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New Hall of Fame inductees, and a commentary

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I’m asked to nominate people every year for induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame, but I never do, for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s my aversion to groups, I don’t know. Anyhow, this year’s inductees were just announced, and I’d like to pay them hommage.

Peter Mondavi, Sr. Of course he belongs there, and it’s good that they put him in while Mr. Mondavi is still around to see it. He never was as famous as his older brother, Robert, but Mr. Mondavi truly is a living legend in Napa Valley, and it’s wonderful that the family has managed to retain ownership of Charles Krug Winery this long, while so many others have sold out to corporate interests or gone belly up. Here’s hoping Mr. Mondavi and his famous twinkle in the eye remain with us for many years to come.

Joe Heitz. People can quibble about what the first boutique winery and cult California wine were. For my money, it was Heitz, and the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the hottest wine in America for two decades; a great year, such as 1968 and 1974, set auction records. Heitz Cellars may not be as standout as it once was, but Joe Heitz, who started it all, deserves this recognition.

Myron Nightingale. He was Beringer’s chief winemaker for a long time, and trained his successor, Ed Sbragia, who brought Beringer to its highest highs during the 1990s. Mr. Nightingale less famously pioneered the use of the botrytis spore in the laboratory to artificially produce the dessert wine, called Nightingale in his honor, that is one of the best in California.

Richard Sanford. For my money, the most obvious choice this year. A Hall of Fame inductee should be a true pioneer, and Mr. Sanford is one of the most pioneering winemakers California has produced in the last two generations. He (and his former partner, Michael Benedict) practically invented the Santa Rita Hills appellation, planting its first grapes (at their Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) and early establishing its reputation for Pinot Noir. Mr. Sanford and his wife, Thekla, nowadays own and run the Alma Rosa Winery, continuing his still evolving legacy in Santa Barbara County.

John Parducci. Parducci Wine Cellars dates to 1933, the year Prohibition ended and so many new wineries sprang up. The winery has had its ups and downs, with the Parducci family eventually selling it, but Mr. Parducci has remained active in a number of ventures. He really helped put Mendocino County on the wine map.

With 2012’s five new inductees, the Vintners Hall of Fame now has 38 members. Only two of them are women: Zelma Long and Carol Meredith. I’m not smart enough to calculate that as a batting average (do you divide 2 by 38? 38 by 2?), but a major league baseball player would be returned to the minors if he was 2 for 38 (unless he was a pitcher. Timmy Lincecum AKA The Freak was 5 for 61 this year, for an average of .082). Granted that California (and the wine industry in general) has been female-weak for nearly all of its history, it’s still bizarre that the Hall of Fame can’t improve on this inequality. Maybe it’s partly my fault for not nominating anyone. Right off the top of my head, I can come up with suitable candidates, starting with Margrit Mondavi. And if a relatively young winemaker like Randall Grahm can be inducted (2010), how about Marimar Torres, Heidi Barrett, Genevieve Janssens, Margo van Staaveren, Merry Edwards? What about academics, like Linda Bisson and Ann Noble? Would anyone truly object to Julia Child, even though she wasn’t, strictly speaking, a wine person? I mean, neither was Gerald Asher (2009). While Mr. Asher was a wine writer while Ms. Child was a food writer, still, Ms. Child’s contributions to wine, via her books and T.V. shows, were stronger and more lasting than Mr. Asher’s, profound as his have been.

  1. Steve,
    history, recent or ancient, is what “we” stand upon; you (on this blog) have done a good service to all mentioned and all who will be enriched with this synopsis.

    My 22 year old son is a very good cook and he loves wine partly because of Julia Child; I agree with you that her contributions are long and lasting.

    How long will it take to nominate Laurie Hook Winemaker ? I say that because, though she is following the footsteps of Ed Sbragia winemaker, in a similar vein to Ms. Child, Laurie also has this wonderful personality as an ambassador of the wine industry.
    Seems we always wait for someone to die or become senile before we honor them.
    Just a thought on a woman “in” wine.
    Sincerely,
    Dennis

  2. I am with you on the group thing but we have to admit the nominees have made significant contributions to the industry.

  3. Thanks for pointing this out — I’ve always found it a bit ridiculous how few women are in the hall of fame. Completely agree on Julia Child. Maybe this imbalance will prompt you to nominate one of the women you mention next year?
    BTW, that would be a batting average of .053. Even the worst-hitting pitcher would be ridiculed for that.

  4. Steve, I believe Myron’s first effort (1953) with the hand innoculated vines was called “Premier Semillon” and was finished with a screw cap(true). It drank well into the 80s.
    BTW, I nominate Marty Bannister.

