Page last updated at 00:41 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 01:41 UK

Pioneering winemaker Mondavi dies

Robert Mondavi, file pic, 14 March, 1984
Arnold Schwarzenegger said Mondavi was "a true California legend"

Pioneering vintner Robert Mondavi, who helped put Californian Cabernets and Chardonnays on the world's wine-tasting map, has died at the age of 94.

The Napa Valley vintner was lauded by industry journal Wine Spectator as "one of the most influential and admired winemakers in California history".

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was "a true California legend."

Mondavi died peacefully on Friday at his Napa Valley home.

The son of Italian immigrants had in 1966 opened his eponymous Napa Valley winery which turned the area into a wine-making centre.

Bold innovator

In the 1930s, Mondavi had cut his teeth at the Charles Krug Winery, in which his parents had invested after leaving Minnesota for California.

But a tempestuous relationship with his brother, Peter, prompted him to split from the family business and the Stanford economics graduate borrowed money to allow him to realise his ambitious vision.

A bold innovator, Mondavi put his wines up against French vintages in blind tastings and championed the use of cold fermentation, stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, which have become industry standards today.

He went on to become one of the most influential figures in California's $20bn-a-year wine industry.

Mondavi joined forces with the legendary French vintner Baron Philippe de Rothschild to develop the esteemed Opus One at Oakville, producing its first vintage in 1979.

Mondavi was a generous philanthropist, but intense competition and a glut of wine production in California took its toll on the family business, which was bought out for $1.3bn by Constellation Brands in 2004.

An unstinting promoter of Californian vintages, Mondavi toured the globe well into his years as a wine ambassador.

He had three children from his first marriage to Marjorie Declusin, a girlfriend from his school days, but Mondavi said the marriage failed in no small part because of his commitment to his trade.

He later married Margrit Biever, who had worked at his winery for years.

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