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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.

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