A Conversation with
‘Mrs. Wine Festival’

by Ilona Kauremszky

global feast

Winery circles across the U.S. will be the first to tell you the grand dame of wine festivals is Margrit Biever Mondavi. The legendary lady behind Robert Mondavi Winery introduced America to the art of wineries through her numerous cultural events, and with her famous summer concert festival, now in its fourth decade.

We dimmed the lights inside Toronto’s Hazelton Hotel for an intimate conversation with Mondavi.

T+E: Tell us about your close connection to music.

MM: I was originally from Switzerland but I always liked jazz, so I thought, Let’s have a jazz festival. A little money came in as 400 people came that first year (in 1969). I was able to keep that money because the following year it allowed me to get some pretty good local groups. Vince Guaraldi Group was well known for doing the music for Peanuts and there was The Preservation Hall from New Orleans. Before then, there was nothing going on in the Napa Valley. People wanted to go to concerts. And they came. People came from all over. We had to turn them away. It was so very popular.

The sad thing was I didn’t have enough money to make a down payment on Ella Fitzgerald or Benny Goodman or Lena Horne for this great music. And then that’s when the Robert Mondavi Summer Music Festival was to be heard.

There, too, we didn’t advertise. It was only done by editorials and the signs of the artists that I had painted and we hung up. It was many phone calls and a press luncheon. The festival was a fabulous success.

I still have pictures of us and the sold-out signs.

It was very popular and it was very beautiful. You sat in the middle of the most beautiful vineyards, purple hills in the back. Half of the concert was in the sunset. Then we had the intermission with the wine and cheese tasting. And the second half was under the moonlight.

Come dine with us! We’re celebrating the harvest this month on Travel+Escape with a special series, CULINARY TRAVEL: GLOBAL FEAST!