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Who Should be in the Vintners Hall of Fame?

One of the minor gigs I have landed as a result of my verbal flailings around these parts is as a nominating judge for the Vintners Hall of Fame, an ongoing program of awards hosted by the Culinary Institute of America. Gig is clearly the wrong word for it, of course, as that has some connotation that there's some form of compensation. No, mostly what I get to do is sit around and talk with people who generally know a lot more about the history of California wine than I do.

Here's how it works. Every year, the nominating committee gets together and sifts through the hundreds of worthy names to try to come up with a selection of a few people who have had the greatest impact on the California wine industry. Yes, I know, the award should therefore be called the California Wine Hall of Fame, but we've hashed that one though every year, and the Vintners Hall of Fame is what it will stay, despite not every inductee being a vintner. But I digress.

Our job as the nominating committee is to arrive at a list of maybe a dozen or two dozen people that then get presented to essentially every professional wine writer in the country to vote on.

The nominees fall into two categories: Pioneers (folks who have been dead for more than 10 years), and everyone else. Beyond that, the criteria simply have to do with the scale of impact that the person has had on the California wine industry (i.e. large). Inductees can be growers, scientists, journalists, retailers, most anything in addition to winemakers.

Here's the list of everyone that we've inducted so far:

Leon Adams
Gerald Asher
Maynard Amerine, Ph. D.
Andy Beckstoffer
Frederick and Jacob Beringer
Brother Timothy
Al Brounstein
Darrell Corti
John Daniel, Jr.
Jack and Jamie Davies
Georges de Latour
Paul Draper
Ernest and Julio Gallo
Randall Grahm
Miljenko "Mike" Grgich
Agoston Haraszthy
Jess Stonestreet Jackson
Charles Krug
Zelma Long
Louis P. Martini
Carol Meredith, Ph.D.
Justin Meyer
Robert Mondavi
Gustave Niebaum
Harold Olmo, Ph. D.
Andrè Tchelistcheff
Carl Heinrich Wente
Warren Winiarski

The question is, who should be next? The inducting committee is meeting next week, to begin assembling the list. We keep track of the list of folks that don't make the final cut each year, so we've got a good starting point, but it occurs to me that all you readers may have some good ideas.

Who do you think has had a disproportionately large impact on the entire California wine industry, to the point that they need to be memorialized in a bronze plaque in the historic barrel room of the Greystone castle in St. Helena? I'm particularly interested (personally) in names not associated with Napa and its history, which is slightly over-represented in the existing Hall of Fame.

Comments (90)

07.02.10 at 8:55 AM

Kermit Lynch

1WineDude wrote:
07.02.10 at 9:45 AM

Joel Peterson

Matt Daniel wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:10 AM

Bo Barrett, with Heidi soon to follow

John wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:15 AM

Benito Dusi

John wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:16 AM

and holy cow, where is Martin Ray

Mel Knox wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:17 AM

No longer with us:
Lee Stewart of Souverain..he made great wine and taught others already in the HOF
Dick graf...made barrel fermentation popular, helped make pinot noir the success it is now;
The Webbs, Dinsmore and Brad
Martin Ray
Joe Swan.

Still with us:

Ed and Burt of Williams Selyem...catalysts of today's Russian River
Mike Richmond, started Acacia, put Carneros on the map for good
Chuck ortman,
Helen Turley, her footprints are everywhere;
Jim Clendenen, did for the Central Coast what Ed and Burt did for the Russian River Valley
Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict, their eponymous vineyard started something big

Bill McIver wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:23 AM

It's unimaginable that Martin Ray is not on the list.
Bruno Benziger should be listed with Jess Jackson as founders of the Fighting Vareital category. There are some listed as hall of famers like Al Brounstein and Justin Meyer who have little beyond sympathy to recommend them. If you're going to have a list, a blurb on why members are selected and it should be for true greatness, not sympathy and popularity.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:40 AM

Of course, Mel Knox should be on the list too.

Paul Franson wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:50 AM


Jacob Gundlach, who established his vineyard in Sonoma in 1858

Pierre Pellier and his son in law, Pierre Mirassou, who imported vines in 1854 and made Santa Clara Valley the center for fine winemaking.

And Etienne Thee, who founded the Almaden Winery and his son-in-law, Charles LeFranc.

Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra is said to have planted eight vineyards in California in 1769, with the first at the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Others say that Don Jose Camacho brought the first grape vines to California on the ship San Antonio. The vines that he brought were planted in 1782 at the San Juan Capistrano.

Jean-Louis Vignes is credited with planting the first European wine grapes in Los Angeles in 1833.

Still alive

John Shafer

Jack and Delores Cakebread

Jerry Lohr

Fred Franzia, yes, Fred Franzia

Catherine wrote:
07.02.10 at 10:56 AM

Ron Washam, HMW

barry kinman wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:01 AM

Paso Robles would be well represented by the addition of both Benito Dusi and Richard Sauret. Together they have over 100 years of Paso zin experience.

Justice wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:12 AM

Paul Draper.

Earline wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:25 AM

Merry Edwards, without a doubt.

