Napa Valley Celebrates California Wine Industry Leaders

You might call it the Academy Awards for the Wine World. On Monday, more than 200 of the wine world’s elite showed up at The Culinary Institute of America to wine, dine and celebrate at the Seventh Annual Vintners Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The Culinary Institute of America dedicated the historic Barrel Room to celebrate the men and women who have been responsible for the growth and world-wide prestige of the California wine industry. Each year, inductees are selected by a panel of over 75 national wine writers, critics, and historians. The 2013 class included: César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers labor union, writer and journalist Frank Schoonmaker, the world’s most well known wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. and trailblazer and winemaker Meredith “Merry” Edwards.

In this wine video, Reporting for the award-winning Wine Oh TV, Monique Soltani had the honor of speaking with one of the first women to graduate from UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology, Merry Edwards along with former inductee’s, Napa Valley Living Legend Peter Mondavi, Sr. and Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Randall Grahm.

Meredith “Merry” Edwards

One of the first women to graduate from UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology and the last graduate student to study with Professor Maynard Amerine, Merry Edwards began her impact on the California wine industry immediately. Her thesis on the danger of using lead in wine capsules is credited with helping end the practice, her refusal to accept unequal treatment as a woman forced the university to change its job placement program for graduating enologists, and her clonal research while she apprenticed with Dick Graff culminated in her leading the first seminar on clones to be given at Davis. Her winery resumé incuded Matanzas Creek Winery, Pellegrini Family Vineyards and Liparita Cellars before she went on to start her own label in 1997, where she focused on passion for Pinot Noir. In 2007, Edwards built her own winery outside of Forestville, where she continues to make vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs as well as one of California’s most lauded Sauvignon Blancs.

Robert M. Parker, Jr.

Robert Parker has been called not only the most powerful critic in the history of wine, but the most powerful critic in any field in our era. His newsletter The Wine Advocate has the ability to make the fortunes of obscure wineries overnight with just a paragraph. Not unlike fellow inductee Frank Schoonmaker, Parker had some less than kind words for California wine in the early years of his newsletter. He found them poor attempts to copy French styles, and he encouraged the entire industry to improve its appeal. Later, he championed many of the cult wineries of the 1990s, awarding them near-perfect score on his famous 100-point scale. Many of his fans and critics alike credit Parker for defining the style of California wine today. In addition to his own newsletter, Parker contributes dozens of publications, including to Food and Wine magazine, Business Week, L’Express in France and The Field in Great Britain. He has received awards from France, Italy, and now from the California wine industry with his induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame. “The Million Dollar Nose” “the world’s most prized palate”

Cesar Chavez 1927–1993

To Be Inducted in 2013 Latino farmworkers are an integral part of the viticultural teams that produce the great wines of California, and for decades, Cesar Chavez was their acknowledged leader. Chavez and the United Farm Workers union forced grape-growing companies across the state to recognize the importance of farmworkers’ contribution to the world of wine. He was a farmworker himself until 1952, but he grew to become instrumental in the creation and passing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations act, which extended collective bargaining rights to farmworkers. It was Chavez’ vision that first gave a voice to this underserved population. Today, they are recognized as highly skilled members of the grape-growing community, and many Latinos have started their own wineries, managed vineyards and taken important roles throughout the wine industry. While he is as controversial as many of the winemakers of California, there is no doubt that the grapes and wines of our state have reaped the benefits of his activities.

Frank Schoonmaker 1905–1976

More than any other individual, Frank Schoonmaker was responsible for a revolution in the perception of California wine after he, himself, became a convert. In a series of articles that appeared in The New Yorker and published again in 1934 as the Complete Wine Book, he had little good to say about the wines of California. A few years later, he toured California wine country and made numerous personal discoveries. This was in 1939 and war was coming to Europe. Schoonmaker knew that the flow of wine from France, Italy, and Germany would soon end. Insisting that American wines should not be labeled with European names like “Burgundy” or “Chablis,” he championed a different nomenclature: labeling them by the grape variety and the geographical source. This was long resisted by many in the California wine industry, though Schoonmaker never gave up. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s, just before his death, that varietal labeling and the use of appellations of origin became widely accepted.

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