Over a thousand guests gathered on what would have been Robert Mondavi's 95th birthday to pay tribute to the life of the legendary Napa winemaker.

Earlier memorials had featured the family and his closest friends, and a huge public gathering is planned for America’s Independence Day weekend complete with a Dixieland Band playing a traditional send off.

At this – relatively – intimate event, some 1200 guests drank Mondavi’s signature Fumé Blanc and ate canapes from many of Napa Valley’s best-known restaurateurs on the back lawn at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Speakers including Richard Sands, the Chairman of the board of Constellation Brands, which acquired the family-run business in 2004, and the heads of huge distributors Southern Wines and Spirits and Charmer Sunbelt Group.

Also speaking were Mondavi’s son Tim and his daughter Marci Mondavi Borger.

Mondavi’s widow Margrit received many tributes herself for her key role in educating Robert Mondavi about art and culture, and inspiring him to support both generously.

His son Michael did not attend. Both he and his siblings have created wine companies, Tim and Marci’s called Continuum with their late father and step mother, and Michael’s called Folio.

Sands praised Bob Mondavi, as he preferred to be called, for his passion and commitment. ‘What set his wines apart was his love of family, life and enjoying wine in beautiful settings,’ he said.

Speaking as a ‘young’ vintner of 70, Robert Pecota recalled how Mondavi once lent him US$10,000 to cover a bank loan, something few competitors would consider.

Joe Gallo, representing America’s largest wine company, and one still owned by the family, attended but did not speak.

Written by Paul Franson in Napa