A brief history of the Mondavi Project

In 1994 James Rigler met Paul Chutkow at a book signing at The Depot Bookstore in Mill Valley. Rigler was creating video documentaries, "Conversations with Interesting Characters" and he felt Paul would be an interesting character to interview. Over the next several years they developed a friendship. A documentary of their conversations was produced, Paul Chutkow — The Writing Life, 1996. During the process, Paul was preparing for the interviews of what would become the autobiography of Robert Mondavi, Harvest of Joy, 1997.

Rigler suggested that he be allowed to document the intimate process of Chutkow interviewing Mondavi telling his life's story. However, Paul, was extremely protective of the writing process and his relationship with Mondavi and did not want the interviews to be taped. The book was published in 1997 without the complementary taped documentary that Rigler had envisioned. It was another three years before Chutkow was finally convinced that he should interview Robert Mondavi again, on-camera, in order to document him telling his story in his own words.

In 1996, KQED began a video documentary on Robert Mondavi, however it was canceled because the seed money for the project had come from the Mondavi Foundation and that was construed as a conflict of interest by PBS's standards of unbiased journalism.

When the Partnership began their on-camera interviews it was with a commitment of financing the production on their own. For over 5 years they taped numerous interviews with Mondavi, his wife, family and friends. There were three different camera operators, Jon Shenk of San Francisco, Larry Warner of Mill Valley and Rigler.

The Partnership tried unsuccessfully to interest PBS, the History Channel, and several others in their documentary. Together they created a video presentation, Robert Mondavi, A Man and his Vision, for the Napa Valley Museum for their Annual Gala Fundraiser which honored Mondavi in December 2003.

The photo above was taken at Mondavi's 90th birthday celebration in June 2003.

The following year in November 2004, Constellation Brands purchased the Robert Mondavi Winery. the Partnership taped their final interview with Robert and Margrit in their lovely home that same month after the winery had sold. The sale of the winery had taken its toll on Mondavi. This was the Partnership's last on-camera interview. In December 2004 Chutkow met the President of Constellation Brands. Private discussions ensued regarding the documentary. Shortly after that meeting Chutkow began talking to KRON4, specifically, the Emmy Award winning documentary director, Ken Swartz. In May 2005, The Partnership finally had a venue for their documentary. Contracts were signed which allowed Chutkow to negotiate on behalf of their Partnership. The KRON4 production team headed by Ken Swartz began working on Abbondanza — The Life of Robert Mondavi even before the contracts were signed.

The negotiations resulted in Chutkow assisting in the script writing for the documentary, Swartz having full artistic control and Rigler not meeting the players or seeing the piece until it aired — a disappointment for Rigler who expected to have input in the final product which he hoped would be an honest look at a great man. Constellation Brands, Inc. now owns the raw footage of Mondavi shot over the last several years. The Partnership owns the KRON4 documentary.

A total of 62 tapes were given to Ken Swartz. Having seen his documentary, it appears that he primarily used small amount of the first interview of Robert Mondavi filmed by Jon Shenk in which Mondavi told the story of his youth.

It has been a long difficult journey for Chutkow and Rigler but the goal of telling the compelling story of a great man, an inspiration to the American Wine Industry, has come to fruitition with their ownership of the KRON4 Production of

Abbondanza — The Life of Robert Mondavi

Premier Airing on KRON 4

October 23, 2005 at 8PM

and November 27, 2005 at 8PM

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