Is there life after CEO tenure in one of the best known wineries in the world? For Michael Mondavi, there certainly seems so. Michael, the eldest son of the famed Robert Mondavi, who passed away in 2008, ran his father’s famed wine conglomerate, located both in Oakville for the high end Robert Mondavi label, and in Lodi, producing the lower end, higher volume Woodbridge, for many years. In September 2004 he resigned his position in what had by then become a faltering publicly traded company, and within a few months, in December 2004 Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation for $ 1.3 billion. In her book “The House of Mondavi”, the author Julia Flynn Siler describes the mood of the newly minted multimillionaire Mondavi clan (Michael, his elderly father, and his two other siblings) as funereal. Yes they were very rich. But they no longer had their family bussiness, the winery.

In a move that recalls his own father’s middle aged venture, Michael has started a new enterprise called Folio. It is actually a multi-pronged bussiness, some of which is available for us to view and experience. It involves importing wines from various regions of the world, most notably Italy and selling them under their home labels, as well as making wines near Napa with grapes derived from diverse sources. His flagship new winery is the old Carneros Creek property in Dealy Lane off of the Old Sonoma Highway, a winery founded in 1972, which was highly regarded for their pinot noirs. Mondavi bought the property and a modest amount of surrounding acreage in 2006. The nearby vineyards provide chardonnay and pinot noir for his venture, vinified at the property.

You will not find the Folio name in any of his wines. He has created a diverse line-up of wines under various labels, spanning a dizzying array of price points and appealing to wide variety of tastes. Some of the labels include Oberon, I’M, Isabel Mondavi (named after his wife), Hangtime, Medusa, Spellbound and Emblem. He has also created an ultra luxury flagship label simply called “M” , a cabarnet sauvignon made from grapes grown in Atlas Peak, selling for around $ 200 per bottle. This latter is obviously inspired by his father’s Opus venture.

The remaining line up includes numerous white and red varietals, many of which are purchased from growers as far afield as Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Central Coast Monterey producers. They are all vinified in the Carneros property. I tasted some of his products on two occasions and found enough diversity to appeal to differing palates.

Recall that Michael’s father Robert was 52 years old in 1965, when he broke away from the Charles Krug family bussiness and set out on his own to create his iconic namesake winery. In the process he revolutionized California winemaking and put Napa on the world wine map, in par with the greats from France and Italy. The risks that Robert took, both financially and psychologically are unimaginable to most. Michael now finds himself in a similar situation in life, starting a new venture in middle age. However, I don’t believe he is taking as big a risk as his father. He is backed by substantially higher capital from the Constellation sale, and therefore less reliant on leverage than his father was. Furthermore, he knows the bussiness well, and the plan he is enacting seems diversified enough that if one or two elements fail, others are likely to succeed.

For those interested in the saga of the Mondavi family I would highly recommend Siler’s book, “The House of Mondavi”. In some ways, as a family bussiness passed on from generation to generation it reads like “The Godfather”. Parts one and two have already been acted out. Michael Mondavi’s Folio venture represents part three. It will be interesting to observe how it turns out.

Moris Senegor