08/06/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2012

Margrit Biever Mondavi: The Woman Who Tied Art, Chefs and Music to Napa Valley

The Napa Valley might be a very different place if Margrit Biever had never lived there. Robert Mondavi, her husband, had a vision for world class wine from the once bucolic Napa Valley. Today, that vision might not seem like a big deal, but at that time, 1966, it was radical enough to cause a strong enough disagreement, that he was banished from his family's winery, Charles Krug, a year earlier. He forged his own path by creating the Robert Mondavi Winery. The Robert Mondavi Winery became an icon that is intrinsically linked to the growth in popularity of fine Napa Valley wines, and Napa Valley California's and the United States' most famous wine region.

Amongst the accomplishments that Margrit is responsible for are concepts that have become routine for wineries in the Napa Valley, and worldwide. Guest Chef lectures and series of dinners at the winery; art exhibitions, music concerts on the grounds, are all concepts that Margrit added to integration of arts to wine in general, but specifically to the Robert Mondavi Winery.

In collaboration with Janet Fletcher, Margrit has written a book, Margrit Mondavi's Sketchbook: Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life. Along with her viewpoint on historical events, the book goes back to Margrit's youth in Orselina on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. She tells of a bohemian lifestyle. Food and wine, mountain climbing and gardening were all central features of family life that had a direct impact on her future.

Margrit does not avoid subjects, and she handles difficult topics with the fine skill of a diplomat. Her thought process is very positive, and she is a problem solver. She tells her story of her first marriage, and the end of Robert Mondavi's first marriage, when the two of them had fallen in love. Certainly, this was a scandalous story at the time, but their dedication to each other, longevity, is historically convincing that they really did belong together.

Along with the great success of the Robert Mondavi Winery, the Mondavis created international business ventures with the very finest wineries in the world. Their alliance with Baron Rothschild created Opus One. Their Frescobaldi connection in Tuscany created a collaborative wine named Luce. They made some missteps originally in Chile, and then came up with a collaborative effort with the Chadwick family. There were also less expensive California projects such as Woodbridge and Coastal.

Margrit confided that one of Robert's great regrets was allowing the company to go public in 1993: "He felt he lost control of the business at that point."

The eventual sale of the winery was a painful chapter, yet Margrit's incredible ability to keep moving forward, and staying in the moment, allows her to adapt very gracefully to life's circumstances. I don't think she will mind my saying that she is 87 years old, and when I met with her, she was briefly stopping in New York to promote her book, while then traveling on to Athens. She is a great ambassador for the region she has helped lead. Napa Valley might have taken a very different course without her.