Familiarity breeds contempt, or so the old saw goes. But contempt is a mild word for what Rosa Mondavi expressed one day in 1976 in the midst of Mondavi v. Mondavi, the trial pitting her eldest son Robert against the rest of the family. "I have two sons," Rosa told a friend. "One has short legs and he is a saint. One has longer legs and he is a devil."
Ever the dealmaker and promoter, Robert Mondavi clashed early on with his younger brother Peter (the "saint"), whose interests were more focused on the art and science of winemaking. This fierce sibling rivalry would repeat itself a generation later with the more business-oriented Michael Mondavi sparring with his creatively inclined brother Timothy. As Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Flynn Siler recounts in her gripping, exhaustively researched new book, the Mondavis' otherpersonal problems also helped fuel decades of interfamily power struggles: extramarital affairs, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and allegations of child molestation against a trusted adviser whom Robert considered his "third son."
Despite its unprecedented ascendance during the '70s and '80s, the 1990s marked the beginning of the end for the Robert Mondavi Corporation. The less-than-stellar performance of the company's much-hyped IPO, as well as mediocre wines, bad reviews, and truly terrible ideas (anybody remember Mondavi's Disney moment, the Golden Vine Winery in Anaheim?) led to Michael's official ouster as the company's chairman and paved the way for the 2005 takeover by Constellation Brands Inc. Drawing from extensive interviews with nearly all the major players, Flynn Siler has painted a vivid portrait of what she calls a "dynastic war of succession" and of the familial dysfunction that was both the cause of that war and its wrenching legacy.