Kathy wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:52 AM

Michaela Rodeno
Richard Mendelson
Mike Thompson
Dick Ward & David Graves
Jim Fetzer
Linda Murphy

David Hoggan wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:54 AM

Joe Heitz

Carey Sakai wrote:
07.02.10 at 12:35 PM

The triad of Brice Jones, William Bonetti and Terry Adams who elevated the stature of California Chardonnay.

Bill Smart wrote:
07.02.10 at 2:01 PM

Big surprise here, I'd throw Dave Stare's name in the hat. He was the first person to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek Valley. Also, he was responsible the Dry Creek Valley AVA status (1983) and first to use Meritage on a wine label (1985).

07.02.10 at 3:41 PM

Hi guys, thanks for all the good suggestions.

Bill McIver: If you want to know more about each Hall member, check out this website: http://www.ciaprochef.com/winestudies/events/vhf_inductees.html

I'd also like to say that if any readers have a case to make for a candidate, by all means make it -- tell us why that person belongs. I'm sure at least two members of the nominating committee will be watching these comments in the days leading up to our meeting.

Ian wrote:
07.02.10 at 4:03 PM

William Hill

Kim Wallace wrote:
07.02.10 at 4:44 PM

David Stare! He was the first new winemaker to come to Northern Sonoma County after Prohibition, paving the way for an entire industry to be reborn. The year was 1972.

Joe Plummer wrote:
07.02.10 at 4:49 PM

Jerry Lohr is an absolute must

Mel Knox wrote:
07.02.10 at 5:07 PM

Bill, Thanks for the nomination. I shall start working on my acceptance speech...sometime in 2046.

Who are the sine qua nons here?? In art, there are original artists and the derivative ones.
Dick Graf...he really introduced barrel fermentation for chardonnay (who first barrel feremnted is like who discovered america...well, columbus was the first to tell anybody about it. Ditto Dick.)...Andre T said he kneeled to Dick for making the first great pinot on American soil. The Sonoma Cutrer boys are derivative of him.

Joe Heitz is not a member?? Hard to believe. As much as Robert Mondavi, Joe deserves it. Whatever Harlan/Colgin/Bryant etc are today, Heitz' Martha Vineyard was IT in the '70s. Like lee Stewart and Bob Mondavi, Joe taught many.

Also, Peter Mondavi, for cold fermentation.

Don Neel,for a magazine that has provided practical help for over twenty-five years. Two others: Stephen Spurrier and Bob Parker.

Bill McIver deserves credit for hiring (ok, and firing) two people who also deserve membership: Merry Edwards and Dave Ramey. He also hired my niece, Susan Reed, but let his friend Jess fire her.

17 of the members are Napa-ites, but as the Napa Valley Winegrowers likes to remind us, it's only a small part of the California wine scene. I would like to see more folks from the central Coast, Sonoma, lake and Mendocino counties let in. Hello Jed Steele!

I should add that I have repped wines by half of the people I propose in Europe. People like Jim Clendenen are better known In London than they are in Napa. Ditto Steve Kistler and the Saintsbury boys.

I'd like to see more folks south of SF and west of napa get some props.

I am reminded of that old Zen adage, If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear it unless a PR firm tells a blogger??
Some people like Bill and Don will never get in until they hire people to toot horns for them!

Allen Clark wrote:
07.02.10 at 5:28 PM

I'll second the nomination of Joe Heitz. Long- and well-deserving.

Among the living, Joseph Phelps.

07.02.10 at 5:40 PM

What about a Mirassou?
Robert Lawrence Balzer
Charles Olken
Martin Ray is a no-brainer
Fred McCrea
Joe Swan, ditto a no-brainer
Robert Finigan
Bob Thompson
Francis Mahoney

P McCullough wrote:
07.02.10 at 6:05 PM

What about David Abreu?

07.02.10 at 6:13 PM

Perhaps what this popularity contest needs is a "Veterans Committee" like baseball, because it is clear that the people below had more influence on CA wine than some of the names listed above. And Blake and Alder, pay attention please, also, to the very significant names nominated by Paul Franson.

Martin Ray
Joe Swan
Barney and Belle Rhodes
Ambassador Zellerbach
Fred McCrea
Myron Nightingale
Robert Lawrence Balzer
Hank Rubin
Nathan Chroman
Charles Sullivan

07.02.10 at 6:28 PM

I'm delighted that people are so passionate about the Vintners Hall of Fame.

As Chairman of the Electoral College, let me point out something here.

The Hall has had only four induction classes. It's analogous to the National Baseball Hall of Fame ... in 1936. It will take us years to induct all the deserving Pioneers.

That's why I would like to ask Alder's readers again to actually make the case for your suggested nominees. ALL of your suggestions might be deserving. The question we on the nominating committee have to answer is, Who gets in first?

Bob Foster wrote:
07.02.10 at 9:02 PM

Dick Peterson

John wrote:
07.02.10 at 11:01 PM

Kim Wallace is cheating! But I agree about David Stare.

as far as justification--regarding Martin Ray, I'll just say "if you have to ask..."

As far as Benito Dusi, it's my observation that he didn't wait for it to be popular to insist on growing the finest quality grapes. It's just because he wasn't interested in doing anything less.

