Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vintners Hall of Fame ballot

With Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, a few people have asked me about the 2010 Vintners Hall of Fame induction class. Do we have a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer like Rickey this year? You be the judge.

Voting is going on right now, with wine writers from around the US, as well as all living members of the Vintners Hall of Fame, casting ballots to see who is inducted into the Hall next year.

Since I'm Chairman of the Electoral College, I wouldn't feel right talking about how the voting is going. I have a vote and have already cast it, but I also don't think it's right for me to say who I voted for.

However, the ballot has already been sent to plenty of media members, with no restrictions on its publication. So I don't see any reason not to reproduce it here.

Just being on the ballot is an honor, as I think all of these people would be worthy members of the Hall, which recognizes contributions to California wine.

The first group of names are people eligible for the general category. The Pioneer category, the second group, is open to people who will have been deceased for 10 years on the induction date in March 2010. But this distinction is purely for voting purposes. Once inducted, a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.

A list of people already in the Hall is here. If you want to see their plaques, drop by the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in St. Helena. It may not have the same quality of baseball as Cooperstown, NY, but I guarantee you the food is better.

Robert Lawrence Balzer

In 1936, Balzer (then 24) was put in charge of the wine department of his family's Los Angeles gourmet market. He began championing California wines and soon produced a well-read newsletter. That led to a career in wine journalism that has stretched for seven decades, including 11 books on wine and a weekly column in the Los Angeles Times. In addition to being a great educator for the public, he has always been an advocate for good California wines. Balzer oversaw food and wine at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan in 1981 and 1985 and George H.W. Bush in 1989. In addition to his wine talents, Balzer was a flight instructor during World War II and is an ordained Buddhist monk.

Andy Beckstoffer

Beckstoffer came to Napa in 1969 as an executive for Heublein. He saw the value in Napa Valley vineyards, and by 1973 he bought the vineyard division he had helped the company build. Since then Beckstoffer Vineyards has grown to be the largest vineyard owner and farmer in the Napa Valley, delivering over 11,000 tons of grapes to more than 50 of the state's most famous wineries. Beckstoffer helped establish the idea of paying growers based on what the finished bottle would cost, thus reducing the incentive for excessive yield and focusing growers on quality. He has played a major role in preserving agriculture in the Napa Valley and has contributed to efforts to restore the Napa River.

Ted Bennett & Deborah Cahn

In 1974, Bennett & Cahn sold a successful stereo business and purchased a 900-acre sheep ranch in Mendocino County to grow Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer because they believed its soils and climate to be similar to Alsace. Their winery, Navarro Vineyards, eventually helped establish Anderson Valley as prime terroir for cool-climate viticulture. They produce about 30,000 cases per year, and their Gewurztraminer is still one of the most popular in the state.

Al Brounstein

Brounstein's Diamond Creek Vineyards, established in 1968, was the first estate planted only with Cabernet Sauvignon. Brounstein noticed three distinct soil types on his property, so he became one of the first California wineries to produce different Cabernet Sauvignons from single vineyards on the same estate. His 1978 Lake Vineyard Cab -- a wine produced only in exceptional years -- was the first California wine with a suggested retail price of $100 a bottle. This may not be a happy milestone for consumers, but for a California wine industry that had always struggled to survive -- and had been nearly wiped out by Prohibition less than two generations earlier -- it was an important symbol that California wine had arrived. Brounstein's wines have always aged well and they have become his legacy.

Gary Eberle

Eberle was working on his doctorate in zoology at Louisiana State when he caught the wine bug. He graduated from UC Davis' doctoral winemaking program in 1973. But instead of going to Napa or Sonoma, he headed to Paso Robles, where he has been a leader in establishing that area as a premium wine region. Eberle co-founded the Paso Robles Appellation in 1980. Today Eberle Winery makes 25,000 cases per year. After a 10-year stint mentoring and supervising other winemakers, Eberle returned to the tanks himself in 2007 to make a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Randall Grahm

Known as an enfant terrible during his years at UC Davis, Grahm told everyone who would listen he would make the first great American Pinot Noir. Instead he found himself entranced by what he calls "ugly duckling grape varietals" and has succeeded in introducing many American consumers to a world beyond Cab and Chard. His "Le Cigar Volant" wine proved that it was possible to make and sell great Rhone wine blends from California. His amusing marketing still defies pretensions and gets attention, such as when he held a funeral for cork in New York City in 2002. Grahm, a longtime proponent of biodynamic viticulture, sold his Big House and Cardinal Zin labels in 2006 to concentrate on smaller production wines.

