Monday, February 21, 2011

Congratulations to today's Vintners Hall of Fame inductees

This afternoon I will have the honor of taking part in the 5th annual Vintners Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and just in case I stumble or blurt out something stupid, I want to take this opportunity to express my congratulations and admiration for the 5 great new members.

Joel Peterson
More than one writer has noted that Zinfandel, California's quasi-native grape, is the defining wine for this great induction class.

Two of the inductees made their reputations on Zin starting in the 1970s: Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson and Bob Trinchero, who invented White Zinfandel at Sutter Home.

The two men came at it from different ends of the market: Peterson wanted to prove that single-vineyard Zin is a great wine, and Trinchero was interested in giving the masses something tasty to drink on the porch.

Bob Trinchero
But I expect both will acknowledge the other's importance to their work. By buying grapes from old Zinfandel vineyards, Trinchero saved them from being replanted to Chardonnay, so that winemakers like Peterson could later make serious wines from them.

And if it wasn't for people like Peterson, Trinchero's work of explaining what that funny Z-wine is to the masses would have been more difficult.

Peterson I know reasonably well, having done a couple of feature stories on him. I haven't met Trinchero so I'm looking forward to asking him what he drinks at home.

Vernon Singleton
I'm also very much looking forward to meeting the third living inductee, UC Davis professor emeritus Vernon Singleton. He's an expert on phenolics and oxidation in wine, and perhaps if I can get him aside for a few minutes, I'll become one of the thousands of people to learn something from him.

As you may know, I'm the Chairman of the VHF Electoral College, but I don't have anything to do with planning the event, which means it ends up being almost as much of a surprise to me as to everyone else (I do get there early enough to peek at the program.)

Last year the induction ceremony had a nice balance of humor, nostalgia and wistful reminiscence.

Richard Graff
This year we'll be inducting two men who aren't with us anymore, Richard Graff and August Sebastiani.

Graff would be 74 if he hadn't died in a plane crash, and I wonder what he would think of the way the market for Pinot Noir has changed. Graff purchased Chalone Vineyard in 1965 and worked to convince people that California Pinot Noir could be both great and approachable. I hope they show "Sideways" in heaven, though I suspect Mr. Graff would frown on Miles stealing money from his mother (maybe they censor that part Up There).

August Sebastiani
August Sebastiani set a standard for overdelivering on quality on affordable wines; he was an everyday hero to many Americans who enjoyed his wine on their dinner table from the 1940s through the 1970s. His legacy lives on in his son's company, as Don Sebastiani and Sons continue to make quality wines without pretension and with a dry sense of humor (check out the "cork" on your Smoking Loon wine sometime.) I regret never meeting August, but I do look forward to toasting his memory with Don and his grandson August (good name!)

As always, there should be some great food served by the Culinary Institute of America, this year with a White House theme. And the wines seem to get better every year -- no wonder, as they have more inductees' wineries to draw from.
But the inductees are the reason we're all going to be there. 
Thanks to each of you for your great contributions to California wine. Speaking as a consumer, a drinker, a journalist, and for today, a fan, I'll just say it again: Thank you.


Kent Benson said...

“Peterson wanted to prove that single-vineyard Zin is a great wine, and Trinchero was interested in giving the masses something tasty to drink on the porch.”

Ironically, Trinchero was also trying to make great Zin. White Zin would never have existed if Trinchero hadn’t bled off and fermented the free-run juice from his Amador County Zin. His Zin from the Deaver Ranch Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley had already won critical acclaim in its previous vintages, but Trinchero was attempting to improve it by the concentrating effects of Saignée.

The resulting wine was called White Zinfandel because that’s what it was for the first two vintages (1972 & 1974). It was white and dry. It wasn’t until the 1975 vintage that it became pink, sweet, and all the rage.

Trinchero used some juice from the Mission grape to top off the tank of bled-off Zinfandel juice. Being prone to stuck fermentations, the addition of the Mission juice was another fateful ingredient. Sure enough, the fermentation stopped leaving an unintended 2 percent of residual sugar.

When Trinchero finally returned from other harvest duties to check on the “unfinished” wine, it had turned pink. He tasted it and thought it was pretty darn good. With nothing to lose, he bottled it. You know the rest.

W. Blake Gray said...

I sit corrected. Thank you, Kent.