07.02.10 at 11:36 PM

Blake, or Alder, please correct me if I am wrong, but the last time I was asked directly to nominate, the final choices were picked not by knowledgable people but by the public.

If that is still the case, and the voting is essentially Napa Valley voting, then you will never see folks like August Sebastiani or James Concannon get in. You will get a worthy Paul Draper but not Dave Bennion, who founded Ridge and whose name was on the labels for years before Paul's name got on the label. You won't get Joe Swan and there is no chance for real pioneers because the average punter has no idea who Sam Brannan is or that he brought a much of vine material that changed CA winemaking.

It is why you get Warren Winiarski, but not Joe Heitz. It is why Lee Stewart has no chance but Al Brounstein is in.

You understand, of course, that I have no bone to pick with Warren or Al or Paul whose wines I have loved and who friendship to me and my family I have valued highly. But, the system is flawed as long as the VHOF has no system to reward the significant pioneers. And folks like the Rhodes who did little things like fund Joe Heitz winery, plant Martha's Vineyard and Bella Oaks, run the most important wine tasting society in existence in teh 1960s and 1970s, the Berkeley Wine and Food Society, and were intimately involved with the Napa Valley's heart and soul in their day.

I would also ask that you listen carefully to the comments of Mel Knox and Ron Washam because they also understand history in a way that the current process does not.

07.03.10 at 6:57 AM

Charlie: The nominating committee -- which includes living members of the Hall, journalists and historians -- creates a ballot.

The ballot is voted on by wine journalists and living members of the Hall.

Again, I would ask you to keep in mind that there have been only four induction classes. It is always easier to complain than to contribute, but I ask you to please do the latter. Thanks.

Rob wrote:
07.03.10 at 7:18 AM

Cesare Mondavi, father of Robert and Peter, who owned, modernized Sunny St. Helena (now Merryvale)and Charles Krug wineries in Napa, got wine business established in Lodi, and established a grape shipping business to the rest of the country that flourishes to this day. All this from a guy who came to America with virtually nothing.

Steve Rosenberg wrote:
07.03.10 at 9:15 AM

Jerry Luper

Steve wrote:
07.03.10 at 9:16 AM

Jerry Luper

Bill McIver wrote:
07.03.10 at 9:54 AM

Bruno Benziger (fighting vareitals), John Hinman (he's been at the forefront fighting for direct shipping), Tom Wark (a working wine marketing stiff and in forefront fighting for direct shipping) Frank Schoonmaker, (first, I think, marketer of fine California wine), Salvatore Pablo Lucia (MD founder of Medical Friends of Wine who was among first, if not first, to write authoritatively about the health benefits of wine) Mexican Farm Workers (with whom there would be no wine), Lewis Gomberg, (early promoter of wine as beverage of moderation). etc, etc, etc.,

Mel Knox wrote:
07.03.10 at 10:04 AM

Kim nominated her dad!!?? Dave could be nominated for lots of things. I hope Dave Ready gives the speech in his honor.

Jerry Luper (and many others) learned from Brad Webb, who created a winemaking technique at Hanzell.

The baseball HOF is a bit different, because the details of the game have changed (height of mound, size of strike zone, new parks, etc) but the game remains the same. Here the game is always changing and it's the game changers we need to watch for.

Some people change the game behind the the scenes. Frank Mahoney is known for clonal studies, not just founding Carneros Creek.
As far as research is concerned, Darrell Corti can tell the junior members of the committee everything they need to know. And more!

Belle and Barney Rhodes...were they the Sculls of the wine world?? Dean Acheson called his memoirs,Present at the Creation, and that's where B and B were. A guy who is forgotten now is Harry Waugh, who did so much to publicize the Napa Valley in the '70s..and who helped him, but Belle and Barney.

The Napa Valley today is what it is because certain people did something in the '60s and
'70s (and earlier of course)and the rest of us are just playing and working in their creation.

Of course, the Hall cannot just honor dead people. Who would attend the dinner?

Let's honor the living while they are still around.

One more question: why the capthca thing?? It's hard on semi blind geezers like Bill and me and who in the hell would get his robot to post here??

Alder Yarrow wrote:
07.03.10 at 10:31 AM


Thanks for the continued conversation. Sorry you don't care for the CAPTCHA thing, but before I installed that I would get literally thousands of robot spam comments per day. Really. So while it's an inconvenience for you, it is a lifesaver for me.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.03.10 at 2:35 PM

Well, guys and gals, this has been a refreshing venture back in time for me -- The wine industry of my day was exhiliarating, exciting, and filled with opportunities to advance the transforming causes innovators and thinkers before us had left for us to pick upon. For myself, I chose Leon Adams as my mentor and crazy Martin Ray as my hero for the transformation path I chose. There are plenty others of those old timers for others to emulate and as guides to the future, such as those who advanced the art and science of making wine and growing grapes. For all of us, if we cared about the history and lives of those who came before us, there were mentors and heroes to follow. From the posts herein, I can see there are those who feel as I do.
Let me respectfully suggest this well-meaning, wholely democratic project needs to start over with a panel of veteran vintners, growers, writers and historians willing to invest the time to establish mission/goal/purpose, standards, nominating and election process/procedures. It would be a great service to wine industry reserarches and historians like me. Yes,there are plenty of bibliographys around, but no single repository that I know of, with a short biography of the industry's real movers and shakers -- people who changed the industry in a measureable way. Just reviewing all the input that the past few days of posting shows, indicates there is a lot of interest in the project, but that the system is not designed to do the job well. Clearly, just from reading these posts there is plenty of talent available from which to start.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.03.10 at 2:41 PM

BTW, Mel, one correction. Sandra hired Merry Edwards, I had the sad duty of letting her go, but the great pleasure of firing Dave Ramey (possibly still the best winemaker in the industry).