Josh Jensen

A native Californian, Jensen went to Burgundy after getting his master's degree in anthropology from Oxford and worked two harvests, including one at Domaine Romanee-Conti. Legend has it that he smuggled clones of DRC's Pinot Noir vines to the US in his pants on a trans-Atlantic flight. In any case, he planted Pinot atop Mt. Harlan because of its limestone soils, which he found by searching maps from the state's bureau of mines. The location is so remote that it has no electricity, phones or paved roads, but Jensen was convinced it was the perfect terroir. For more than 30 years he has been one of America's leading Pinot Noir makers making elegant, ageworthy, vineyard-designated wines from a still-primitive location.

Zelma Long

The second female UC Davis-trained winemaker in California, Long was the only woman in her class. She made some exceptional wines as enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery while also founding Long Vineyards, her private label in 1977. Long co-founded the North Coast Viticultural Research Group, which funded vineyard research at UC Davis. She spent the '80s and '90s breaking the glass ceiling at Simi as winemaker/CEO, becoming one of the first women to run both the winemaking and business side of a California winery. Today she is a partner in Vilafonte winery in South Africa, and still flies home to oversee vintages at Long Vineyards.

Robert M. Parker Jr.

Parker took a giant leap of faith in publishing his first Wine Advocate newsletter in 1978. At the time, he was a lawyer who thought wines were not being priced in relation to their quality. Parker's easily understood ratings and user-friendly tasting notes have helped many boutique wineries establish themselves -- if Parker gives an unknown wine a high rating, it can sell out without any trouble from the three-tier distribution system that blocks the success of many small wineries. He has been a champion of California wines from the beginning of his career. Parker's prestige has helped project the influence of the American wine community throughout the world, as European wineries now focus more on the American media than on their UK counterparts.

Richard (Dick) Peterson

Peterson is so revered in his native Iowa that there's a Dick Peterson Trophy for the best local wine. But his major contributions came in California. As one of the "rocket scientist" flavor engineers employed by Gallo, Dick Peterson developed many products, including the first wine cooler and Hearty Burgundy, that made his bosses millions. He also developed a safe barrel-stacking system, the Peterson Pallet, still used in many wineries today. As winemaster at Beaulieu Vineyard from 1968 to 1973 he oversaw the production of some of the most highly regarded Cabernet Sauvignons of the era. He also helped put Monterey on the map of premium winegrape regions. Even today Peterson is still experimenting, making sparkling wine from a unique Pinot Noir clone he found growing wild in England.

Kent Rosenblum

A veterinarian by trade, Rosenblum began home winemaking in the early 1970s and quickly became fascinated by the differences in grapes from different vineyards. In 1978 he founded Rosenblum Cellars with an emphasis on single-vineyard old-vine Zinfandel. Rosenblum made excellent wines from areas like Contra Costa County where the grapes had previously gone into California-appellation blends. Locating his winery in an old airplane hangar in Alameda, Rosenblum anticipated the trend of urban-based wineries. Rosenblum also never forgot his home winemaker roots, as he continued to sell high-quality grapes from famous vineyards in small quantities to home winemakers right up until he sold the winery in 2008. He has since founded a small winery in Alameda, Rock Wall Wine Company.

Richard Sanford

A Burgundy fan, Sanford graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in geography in 1965 but was immediately drafted. He got out of the Navy in the late 1960s with a passion for Pinot Noir. He drove across Santa Barbara County with a thermometer before settling on a site west of U.S. Highway 101 in the Santa Ynez Valley. For some years Sanford had the west side of the highway to himself; he was the first winemaker to prove the potential for Pinot Noir in the chilly Santa Rita Hills. He founded Sanford Winery in 1981 and spent the next 20 years making some of the best regarded Pinot Noirs from the region. Sanford left his namesake winery in 2005 and founded Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards.

