Margrit Mondavi, widow of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, dies at 91
By KEVIN MCCALLUM | Sep 2, 2016

Margrit Biever Mondavi, second wife of the late wine pioneer Robert Mondavi and passionate patron of the Napa Valley arts scene, died on Friday. She was 91.

Her death was announced by the Oakville-based winery, where she continued to serve as vice president of cultural affairs.

No cause of death was given, but the Napa Valley Register reported she died at home after a two-year battle with stomach cancer.

“It’s definitely a sad day in the Napa Valley. She will be missed,” said Patsy McGaughy, communications director for Napa Valley Vintners, a trade group representing more than 525 wineries.

In a statement, the organization called Mondavi “one of our finest treasures” and “one of the most generous patrons our community has ever known.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, called her the “First Lady of Wine” and said her name “was synonymous with good food, fine wine and great art the world over.”

While her husband, who died in 2008, focused on championing the Napa Valley as a world-class wine region, Margrit Mondavi brought the same focus to elevating the region’s cultural scene by marrying the worlds of wine, art and music.

She promoted music festivals that brought world-class jazz, R&B and classical musicians to the valley, as well as cooking classes that drew chefs from around the world, helping transform Napa into a culinary mecca.

“Like painting and music, wine and food speak to the heart,” Mondavi once said. “By honoring the world of the senses, of memory and emotions, the rites of the table express our humanity.”

Margrit Kellenberger was born in Switzerland in 1925 and later married American Army Capt. Philip Biever. The couple and their three children moved to the Napa Valley in 1960. She went to work for the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967 as director of public relations.

The two fell in love and, after divorcing their spouses, married in 1980.

In 1981, Margrit Mondavi helped establish the Napa Valley Wine Auction, which has grown into the nation’s most lucrative charitable wine event.

She was instrumental in selecting the downtown Napa location for the failed Copia wine center, which was founded in 2001 with a gift of more than $20 million from the Mondavis. Formally called the The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, Copia ran into financial trouble and closed in 2008.

The couple also donated a total of $25 million to UC Davis to establish the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and an additional $10 million to launch the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in October 2002.

They also were strong supporters of the renovation of the Napa Valley Opera House, which reopened in 2002.

The couple’s charitable gifts were cited in Julia Flynn Siler’s 2007 book “The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty,” as one of the main reasons the family decided to sell the winery to Constellation Brands in 2004.

Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, last year presented Mondavi with a resolution on the floor of the state Assembly for her philanthropic work.

She leaves behind three children, Philip Biever, Annie Roberts, and Phoebe Holbrook; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the winery suggested donations be made to the American Cancer Society or the Ox Bow School.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or

Margrit Mondavi smiles as the auctioneers talk about her husband Robert Mondavi during the Auction Napa Valley 2010 Live Auction Lots held at the Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena, June 6, 2010.