Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vintners Hall of Fame: About this year's ballot

Forgive the absence of snark in this post. I'm writing in my role as Chairman of the Vintners Hall of Fame Electoral College to talk about this year's ballot.

This will be the fifth induction class for the Hall, which the Culinary Institute of America started in 2007. I was not involved with the initial class but have been in charge of the ballot and election procedures ever since.

First, the ballot. I'm not going to run biographies of everyone, but the ballot sent to voters has a bio of each nominee.
General category:

John A. De Luca
Randy Dunn
Fred Franzia
Josh Jensen
Robert M. Parker Jr.
Vince Petrucci
Joel Peterson
Andy Quady
Richard Sanford
Angelo Sangiacomo
Vernon Singleton
Jed Steele
Charles Sullivan
Bob Trinchero
Nils Venge

Pioneer category:

Cesar Chavez
Hamilton Crabb
Richard Graff
Eugene Hilgard
Charles LeFranc
Myron Nightingale
August Sebastiani

Votes are already coming in to determine which of these people will join the 31 people already in the Vintners Hall of Fame.

My fellow Nominating Committee member Alder Yarrow wrote a very interesting post earlier this summer, just before the committee met, to solicit suggestions for the ballot. One thing I learned from comments on that post was that many people aren't happy that every deserving vintner isn't in the Hall already.

Folks, we're working on it.

Here are some people who were NOT in the National Baseball Hall of Fame after four induction classes:
Wilbert Robinson, King Kelly, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Rube Waddell, Hack Wilson, John Montgomery Ward, and all three of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance. And Marvin Miller -- the most important baseball man of my lifetime -- is still not in.

Here are some acts who were NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after four induction classes: The Who, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Bill Grahm, The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dick Clark, The Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, and some English band named Led Zeppelin. And Nirvana still hasn't made it.

At the VHF, we're now inducting about 5 people per year. We have about 150 years of California winemaking to honor -- about the same as baseball, and 2 1/2 times as long as rock and roll. So if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took 10 classes to induct Led Zeppelin, how long will it take us to get to every deserving vintner?

Here's how it works.

First, our nominating committee meets to create a ballot. In the second year of the Hall, the committee was entirely journalists and historians. I have invited living Hall members to participate and this year they made up nearly half of the committee. Thanks to Gerald Asher, Andy Beckstoffer, Darrell Corti, Randall Grahm and Carole Meredith for giving up their time to join Mike Dunne, Charles Henning, Reuben Katz, John Olney, Charles Sullivan, Paul Wagner, Alder Yarrow and myself this year.

There are two ballot categories: Pioneers, for people dead 10 years on induction night, and the general category, for everybody else. This is for convenience; once in, a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.

Once we come up with the ballot, it is voted on by the Electoral College: about 75 wine writers, wine historians and living Hall of Famers. The people with the most votes get in.

It's better to induct people while they're alive. Shouldn't they live to see the respect they deserve? And let me tell you, it is a pleasure to see it. This year's induction ceremony was both fun and moving.

Many vintners who richly deserve induction are no longer with us. I think everyone on this year's Pioneer ballot -- and last year's -- is a deserving Hall of Famer. But we're only inducting one or two Pioneers per year, so it's going to take a while. And let's face it: they can wait more easily than the living.

In picking the general category ballot, we look at last year's vote totals. Most people with support last year will stay on the ballot, while those with few votes are replaced. They're not ineligible forever; we just give the voters some other names to consider, since they passed judgment so recently. How do we come up with the new names? Somebody on the committee advocates for someone. In our closed discussions, many names are brought up, and I'm annually reminded of how many more years it's going to take to get all the deserving people in.

For the pioneer ballot, we try to give mostly new names each year because there are so many deserving people; we could easily put in 20 at once. But why? Why not have a more special celebration of the life of each one?

I'm sorry if your favorite legendary vintner isn't in the Hall yet, or possibly not even on the ballot. But why not do something about it?

For the baseball hall of fame, there are online campaigns for guys like Bert Blyleven that sometimes last years. With the Vintners Hall of Fame, you don't need to be a newspaper columnist to start campaigning for someone; anybody with a blog can make the case for their candidate.

But please, do make the case. Don't just whine "OMG why is Joe Winemaker not in?" Lots of deserving people aren't in. Explain why Joe should get in ahead of everybody else. And don't just email me, because even if I help put him on the ballot, you have to get the Electoral College to vote for him. That's why you need your piece online, where voters from around the country can see it. I look forward to reading it, and believe me, I will.

That's it for this post. The snark in this space will resume shortly.


Alfonso Cevola said...

I have a wonderful signed photo of Frank "Home Run" Baker,after he had his stroke. As a kid I loved to write to him. I'm not sure he was in the Hall of Fame at the time, but he sure had a great story. And he took a mean photo. And he wrote back. I tried to hit the ball just like him. Him and Mel Ott.

1WineDude said...

Well done on Joel Peterson.

Franzia... ooohhhhhh boy, it's gonna get interesting! :)

Anonymous said...

Is there a list available of past winners? That might explain the omission this year of old timey wine luminaries such as Maynard Amerine, Andre Tchelistcheff, Alexis Lichine and Leon Adams, all Hall of Famers in their own right.

W. Blake Gray said...

Kerry and Tom: Text in orange on this blog indicates a link. There's a link in the above story to "the 31 people already in the Vintners Hall of Fame." Click on that text.

Kerry Eddy said...

That's not the first time I've missed something obvious and highlighted. Thx. An impressive list. As for the newbies (kinda, as opposed to non-dead)if you're going to add Freddie then including Marvin Shanken and Gary Vaynerchuk would seem equally appropriate. My only 2cents left. Kerry

W. Blake Gray said...

I believe we had Marvin Shanken on a previous ballot. We have discussed him in the nominating committee. I think he's an interesting candidate and has a good chance of reappearing on the ballot soon. He's younger than you think -- although all those cigars can't be good for him. But I hope we have at least another decade to consider him.

As for Gary Vaynerchuk, personally I think it's too early in his career. To put it in baseball terms -- which I know Gary would appreciate -- he's having a Hall of Fame caliber year; let's see him keep it up.

Joanna Breslin said...

OK Blake here goes - Fred Franzia is a convicted felon. Perhaps this simple fact should keep him out of the Vintners Hall of Fame, influential as he may be. That way it becomes unnecessary, or at least moot, to argue about our opinions.

Unknown said...

Good Response Blake-I was one of the people who responded to Alder's earlier column; my vote from your current list would be Jed Steele. As a wine marketing professional for over 30 years I feel Kendall Jackson Chardonnay had a profound effect on promoting premium wine sales, especially BTG. I know Jed may not have "fond" memories of his KJ experience but the impact of the wine goes beyond the political aspects of the winery! Steve Weinberg, Evolutionary Wines

W. Blake Gray said...

Joanna: Thanks for raising the point. It's a subject worth debating. Fred has given us Two Buck Chuck, but beyond the conviction, he was also not on the side of the angels in his lawsuits vs. Napa Valley Vintners.

I'm curious to know what others think.

Charlie Olken said...

This post goes a long way towards opening up the process and philosophy behind the VHF. While many of us, myself included, have not always been pleased by the way things happened, especially in the early years, and while I personally would like to see more than one or two Pioneers get into the VHF because their contributions were far more significant, in my opinion, than some folks on the General Category ballot, I still felt able to vote for what I believe were five very deserving members whose contributions will fit comfortably with those outstanding persons now in the VHF.

So, thanks for laying it out, and for including me in those who were asked to vote.