2016 has witnessed so far the passing of 3 great wine innovators, all with an Italian heritage. We eulogized Giacomo Tachis in a previous blog. Now we must eulogize two others, both Italian American.
Peter Mondavi was the brother of the more famous Robert Mondavi. More famous because he was the PR person for the family winery, CK Mondavi. Their father Cesare started with humble beginnings but was able to put together enough funds to purchase the Charles Krug Winery in 1943. When Cesare passed away, his two sons took over. However the distinctly different personalities soon clashed, highlighted by the famous altercation when the two brothers got into a fist fight. This resulted in Robert starting the world-famous Robert Mondavi Winery. and Peter taking over Krug. Peter was always the winemaker and he continued his work until the age of 100! He developed the Fortissimo brand, immensely favorite with Italian Americans. But he also burnished the Charles Krug line into one of California’s top wineries. His son Peter is now at the helm at the passing of his father.
Harry Mariani, who died at the age of 78, also has a rags to riches story. His father started with a small business on Spring Street in Lower Manhattan which he and his brother took over. Their big break came in 1967 when they teamed up with Riunite, the huge (130,000,000 bottles!) cooperative that made Lambrusco famous in Italy and the US (Riunite on ice, how nice- I still remember the jingle.)
With the money made from the sales of Riunite, the two brothers started buying vineyard land in the Montalcino area of Tuscany. The result is Castello di Banfi, 800 hectares of superbly situated vineyards. They produce over 10 million bottles per year including their Piedmont wines. Banfi is the largest producer of Brunello with many Tre Bicchieri awards to its credit, a 1 star Michelin restaurant, a glass museum and a balsamic cellar. We have been fortunate to visit and have lunch at Castello di Banfi numerous times and it all started with the foresight of the two Mariani brothers.