Robert Parker and Cesar Chavez, Together At Last

As some of you know, I have the pleasure of serving as a member of the Nominating Committee for an organization known as the Vintners Hall of Fame, an effort by the Culinary Institute of America to celebrate individuals that have had the greatest impact on the California wine industry. I share this honor with a lot of people much more illustrious than I, including many of the living members of the Hall of Fame.

Typically each year I poll my readers for their opinions about who they think should get in. Not that we really need a longer list. The committee has a running list of many dozens of deserving names, living and dead that by all rights should have a good shot at getting in.

The trick, however, is that we don’t put people in the Hall, we merely nominate them, and then the voting is left up to the majority of the country’s professional wine writers.

For several years two individuals have been on the ballot about whom I felt very strongly, yet they have failed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Until now.

After being overlooked for far too long, I’m quite proud that both Robert M. Parker, Jr. and Cesar Chavez are now both going to be inducted.

Parker, I believe, has simply suffered from a certain degree of enmity and, dare I say, professional jealousy in past years. While some may not agree with the man’s taste in wine and would argue (mistakenly, I believe) that it was for the worse, his impact on California wine over the last 30 has few equals. As this year’s ballot described him:

Parker has been a tremendous, long-standing booster of California wine, and his attention has unquestionably been a boon for the California wine industry. Parker’s early-career criticisms of California wines that were poor attempts to copy French styles encouraged the entire industry to improve its appeal. Unlike other critics, Parker would not politely ignore badly made wines from big name wineries. His single-minded focus on the taste of wines rewarded wineries that improved their hygiene and technology.

Parker deserves this accolade, and I’m thrilled he’s finally gotten his due, as far as the Hall of Fame goes.

I’m equally proud of the successful candidacy of Cesar Chavez, who has been inducted, I believe, not for his personal relationship to California wine, but for what his activism, 220px-Cesar_chavez_crop2.jpgadvocacy, and legacy has meant for the California wine industry. Every great wine in this state is made with the help of Latinos who directly and indirectly owe a debt to Chavez for the pioneering work he did in securing the rights of migrant farm workers. Yet their names and faces are often invisible amidst the glitz and glamor of the wine trade.

Having Chavez in the Hall of Fame as a symbol of the tireless, backbreaking work that thousands do every year represents an important acknowledgement of the role that vineyard workers have in the past and present of California wine.

Parker and Chavez are also joined this year by two other worthy inductees, including Pinot Noir pioneer and winemaker Merry Edwards, and wine writer Frank Schoonmaker, whose early advocacy of California wines in the 1930s and 1940s helped to shape the beginnings of the industry’s recovery after Prohibition.

The other current members of the Vintners Hall of Fame (followed in parenthesis with the year of their induction) are:

Leon Adams, 2010
Gerald Asher, 2009
Maynard Amerine, PhD, 2007
Andy Beckstoffer, 2010
Frederick and Jacob Beringer, 2009
Brother Timothy, 2007
Al Brounstein, 2010
Darrell Corti, 2008
John Daniel, Jr. 2008
Jack and Jamie Davies, 2009
Georges de Latour, 2007
Paul Draper, 2008
Ernest and Julio Gallo, 2008VHF_logo_big.jpg
Randall Grahm, 2010
Richard Graff, 2011
Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, 2008
Agoston Haraszthy, 2007
Joe Heitz, 2012
Eugene Hilgard, 2012
Jess Stonestreet Jackson, 2009
Charles Krug, 2007
Zelma Long, 2010
Louis P. Martini, 2008
Carol Meredith, PhD, 2009
Justin Meyer, 2009
Robert Mondavi, 2007
Peter Mondavi, Sr., 2012
Gustave Niebaum, 2007
Myron Nightingale, 2012
Harold Olmo, PhD, 2007
John Parducci, 2012
Joel Peterson, 2011
Richard Sanford, 2012
August Sebastiani, 2011
Vernon Singleton, 2011
Andrè Tchelistcheff, 2007
Bob Trinchero, 2011
Carl Heinrich Wente, 2008
Warren Winiarski, 2009
Albert Winkler, 2012

You can read more about the Vintners Hall of Fame, as well as each of the inductees on the web site, which, shamefully is not as well maintained as one might hope, which means the most recent inductees from 2012 and these new members for 2013 have yet to be listed on the site.

Here’s the announcement of this year’s inductees.