Pablo wrote:
07.03.10 at 3:27 PM

I'd throw in John Hawley. he pioneered barrel fermented Chardonnay in California as the founding winemaker for Clos du Bois and then head winemaker at Kendall-Jackson.

Carey Sakai wrote:
07.03.10 at 6:57 PM

Great history being told here. We need an oral history project to capture these stories before they disappear. The 64K question: how and who?

More contributions to the list:

Ditto on Brad Webb
Terence Clancy
Bob Haas
Jacques Puisais deserves inclusion for opening our minds to taste beyond the descriptors now in use and into the realm of sensorial experience. He spoke at a dinner during the cheese course that "wine A" was having a shy conversation with "cheese A" but that "wine B" was having a mad, passionate affair with "cheese A."

Joseph wrote:
07.03.10 at 9:41 PM

Joe Heitz !!!!!!!!!! Jerry Lohr ? if he can stop dumping wine maybe.

Ron wrote:
07.04.10 at 7:12 AM

Joe Heitz!

Bill McIver wrote:
07.04.10 at 12:46 PM

A big yes to Terry Clancy for having the guts, while working for wholesaler Constellation (or whatever company it was who bought Clos du Bois back then) for standing up for small wineries against Wine Institute and WSWA.
Of course, Jerry Mead, the Wine Curmudgeon, has to be in the top tier wine history as the only wine writer who took on the Wine Institute and its unholy alliance with WSWA.
John Hawley was one of many doing classic barrel fermenation work, but it's hard to imagine he was the leader -- surely that would go to Rbt. Mondavi or maybe Zelma Long at Simi. Perhaps Pablo is talking about the concept of extending the length of time Chardonnay remained in barrels on the yeast lees months after fermentation. Matanzas Creek, long recognized for it's experimentation programs, pioneered that movement under David Ramey from which we came out with our Journey Chardonnay in 1991 that our cellar rats called ROS -- real oaky shit. Journey sold at $75/bottle -- the most expensive US Chardonnay ever made. (Now there's some HOF history for you.) Matanzas Creek took the extended barrel fermentation experiment project on the road to major markets with winemakers Ramey, Hawley Clos du Bois and Ken Deis Flora Springs. Of course, there's nothing new under the sun -- French Burgundian winemakers had historically barrel fermenting and leaving Chard on the yeast lees.
How about Phil Couturri as the landmark organic winemaker?

Michael Blasquez wrote:
07.04.10 at 2:45 PM

Frank "Laurie" Wood, one of the most prolific vineyard managers in Napa Valley history. Laurie planted Martha's Vineyard for Joe Heitz using the Bosche vineyard clone as well as planting Dick Grace's Vineyard with the Bosche Clone in 1976. He mentored many of the very best vineyard managers in today's Napa Valley. He was directly responsible for the first and second single vineyard wines, Martha's vineyard and the Bosche vineyard Cabernets. He was instumental in the partnership that brought Freemark Abbey into the modern era. He was a true legend, and is still healthy at 90 years old!

Mart S. wrote:
07.04.10 at 7:23 PM

I'll go with Martin Ray! Cheers!

david pierson wrote:
07.04.10 at 9:36 PM

If Napa is over-represented... how about Sonoma, Santa Barbara and even San Diego... any pioneers stand out from those regions???

07.05.10 at 3:29 AM


Cliff Kolber wrote:
07.05.10 at 4:26 AM

Paul Giamatti!

Stephen Weinberg wrote:
07.05.10 at 5:25 AM

Great suggestions--especially the boys from Saintsbury and David Stare. My suggestion would be Austin Hope who moved from his Cult favorite Liberty School to create his own personal brand Austin Hope Rhone varietals. He has worked hard to expand the American wine pallet.

Possible other category--Growers--Mike Beatty and Larry Hyde!!

Chris wrote:
07.05.10 at 7:41 AM

2 people overlooked - not the most popular but 2 that had significant impact on their respective regions - Peter Mondavi for Napa and Rodney Strong for Sonoma. Both helped bring their regions to the front by making great wine. Everyone always goes with the most common names but both of these gentlemen have had major impact on the wine industry.

Karl Sherwood-Coombs wrote:
07.05.10 at 7:42 AM

David Bruce (Santa Cruz Mts), Dave Bennion (Santa Cruz Mts) (no brainer),Charlie Wagner (in spite of his Napa connection), Charles La Frank (Santa Cruz Mts), Gallo Bros ? (representing the Valley and all of Ca)

Joy Sterling wrote:
07.05.10 at 9:31 AM

In sisterhood with Kim Wallace, I put forward Audrey & Barry Sterling. It's hard to imagine how pioneering it was to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir so far west in the 70s.