  5. Ray is correct about Myron’s first botrytis wine was Premiere Semillon under the Cresta Blanca label. I understand that his wife also helped him with the project. The wine sold for a whopping $5.85 at the time. I was a student at FSU and working at the Roma winery. I was able to buy for .85 when the ended the program. Still have one but its not that pretty now. It should not have taken so long to recognize these five.

  6. Steve, it is good to see you honor each of these well deserving people with your post.

    On a personal note, I’m rarely impressed by celebrities and famous athletes. I did work for many of them and never found myself being anything but myself. Many of us have seen the Hollywood Walk of fame and the sports hall of fame inductees for their respected industries. I’ve seen many inducted in these arenas that were well deserving for their work; however, I did not respect all of them equally off screen/field.

    I do find myself a bit like a kid at a baseball game asking for an autograph when I’m around great men like Richard Sandford. He is an absolute legend status wine industry giant from my view. He is such a kind, gentle, approachable, gracious man. It just makes it all the sweeter when someone this large, is seemingly just an awesome human being. Congrats to all the inductees, and thank you for your post Steve.

  7. One of my greatest joys in wine has been the chance to get to know Richard Sanford. I could not agree with Shawn more. He is a fantastic vintner, but more importantly, a fantastic human being. We should all try to approach our individual fields with as much grace as he.

  8. Female weak? I suppose so when names like Kathryn Kennedy, Dawnine Dyer, Eileen Crane, Helen Turley, Karen Culler, Amy Aiken, Cathy Corison, Stacy Clark, Celia Welch, Kathy Joseph, Annie Favia, Rebekeh Wineburg, Anne Moses, Helen Keplinger, Francoise Peschon, Anne Kraemer, Bibiana Gonzelez Rabe, and Helene Mingot are not mentioned.

  9. Pam Starr, Rosemary Cakebread, Jennifer Williams, Paula Kornell, Naoko Dalla Valle, Linda Neal, Laura Zahtila, Kelly Fleming, Jean Phillips…

  10. Louis M. Foppiano says:

    Steve, What about Mary Ann Graf. She was the first woman to graduate from Davis with a degree in Oenology. Louis

  11. Louis M. Foppiano says:

    Steve, Is it not interesting that 21 of the 38 members are from Napa. I guess this is where it all started. Louis

  12. Louise, I would expect this to change over time as the winemaker community in other regions ages a bit. Many of the decuctees are indeed older, so it makes sense a large number of them come from areas like Napa that have been doing what they do for a long time. As time goes on, I would expect to see your Ken Volks, John Albans, and one day Justin Smiths too.

    I say Helen Turley is a shoe in for 2013.

  13. Wayne, with all due respect to Justin Smith, he’s 20 years shy of being inducted. But someday, yeah.

  14. Steve, I agree. All I am saying is that part of the reason the inductees thus far have been more Napa based is because they have been at it longer up there. A lot of the guys in other areas like the Central Coast are only 20 maybe 30 years in, with a few exceptions.

    I would imagine we will start seeing more of a range as the CIA starts honoring long term vets from all over, which will eventually include the likes of Justin Smith, like you said, in another 15-20 years.

    What about noteable wine critics? Surley they have played a pivotal role in CA wine.

  15. Dear All,

    The Women Winemakers of California website, http://www.womenwinemakers.com, launched in August 2011, makes visible the contributions of California’s women winemakers. The profiles provided on the site summarize the careers of the remarkable women who have made significant contributions to the industry.

    Data published on the website show that 9.8 percent of California wineries have a woman winemaker as its lead or primary winemaker; this percentage is closer to 12% for Napa and Sonoma. The fact that only two women have been inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame to date (5.3 % of total), with no women added this year, underscores the importance and timeliness of an educational website that illuminates the contributions of women to the California wine industry.

    Steve, any guidance on the nomination process would be appreciated.

    Lucia

  16. Tim Smith says:

    When will Fred Franzia be honored????

  17. A Hall of Fame is almost by definition boring. But if a hall of fame is built on statistical performance, such as a sports hall of fame, that makes more sense. But when it’s built on reputation or image, it’s really Dullsville. Look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is quite ridiculous. I am not sure that the wine world needs one. Each of us has our own personal hall of fame, greats of the past that we admire. And we talk about them sometimes when we get together. Why can’t we just leave the concept right there. Institutionalizing it just kills it.

  18. “New Hall of Fame inductees, and a commentary | STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG” really makes me personally imagine a tiny bit more.
    I adored every particular section of it. Thank you ,Janessa

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