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:
Maynard Amerine, Ph. D.
Frederick and Jacob Beringer
John Daniel, Jr.
Jack and Jamie Davies
Georges de Latour
Ernest and Julio Gallo
Miljenko “Mike” Grgich
Jess Stonestreet Jackson
Louis P. Martini
Carol Meredith, Ph.D.
Harold Olmo, Ph. D.
Carl Heinrich Wente
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.