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12.01.2008

Surprises Among the 2009 Vintner's Hall of Fame Winners

vhf.gifEvery year the Culinary Institute of America sponsors an induction of several luminaries in California wine into the Vintners Hall of Fame (which really should be called The California Wine Hall of Fame, since it includes people who are not winemakers and it is exclusively focused on people who have made an impact to the California wine industry). Despite its misnomer, since its founding in 2007, this organization has admirably sought to recognize the individuals (historical and current) that have contributed to the remarkable success of California wine.

The contenders for induction are decided upon by a nominating committee (in the way of full disclosure, I have been part of that committee since last year) and then they are put out to a vote among 45 of America's top wine journalists. Nominees fall into two categories, "General Nominees" who are still living or very recently deceased, and "Pioneers" who have passed away prior to 1989.

This year's winners, announced this morning, are:

Warren Winiarski, PhD, the founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars whose inaugural vintage won the famed 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting.

Jack & Jamie Davies, who revitalized the old Schramsberg wine estate in the 60's.

Carole Meredith, PhD, whose 20 year tenure at U.C. Davis included major discoveries of the genetic origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Zinfandel.

Jess Jackson, founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.

Justin Meyer, one of the original Christian Brothers winemakers, and co-founder of Silver Oak Cellars.

Gerald Asher, the wine writer who spent more than 30 years at the helm of Gourmet's wine department.

And finally, inducted into the ranks of the Pioneers, Frederick and Jacob Beringer, also known as the Beringer Brothers, some of the first and most successful Napa wine producers.

I was overwhelmingly glad to see Jess Jackson finally make it in. I've voted for him every year, and look forward to seeing other Sonoma-based names fill up the roster that currently leans very heavily towards Napa. I was also quite pleased to see Warren Winiarski added to the roles.

On the flip side, I was completely taken aback to see Gerald Asher beat out Robert M. Parker, Jr. on this year's ballot. Floored, as a matter of fact. I don't understand how a panel of wine journalists could possibly justify the argument that Asher has had more of a positive impact on California wine in any objective sense.

Don't get me wrong, I love Asher's writing about wine, but the guy didn't do much for California wine in particular. Heck, he wasn't all that fond of it, to tell the truth. Parker on the other hand, more than any other critic or journalist has literally made the fortunes of hundreds of California winemakers, and offered a rising tide of praise that has literally lifted the entire California industry.

The only explanation I can possibly come up with is something along the lines of jealousy or petty vindictiveness among the wine writers judging. Seriously people, Gerald Asher !?!

Other misses of note include the fact that pioneering winegrower Andy Beckstoffer keeps missing out on induction by a hair, having lost by only a single vote for the second year in a row. Bonny Doon founder Randall Grahm also narrowly missed being inducted this year.

Here's a link to the official press release, for those who are interested, as well as the official web site for the Vintners Hall of Fame.

Comments (12)

Tish wrote:
12.02.08 at 5:36 AM

COmpletely agree with you re Parker vs. Asher. Could this be a result of demographics of voters? Or perhaps voters pigeonhole RMP Jr. as a French critic? Or, perhaps they simply resent his influence and are rebuking him?...

You mention several names tht were on the ballot but did not get voted in. Does the CIA make the entire list of nominees public?

Alder wrote:
12.02.08 at 9:05 AM

Tish,

Don't know what sort of demographics would influence this choice. What are you thinking of? I don't believe the CIA makes the list of nominees public, but I certainly can.

Here's the list of the Nominees for 2009:

GENERAL CATEGORY
Gerald Asher
Robert Lawrence Balzer
Andy Beckstoffer
Jack & Jamie Davies
Paul Dolan
Gary Eberle
Randall Grahm
Jess Jackson
Jerry Lohr
Zelma Long
Carole Meredith
Justin Meyer
Robert M. Parker, Jr.
Richard (Dick) Peterson
Richard & Robert Sands
Stephen Spurrier
Bob Thompson
Warren Winiarski

PIONEER CATEGORY
Leon Adams
Frederick & Jacob Beringer
James Concannon, Sr.
Eugene Hilgard
Charles Kohler
Hamden W. McIntyre
Frank Schoonmaker
Albert Winkler

12.02.08 at 9:39 AM

Gerald Asher has been around for quite a long time, and is recognized for being a very good writer, about wine. I believe, in his way, by contextualizing wine for people who may have been intimidated by it before reading him, he has done a huge service to wine producers everywhere, which has been, ultimately, to the great benefit of the California wine industry.
Gerald is also a great gentleman, and I can't help but think his election came out of great respect.
By the way, Alder, the second name on the candidate's list should be Robert Lawrence Balzer, not Baker.