Dorothy Schuler wrote:
07.05.10 at 9:36 AM

Definitely Bob Haas for his belief and work in promoting and planting Rhone varietals in Paso Robles.

Mel Knox wrote:
07.05.10 at 9:49 AM

If I understand correctly this HOF is for California. So no Dave Lett, no awards for my buddy Paul Hobbs helping out the Catenas etc. No awards for Jacques Puisais etc.

As somebody who has thought a lot about barrels and fermentation let me put my two cents worth:
1/Hanzell folk deserve credit for being the first to bring in French oak barrels and talk about it

2/Dick Graf and Ric Forman were the first to barrel ferment whites and tell others. Dick was also the first to age white wines in barrel sur lies more than a year and tell about it. Second was Jim Clendenen. Matanzas Creek was not a pioneer in this field.
What Dave Ramey and Zelma Long deserve credit for is the idea of letting juice brown before sulfiting. This idea is more important than it sounds. It meant that the stuff that made wine bitter had precipitated out of the wine and less so2 was needed to protect the wine from browning. Less bitter meant more sales!

The winemaking ideas of John Hawley, a member of my barrel buyers HOF, ultimately come from Dick Graf, probably via others who got them from Dick. (By the way, speaking of Clos du Bois, what about Frank Woods??) I am talking about barrel fermentation and putting red wine into barrel for MLF.
3/David Bruce..this guy has been at it forever, and his crazy ideas of the 60s and 70s have found their place
4/Another Carneros pioneeer: Rene di Rosa...Without Rene and his Winery Lake Vineyard, no Hyde Family, no Lee Hudson, and no wonderful museum of California art in Carneros..not to forget Ira lee and Jim St Clair
5/Ric Forman spent a lot of time in Bordeaux and shared his ideas with so many...his influence is everywhere.

To me the biggest change since I got into the wine bisness in the 70s has been how winemaking has moved out of the Central valley, Napa and Sonoma into Mendocino (Barney Fetzer and his family; Monterey, Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills, and the true Central Coast stretching from Edna valley (Dick Graf again) to Santa Barbara.

Josh Jensen anyone??

Re ownership of Clos du Bois: I believe the original owners (Frank W and Tom reed) sold out to Hiram Walker, which was then or soon part of Allied Lyons, which became Allied Domecq, which was de constructed and CDB was sold to Beam, then to Constellation.

Jim Sullivan wrote:
07.05.10 at 10:38 AM

Dario Sattui. Great grandson of Vittorio Sattui who established the V. Sattui Wine Company in 1885 in San Francisco. He made wine from grapes source from St. Helena. "There is nothing like St. Helena grapes," he said. Dario established V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena in 1975 and, following 30 years of research and 15 years of construction, he open Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga in 2007.

M. Stopka wrote:
07.05.10 at 10:58 AM

Mario Trinchero, founder of Sutter Home. Like it or not Mario and his family have been very influential and have had a major impact on Napa Valley and the wine industry.

D Scarlott wrote:
07.05.10 at 12:27 PM

How about Fred and Eleanor McCrea, planting Chardonnay in the late 40's, and making one of the best in CA ever since.

07.05.10 at 2:16 PM

Alder, you have struck gold. This is one of the most thought-provoking posts on a blog in some time. Look at all of the brilliant suggestions that have been made.

My list above would need to be remade to include several names mentioned by others, and that is the beauty of this exercise.

I do agree, with all due respect to the VHOF and the folks who have worked so diligently to create it and to fill it, that the process has been incomplete at points and that starting over with a more demanding set of standards and a more knowledgeable set of selectors would be an interesting course to follow.

But, that is neither practical nor reasonable at this point. So, if I might, I would suggest an alternate course.

How about the addition of the kind of committee that Bill McIver has suggested. It would be invested with the responsibility of looking at the names of folks not currently known widely from Louis Vignes, Sam Brannan, Charles Lefranc, James Concannon and that group from the 1800s up to Prohibition and coming up with something that looked like priority batching from which another group of historically knowledgable folk would then pick.

I would also suggest a second batching for post-Prohibition heroes but not currently known folks like Martin Ray, Myron Nightingale, the Rhodes, the Webb brothers, Dick Graff, Zellerbach, McCrea, Stewart, Heitz, etc. Those were the folks who helped lead us out of the dark ages of post-Prohibition when fortified wines outsold tables wine right up the the late 60s. That group of folks gets overlooked in favor of people who are major players today--and only the most famous of them gets considered.

A third group that needs to be evaluated separately are the non-Napa players like David Bruce, Rod Strong, and many others whose contributions (would John Parducci be in the VHOF if he had been a Napa vintner instead of toiling up in Mendocino?).

My concern is that the VHOF is somewhat of a popularity contest, not a measure of who made the most lasting contributions. I frankly would not expect the VHOF to undertake some of the extensive updates that I and others have suggested, but, at the same time, the "current-centric", "Napa-centric" nature of the inductees cries out for some form of emendation.

