to insure stockholder happiness. That does not bode well for what was a monument to Mondavi’s labors and genius.

Like so many “success” stories though, Mondavi’s accomplishments were overshadowed by an incessant driven-ness and insensitivity to those around him costing him far more than his net worth in family strife and a shattered marriage.
I have to admire Robert Mondavi’s passion, ingenuity, perseverance and work ethic but his priorities were certainly misaligned and now everything he lived for is in the hands of someone else. Someone who knows none of the toil, none of the heartache, none of the sacrifice and pain the whole Mondavi family endures. If that’s what it takes to be “successful” in this life I’ll gladly settle for mediocrity in the market place for an inheritance of loving children, a lifelong spouse, and peace with my Creator.

Review by PB

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