Alder wrote:
12.02.08 at 10:11 AM

Steve,

I don't doubt that Asher was elected out of respect in any way. He probably belongs in the hall of fame. I'm merely commenting on the fact that it's surprising given the criteria for election that he made it in before Parker.

Thanks for the correction to my typo.

Dylan wrote:
12.02.08 at 12:06 PM

I'm glad that the panel focuses on pioneers who are deceased as well. If not for them, who else would have laid the groundwork for our current generation of successful winemakers? Tin Cross Vineyards has been planted to vine since the 1850s, but Captûre wine is a more recent endeavor taken with grapes from the land. Our first fermentation of Bordeaux blends is getting underway, hopefully we'll find ourselves as another Sonoma-Nominee to look out for in the years to come.

Tish wrote:
12.02.08 at 1:01 PM

Alder, I was thinking of age (older judges?) and West Coast perhaps favoring Gerald Asher. I think a case can be made for all on the list. No easy task picking among them.

Alfonso wrote:
12.04.08 at 9:05 AM

I guess you just had to be there...

The writing by Gerald Asher put wine in a whole new light, in the days when he was writing for Gourmet. He really elevated wine without being snobbish about it. He was a pioneer in that sense, in my opinion. Parker will get his nod as well, for his contribution is evident. But Gerald Asher, I raise my glass to a man who really made me want to know more about wine.

Vivek wrote:
12.05.08 at 12:10 PM

Alder,

Completely agree about Asher vs Parker.

What I think others are missing is that it has become very fashionable to bash Parker. Anytime a wine achieves a certain perceived sweet fruitiness with enough oak everyone starts bemoaning the tragedy of the winery that is aiming only for scores from RP to justify their prices. The wine has become "Parker-ized". I might be chasing this rabbit a bit far, but subscribing to Mr. Parker's school of thought in any way seems to have gotten the same connotation as "selling out." Hence why no one may be willing to vote for him.

RP has undoubtedly changed the wine world, and deserves a lot of credit for bringing the global attention that California now enjoys.

Uzi Cohen wrote:
12.06.08 at 11:10 PM

My vote goes to Asher as well. I think he reaches a larger audience and in a far less intimidating. If you are in doubt, read some of his pieces in History In a Glass, by Ruth Riechl. His writing and observations about the the 1976 Paris judgment are moving. He always made me want to have a good glass of wine after reading his stories. I never knew why. Now that I am on the 'business side' of the glass, I am learning that good stories matter a lot. So, that's his impact, good stories.

Alder wrote:
12.07.08 at 12:07 AM

None of you folks giving props to Asher will get any protest from me, but also, none of you have made a clear and compelling case that he has contributed to the success of the California wine industry more than Parker, which is my argument for why Parker most likely should have made it into the hall of fame before Asher did.

Say whatever you want about Parker's palate or preferences, anyone successfully selling a wine that costs more than $50 in California owes a huge debt of gratitude to Parker, whose scores and attention literally created the market for the top tier of California wines that exist today. In so doing, he dramatically increased the quality and proliferation of California wine in a way that it is pretty hard to argue that Asher can compete with in this context.

Jo Diaz wrote:
12.08.08 at 6:36 AM

Voting is always subjective. Those who had the power to vote, no doubt, have very friendly feelings toward Gerald (who lives and works in the SF Bay Area).

BTW - Gerald's not past tense. He's still pairing Gourmet's recipes with wine that he recommends. He's accessible to us (the publicist community), and he's a true gentleman... As is Robert Parker.

Gerald must have had more people on the panel with whom he's built strong bonds. Congratulations to Gerald, and to those who had the power to vote. You've picked a true gentleman.

I also don't think that Robert Parker is losing any sleep over this. Had the votes happened on the East Coast, Bob might have had more friends on that side of the Rockies, and the votes might have gone in that direction.

Either gentleman is deserving for advancing wine.

12.08.08 at 8:38 PM

Alder,

Yes, yes, you are right. But I am personally happy to see Gerald receive an honor. Though not "in the past tense", he is less visible than he used to be. His writing is about people and places more than evaluation and what to buy. He is one of the reasons I became seriously interested in wine.

Don't worry, Parker will get in. If this causes some people to read Asher who were not previously familiar with him, that will be good. Everybody already knows about Parker.

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