Margrit Biever Mondavi, widow of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi and a major UC Davis benefactor, died Friday at age 91.
Her son-in-law, Keith Roberts, said she died of cancer at her Napa home.
“She was the great lady of Napa Valley and the wine world in general. She was a gift to all of us,” Roberts said. “She and her husband invented the modern wine business in California, and the United States.”
The Mondavis bestowed much of their winemaking fortune on the University of California, Davis.
They gave $35 million to help build the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened at UC Davis in 2002. They also made a substantial gift to the campus to establish the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
“Mrs. Mondavi was an incredible champion of our campus and our students,” acting UC Davis Chancellor Ralph Hexter said in a written statement. “Her commitment to fostering the arts and furthering our research in food science helped UC Davis achieve yet greater heights and greater recognition in these areas.”
Margrit Mondavi made a $2 million gift toward the construction of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, which opens in November at UC Davis. She also sponsored the Margrit Mondavi Graduate Fellowships, which funds graduate students in the arts and humanities.
UC Davis opened the Margrit Mondavi Art Garden, a sculpture garden meant to inspire people to consider life’s beauty, last year.
“Throughout my tenure at UC Davis, Mrs. Mondavi offered kindness and warmth,” Hexter said. “She was a remarkable friend to this institution. We will miss her spirit and passion and will always remember with deep gratitude her many wonderful and lasting contributions to our campus and the UC Davis community.”
Margrit Mondavi was raised in Orselina, Switzerland, according to information provided by the university. She moved to the United States in the 1960s and became a winery tour guide.
She began working at the Mondavi Winery in 1967, where she met her future husband. The couple wed in 1980 and dedicated their lives to winemaking, traveling and philanthropy. Robert Mondavi died in 2008.
Margrit Mondavi was also a patron of the arts in the Napa Valley.
She served as the winery’s vice president of cultural affairs. She began the winery’s fine arts program, a summer music festival, a winter classical concert series and its cooking classes, according to a statement on the winery’s website.
The Mondavis were founding members of Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in downtown Napa, which opened in 2001. Margrit Mondavi was a major fundraiser and board member on the committee that worked to rebuild Napa’s original 19th century opera house, which reopened in October of 2002.
The Festival Napa Valley’s 2016 season in July was dedicated to Margrit Mondavi, a festival board member. The organization also established an arts education fund in her honor. Over $200,000 will be awarded to arts education programs at 16 local schools in November, according to the festival’s website.
Margrit Mondavi leaves behind three children, Philip Biever, Annie Roberts and Phoebe Holbrook; grandchildren Andrew Biever, Celeste Biever, Quinn Roberts, Nathan Roberts, Sasha Holbrook and Phillip Holbrook; and great-grandchildren Maeve Roberts, Gemma Roberts and Landon Roberts.