Vernon Singleton

An expert on wine chemistry, Professor Singleton spent more than four decades in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, retiring in 1991. He published more than 220 papers and four books. "Wine: An Introduction for Americans," co-authored with Maynard Amerine, remains among the most widely read books of its kind, even decades after its last printing. "Principles and Practices of Winemaking," co-authored with three UC Davis colleagues, is a textbook used worldwide. Professor Singleton is best known for his identification, characterization and transformation of the many phenolic substances in wine, including tannins. He also studied the contributions of barrel aging to wine phenolic composition and the role of oxygen in wine maturation.

Stephen Spurrier

An Englishman who advocated American wine in Paris, Spurrier arranged the most important tasting in the history of California wine, the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976. Spurrier went to great lengths to find the best wines to represent California at the tasting, and to line up highly respected French judges. The results, in which California reds won both the red and white categories, unexpectedly shattered the myth of French wine superiority and promoted the expansion of wine production throughout the New World.

Bob Thompson

Bob Thompson's long career at Sunset Books includes "The Wine Atlas of California and the Pacific Northwest" and the "The California Wine Book," written in 1976 in conjunction with Hugh Johnson. His publications have long advocated both quality and food-friendliness in wine.

Pioneer Category

Leon Adams

A founder of the Wine Institute and leading historian of wine in the United States, Adams is best known for his 1973 book "The Wines of America," which captured the state of the wine industry in areas both prosperous and less known. He was an advocate for farm winery bills of the 1970s and '80s that allowed grape growers across the U.S. to open wineries.

Richard Graff

A former Navy officer with a Harvard degree in music, Graff purchased Chalone Vineyards in 1965, which had been producing mistletoe, and nursed its neglected grapevines back to life. Graff, who had spent time in Burgundy studying the effects of barrel aging, quickly began producing Pinot Noirs better than anyone then believed California was capable of. He eventually became chairman of Chalone Wine Group, owner of several other small boutique wineries.

Eugene Hilgard

From 1875 to 1904, Hilgard was Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at UC Berkeley. Considered California's first academic scholar of wine, Hilgard ran a lifelong campaign against poor-quality wine, pointing out better cellar techniques whenever possible. He conducted important research into fighting phylloxera, and his studies of grape varieties were very influential in determining which grapes were planted in California. Hilgard was a giant in scientific research of wine at a time when few people anywhere were conducting it.

Paul Masson

A native of Burgundy, Masson emigrated to California in 1878. By importing equipment and top grape varieties from France, in the 1890s Masson produced California's first world-class sparkling wine. Running his own eponymous winery as well as Almaden, he was America's best-known winemaker of his era, and a leader in the drive to save vineyards from phylloxera by planting resistant rootstock. During Prohibition he kept his vineyards alive by producing "medicinal Champagne." During his lifetime Masson was known as the "Champagne king of California."

Frank Schoonmaker

Born in Spearfish, South Dakota, Schoonmaker became interested in wine while writing travel articles on France. He wrote "Complete Wine Book" in 1934, reintroducing a Prohibition-shackled country to wine. The book launched him into position as the premier wine writer in the United States for more than three decades. Schoonmaker was also an influential importer. He was the earliest, most constant advocate for varietal labelling, saying, "The more specific the name, the better the wine."

Albert Winkler

Professor Winkler joined the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis in 1921 and retired in 1963. He served as chairman from 1933 to 1957. His research elucidated the physiological principles that form the basis for grapevine trellising and canopy management. In a series of classic field experiments, he demonstrated the depressing effect of pruning on vine growth, crop yield and vine capacity and how pruning and crop level can be used to control vine growth. He investigated the relationship between ambient temperature and time of fruit maturity and showed that a constant amount of accumulated heat units is required for a given variety to reach maturity, irrespective of where grown. This work led directly to the regional classification of California's grape growing areas into five climatic regions, along with recommendations of what grape varieties do best in each of the regions. His classic textbook "General Viticulture" has been used by thousands of winemakers and grape growers and translated into several languages.

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