Pamela Bacigalupi wrote:
07.05.10 at 2:38 PM

Charles and Helen Bacigalupi have been growers in RRV for over 50 years.In 1973, 14 tons of Chardonanny fruit was sold to Chateau Montelena. This wine won The 1976 Paris Tasting and placed California on the world map as a great wine productor.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
07.05.10 at 2:56 PM


I've responded to several folks who e-mailed me offline asking questions, including yourself, but your last comment here prompts me to try to at least make sure everyone knows how the hell this thing really works, lest everyone keep throwing around suggestions about getting more "knowledgeable" people on the panel, or correcting the "imbalance" of current people and older people in the inductees.

1. The members of the nominating committee -- those who select the large group of names that make up the ballot for who gets in are as follows:

Blake Gray (Chairman) -- Journalist (Chronicle, etc.)
Charles Sullivan -- Historian (arguably, THE CA wine historian)
John Olney -- Journalist (Appellation America, Etc.) and Historian
Jim Gordon -- Editor, Journalist (Wines & Vines Magazine)
Sara Schneider -- Journalist (Sunset Magazine)
Alder Yarrow -- (Blogger, token Millenial)
Darrell Corti -- Inductee, Retailer
Randall Grahm* -- Inductee, Vintner: Bonny Doon
Paul Wagner -- Owner Balzac Communications (marketing)
Mike Dunne -- Journalist (Sacramento Bee)
Andy Beckstoffer* -- Inductee, wine grower: Beckstoffer Vineyards
Carole Meredith -- Inductee, grape geneticist, professor
Gerald Asher* -- Inductee, Journalist

* indicates those who were added to the committee for 2010

While I certainly don't hold myself up as the pinnacle of knowledge about the history of California wine, I think any suggestion that somehow this panel is not knowledgeable about California wine is fairly insulting to a number of those on the panel (apart from me) who have been writing about, studying, selling, or making California wine for many many decades.

2. There are two "classes" of inductees. The Pioneers and the Regular Folks. Pioneers must have been deceased for 10 years to be considered for that category. Like most of the other Halls of Fame, the emphasis of this effort leans towards the LIVING.

As a result, the ballot each year typically includes between 10 and 15 Regular Folks and between 5 and 10 Pioneers.

Because members of both classes are inducted every year, and because I did not necessarily separate out the names of inductees by category above, you get what appears to some people to be an "outrageous" oddity, namely that someone like Andy Beckstoffer gets in "before" Martin Ray or Joe Swan.

But that is not truly the case. There is a much smaller group that has gotten in "before" Ray or any of the other worthy names that have been put forth of those long dead.

There will therefore ALWAYS be more living people in the Hall than dead ones, roughly three times as many.

The primary critereon that the induction committee uses to place people on the ballot, AND to winnow down the unbelievably huge list of potential candidates (which has at one point or another included many, many of the names offered as suggestions thus far) is their "impact" on the California wine industry. There is also an attempt to ensure that the nominees are diverse in terms of their roles in the industry and their geographical affiliations (see point #5 below).

3. Those on the committee merely decide the BALLOT. That ballot is then mailed out to every wine journalist that the Culinary Institute of America has in their database. This follows the model of other Halls of Fame, where a committee decides the ballot, and journalists vote. Filling out the ballot is purely optional. Journalists are asked to vote for several inductees in each category.

It has come to my attention that you, Charlie, despite being included on the induction committee for the first year, have not been receiving ballots.

As a result, part of what will happen this year is a review of that database of journalists to make sure it is as complete as we know how to make it. Given that Wines & Vines maintains a relatively comprehensive directory of the professional wine writers in the country, I would expect some help from fellow committee member Jim Gordon in vetting our list.

4. Those who get in do so by a popular vote among these journalists, with no weighting or other selection by the nomination committee other than deciding how many members to induct in a given year, which amounts to picking the top few vote getters among the Pioneers and the Regular Folks. I think suggestions that somehow the inductees so far are the result of some kind of popularity contest is mostly unfounded. However, as they are put there by virtue of the consensus of the committee, and then by popular vote, both of which are driven by opinion.

5. The Napa-Centric quality to the Vintners Hall of Fame is something I am (and several other members of the induction committee) are trying very hard to change. This is partially in our control, and partially not. We can (and are trying very hard to) ensure a good representation on the ballot of potential inductees outside of Napa. The voting ultimately decides, and the voting has tended to lean towards Napa. I think everyone on the committee recognizes that the Hall of Fame will quickly undermine its own credibility if it ends up being a Napa Hall of Fame instead of representing (as it is chartered to) all of California.

Thank you all for your suggestions, especially those of you who have listened to Blake's request and are actually making the case for your suggestions with specific rationale. I can promise you that all this input will be brought to the selection meeting this coming week.

07.05.10 at 3:30 PM


Thanks for the response. The committee is clearly broad-based and knowledgeable. No debate with it. I think the discomfort you hear from some of us who have been around for a few years reflects our sense that some very important personnages have not been inducted when, in our view, they might have been.

