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The little club of Vintners Hall of Fame is getting bigger


With Monday evening’s induction of Robert Parker into the HOF, that august society now has its first-ever wine critic. Would John Daniels or Robert Mondavi be scratching their heads? I suspect as much.

Actually, the walls began to stretch in 2010, when Randall Grahm was inducted. Granted, he won for his lifetime achievements, not so much for his activity on social media. But the fact is that Randall is very active in social media, and so was the first of that genus to get his bronze plaque in the coveted Barrel Room at the Culinary Institute of America. I guess you could also argue that, with Gerald Asher’s 2009 induction, the nominating committee gave an ink-stained writer an award for the first time. So actually, the walls have been stretching for the last few years.

Still, if you look at the vast majority of the 44 inductees since 2007, they’ve been winemakers. White winemakers. Wine male winemakers. White male winemakers from California, and mainly from Napa Valley. Sure, there’ve been outliers: Carole Meredith won in 2009 as a university researcher, Zelma Long was admitted in 2010 as a winemaker, and this year, as I blogged yesterday, I had the pleasure of introducing Merry Edwards as only the fourth woman ever so honored. (Jamie Davies won, with her husband Jack, in 2009.)

So it’s been pretty white bread stuff at the Hall of Fame. But I have a feeling that’s about to change.

After the ceremony, I ran into Andy Beckstoffer in the kitchen. (Where else would the guests go after a long induction ceremony at the C.I.A. than to the kitchen?) Andy, who’s on the nominating committee, told me that as far as he’s concerned he’s looking for a more expansive list of nominees/winners next year. Well, they’ve now let a critic, a writer and a social media guy in. Who’s next? The rules say the award is for “men and women who have been responsible for the growth and worldwide prestige of the California wine industry.” In that case, how about restaurateurs who’ve played a role in promoting California wine? Merchants? Distributors? Politicians, for that matter. How about Julia Child? She was always pushing wine in her books and TV shows, and often enough, it was California wine.

But here’s my suggestion to Andy: John DeLuca. He led Wine Institute for decades during some of its toughest challenges. He was successful at them all.  California wine has never had a more avid defender. If the Vintners Hall of Fame is serious, John DeLuca needs to be up there next year, accepting his induction.

  1. Mr. Parker has been tweeting his boastful claim to be first, omitting any mention of journalistic forebears, much as he left them out of his videotaped VHF apology. If Leon Adams had access to desktop publishing and email, his reach would have extended well beyond books and journals. Media advances and technology are as important to Mr. Parker’s successful commentary, as his individual effort. We too, have adapted and updated.

    Curiously there was no mention of his Oregon wine producing venture at Beaux Freres. Mr. Parker is also a vintner, and his level of success at it is out there for others to judge, bottle by bottle.

  2. Robert M. Parker and Cesar Chavez were both considered controversial nominees. But in the sense of contributing to the growth and world wide acceptance of California wines, their impact cannot be disputed.

    However, let me thrown another and even more controversial name on the table top: Fred Franzia. Not a very popular figure with many of his peers, but his impact on production and distribution of CA wines is well known (as are many of his lawsuits). His Charles Shaw label, aka Two Buck Chuck, brought bulk wine to cork and bottle and introduced CA wines to thousands if not millions of new wine drinking consumers. Other than E and J, who else has had such an impact?

  3. Paul Wagner says:

    Hi Steve

    You should note that Darrell Corti, a California retailer, was also inducted a few years ago, so your wine merchant category also has its first member. Darrell is very active in the Hall of Fame, and sits on the nominations committee.

    And you did a nice job Monday night!

  4. To dismiss RandallGrahm as a “social media guy” does a great diservice to the many contributions he’s made to the Calif wine industry over the yrs. And he’s not done yet.

  5. Dear TomHill, I didn’t “dismiss” Randall as a social media guy. I said that he was elected to the HOF for his lifetime efforts, and that he happens to also be the first HOF winner (to my knowledge) who’s also a social media guy.

  6. Thanks for pointing that out, Paul. And thanks for the compliment. Merry deserves all the credit. She has such a great story.

  7. tom, I think Fred Franzia would indeed be a controversial choice! Especially in Napa Valley. However, you’re right, he’s had a major impact on the consumption of California wine.

  8. Hi Steve, thanks for the speech Monday.

    I count 22 winemakers in the Vintners Hall of Fame, which would not be the vast majority. Perhaps my count is inaccurate? Some people made wine on the side but were inducted for other reasons. But I do suggest you take a second look.

  9. “Well, they’ve now let a critic, a writer …..”

    Are they not the same? Can one be a critic and not a writer? If one writes about wine surely it is hard to not include an opinion-thus being a critic.

  10. I count 36 winemakers.

  11. Blake Gray says:

    Well that’s a big discrepancy! So I only have to come up with 10 who aren’t winemakers, right?

    How about these:

    Leon Adams
    Gerald Asher
    Maynard Amerine
    Andy Beckstoffer
    Cesar Chavez
    Darrell Corti
    Jamie Davies
    Ernest Gallo
    Jess Jackson
    Robert Mondavi
    Harold Olmo
    Robert Parker
    Frank Schoonmaker
    Vernon Singleton
    Albert Winkler

    There are others that made wine but who aren’t in the Hall primarily for their winemaking. But I’m not sure if any of these guys made commercial wine in California.

  12. Now, now, Blake, don’t get so argumentative. Robert Mondavi wasn’t a winemaker? Duh… I define winemaker as someone who owns a winery. It doesn’t have to be the person who physically drags the hoses around.

  13. Well Steve, if you’re so generous with your definition of winemaker, consider that it is the Vintners Hall of Fame after all. You could be a little more generous in writing about it.

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