May 22, 2008
Mondavi Took the Highway, Others Take...

The recent death of Robert Mondavi may or may not revive a tribute proposed more than three years ago by former State Sen. Wesley Chesbro, a Democrat from Arcata. Though Mondavi was in fine form at the time, Chesbro drew up a resolution to name busy Highway 29 through the heart of Napa Valley the "Robert Mondavi Memorial Highway."

Mondavi just had lost his iconic Oakville winery in a $1.36-billion buyout by Costellation Brands Inc. of Fairport, N.Y., and Chesbro may have wanted to be sure that residents and visitors in the valley didn't soon forget Mondavi's pivotal role in establishing the appellation as the nation's most prominent wine district.

Officially, the route would have remained Highway 29, but signs financed by private funds would have been installed on the shoulders to recognize Mondavi.

Early on, it looked as if the proposal would breeze throught he legislature, with both the Napa County Board of Supervisors and the Napa Vintners Association endorsing it. No organized opposition appeared, though some must have been working behind the scenes. The measure quietly drifted off, never to be seen again.

What happened? David Miller, press secretary to State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), chair of the Senate Select Committee on California's Wine Industry, said some opposition did materialize, principally from winemakers who felt that such public recognition would give the "Robert Mondavi" brand of wines a competitive edge in the market. Well, yes, that's conceivable, but such an attitude hardly seems in the spirit of cooperation that Mondavi so vigorously championed on behalf of the entire valley through his life.

Almost certainly, some sort of recognition for Mondavi will be forthcoming, but Wiggins isn't likely to bring up the highway proposal again, suggests Miller. "We're looking at potential things to honor him, but that (the highway naming) would run into the same kind of problems," he said.

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