Blake and I have been exchanging emails, and I pointed out to him that the first years' ballot contained recommended names that were so out of order given the possible range of choices that I only voted for four candidates and commented on the way the list was chosen at that time. I obviously am not going to name names from a few years back, but I am pleased to see that there is a Veterans Committee. My suggestion that real pioneers also have their own ballot of some sort reflects the fact that it is hard for important old timers who names do not have the cachet of Georges de Latour or Herman Wente or Count H. to get consideration. The same is true for folks outside of the Napa Valley, and I applaud your comments on that subject.

Best regards,

robert sweeney wrote:
07.05.10 at 6:01 PM

no question Bill Harlan,Mike Grgich,Jim Barrett,Paul Draper(one of greatest ever) & people @ SL wine cellars in Paris wine tasting.


Napa Woman in Wine wrote:
07.06.10 at 8:05 AM

Jim Barbour

Mike Drash wrote:
07.06.10 at 8:15 AM

Gil Nickel

Wino wrote:
07.06.10 at 9:31 AM

Mondavis,Jacksons and the Gallos

Tracy Hall wrote:
07.06.10 at 11:04 AM

Walter Schug.

Working for Gallo in the 60's, he saw it all, from the growers in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, to the changing industry in the 70's and 80's.

Some of his accomplishments:

Californiaís first proprietary Bordeaux-Style blend (Insignia).

First Vineyard designated wines (Bacchus and Eisele Vineyards).

First varietal Syrah in the US.

Pioneering late harvest dessert wines (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Scheurebe).

He wasn't just stuck in one region, so his perspective of the whole wine industry over 5 decades is incredible.

Amazing man. If you ever have a chance to spend time with him, don't pass it up!

Tracy Hall
Selene Wines

Jon Wells wrote:
07.06.10 at 11:54 AM

Chuck Ortman. One of the pioneers of central coast winemaking. Also, While winemaker for Spring Mountain his Chardonnay placed 4th in the judgment of Paris. Known as "Mr. Chardonnay by his peers.

JJ Ford wrote:
07.06.10 at 12:14 PM

. . .CHUCK ORTMAN! ...nuff said!

Ellie wrote:
07.06.10 at 12:36 PM

Myron Nightengale should be a shoe-in along with his wife Alice for pioneering the concept of artificially botrytised wine. He also should be recognized for his contribution to the growth of the California wine industry

Mel Knox wrote:
07.06.10 at 2:23 PM

It is said that defeat is an orphan and victory has a thousand fathers.
1/Who is responsible for the Ch Montelena chardonnay of the Paris tasting?? The grower, the winery owner or the winemaker?? The VHOF has inducted Mr Grgich. I SOLD the wine to Stephen Spurrier but my boss took the credit, which his wife really desrved, for hosting Stephen at about eight dinner parties in 1976.
2/Re Walter Schug, whose children I helped send to Washington DC when they were part of the St helena High Jazz band,was not the first to make vineyard designated wines in California. Certainly Joe Heitz was ahead of him. Ridge 'Monte Bello"?? The La Cuesta Vineyard was famous in the '40s. Phelps was the first to make syrah as a variety, but who deserves credit here?? Joe Phelps or Walter?? I really don't know. In any event Randall G got the induction for doing the marketing for this category. Same question re Insignia. Certainly Walter is a wonderful man and a fine winemaker.

To a certain degree he is penalized because his forte was riesling, a cepage just making a comeback now. Like Chuck Ortman he has done a lot but kept to himself.

The question of late harvest wines brings to mind Dick Arrowood as well. Dick, Walter and Myron all played important roles here.
No question that Walter has done a lot.

3/Have you ever thought about the number of Dicks who have been mentioned?? Richard 'Dick' Peterson..Richard 'Dick' Graf..Richard 'Dick' Sanford..Richard 'Dick Ward...Richard 'Dick' Arrowood...I propose we group them together and get them all in.
One of them would be their head, and would actually receive the award, but on behalf of all the Dicks out there.

Just an idea.

4/Chuck Ortman...to the mind of the Napa centric he moved to SLO and was forgotten by everyone but the Meridian brand manager. He could be paired with Gary Eberle, who also helped Paso Robles develop as a viticultural region.

5/Gil Nickel...He represents the charismatic, damn it we re going to make great wine here' kind of owner I miss. Too many organisation types these days.

6/Tom Dehlinger...another RR pioneer.

7/Bill Harlan and Bob Levy should go in together.

Mel Knox wrote:
07.06.10 at 2:25 PM

Speaking of Dicks, I forgot Dick Dore, whose company's t shirt reads,
"If you don't know Foxen, you don't know Dick...or Bill"

Mel Knox wrote:
07.06.10 at 3:37 PM


La Questa (osrry about the spelling) goes way back.

rogerwine wrote:
07.06.10 at 3:49 PM

As someone who has been actively employed in the wine industry since 1976, I would nominate Mr. John Wright who conceived and started Domaine Chandon and lifted the world-wide reputation of California Methode Champenoise.
Also, wine educator and writer Robert Balzer.
Roger Ivy

Mel Knox wrote:
07.06.10 at 5:41 PM

Roger, According to my spies in France Robert de Vogue deserves at least half the credit for starting Domaine Chandon. John deserves credit for talking them out of the transfer system.

Hope you are well,


Bruce Power wrote:
07.07.10 at 2:07 PM

How about Josh Jensen at Calera? Just the persistence alone to carve out Calera down there all alone is pretty amazing, let alone the fact that he is able to produce what are undeniably some of California's best wines.

Natalie Hart wrote:
07.07.10 at 3:27 PM

Fred Franzia - for sure. Undeniable influence.

Rick Longoria - Central Coast pioneer.

Mel Knox wrote:
07.08.10 at 1:42 PM

I will vote for Fred Franzia if he changees his name to Dick. He has already turned ruby cab and grenache into cabernet and zinfandel so this should be easier.

Rick L owes a lot of his success to the grapes Sanford and Benedict planted, so perhaps they should go in first.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.11.10 at 4:42 PM

I stand humble and corrected by Mel Knox Barrel Broker extraordinare for my uniformed opinions on barrel fermentation, sur lee aging. I do think Bill Parker and Susan Reed did produce the first long aged sur lies Chardonnay -- an experimental regime begun by Dave Ramey in late eighties and continued by Bill & Susan after he left in 1990 -- and it was, at the time, the highest priced Chard in the market.

Hollie Wogan wrote:
07.12.10 at 4:06 PM

My vote goes to Chuck Ortman, a living legend in the industry!

Matt D wrote:
07.13.10 at 7:07 AM

Where are the Santa Barbara nominations?! Richard Sanford!

Bill McIver wrote:
07.13.10 at 10:26 AM

For HOF: Julian Street, 1st internationally known wine writer to praise an American wine after Prohibition. He wrote of Martin Ray's 1936 Pinot Noir, it was the "first American red wine I ever drank with entire pleasure color superb, bouquet beautiful, flavor unmistakably Pinot Noir, bil and full wine ... I am astounded ..." Obviously, the next selections for HOF will include Martin Ray and Street for "discovering" him.
Also John Melville should at least get honorable mention as an early writer, Guide to California Wines 1955.

07.13.10 at 10:45 AM

Don't know what I did to get three entries - the Captcha is very hard to read.

Would also nominate Gail Unzelman for editing and publishing Wayward Tendrils Quarterly, A Wine Book Collector's Society

Mel Knox wrote:
07.14.10 at 9:28 AM

Bill, Dave did enough while at Matanzas Creek to earn major league kudos. In addition tot he work he did with Zelma on oxygen and juice, he also helped bring California out of the 'food wine' fad. He is one of the first to propose that vineyards be farmed for tannin ripeness and that grapes be picked for tannin ripeness as well as flavor ripeness.

If we can talk Ramey into changing his name to Dick, I think he is a shoo-in.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.16.10 at 3:27 PM

Mel, You do bring back memories -- good ones. Sandra and I have always felt we were born under a lucky star in getting Merry Edwards fresh from Martin Ray's Mt. Eden (after he lost it to his investors) who, though brilliant himself, followed in the footsteps of Rbt Mondavi and one of his greatest proteges, Zelma Long. The line continues today from Dave's successors to Bill Parker (White Oak) and your niece Susan Reed (Gary Farrell). A couple of our cellar rats learned the craft and now winemakers -- one Dan Tallman (Ch Morrisette, VA). Too bad Jess didn't sustain the legacy.

Mel Knox wrote:
07.21.10 at 9:53 AM

It is too bad Tom Wolf never wrote about Martin Ray the way he did about Ken Kesey.Jeffrey Patterson, Merry E, Bob Travers and Doug Fletcher have great stories about him and somebody should write them down.

Acc to Merry and others, Martin sold the same property to different people, and once called the police to say that a woman under the delusion she owned the property was sitting in his living room...turns out she did own the house! That's what the police found out after they took her away.I have no idea what is true, but the stories are great.

Bill McIver wrote:
07.21.10 at 5:01 PM

The best and the only in-depth, objective biography on Martin Ray was by his step-daughter Barbara Mariancci, which was serialized in Wayward Tendrils Quarterly in countless articles/sections as "Vinaceous Correspondends: Martin Ray's Friendship with Eminent Oenophiles." Ray's 2nd wife, Eleanor, did write a bio subtitled "the life of a legendary vintner," that her daughter Barbara Mariancci called "hyperbolic," "off-putting" and "drama-filled," but tells Ray's story as a loving wife, not as serious biographer. About the only thing I recall Merry E saying about him was that he was crazy, but I agree, since people who knew him love to talk about him, I would hope that those who know him would record for the historical record their memories of the great vintner who was, perhaps, a generation ahead of his time.

Bill Carle wrote:
02.17.11 at 9:46 AM

Don't forget Mendocino County- John Parducci!

Marci Rubin wrote:
03.03.11 at 8:23 AM

Just letting the wine world know that Hank Rubin died February 24, 2011. Thanks to the person who suggested him for the Vintners Hall of Fame. A proud daughter can attest that he was an icon in many worlds...

Lee Flegel wrote:
10.12.11 at 2:15 PM

Anthony Scotto, Sr.

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