What The 2011 Class of the Vintners Hall of Fame Tells Us About the California Wine Industry

Vinted on February 23, 2011 binned in California wine, going pro, wine industry events

As most regular 1WD readers know, I’m not much for classic reporting-style articles.

In fact, to me the choice between writing a “such-and-such took place on Monday and so-and-so was honored with a whozy-whatsit for their work on the whatcha-ma-jigger” piece or a “let me tell you what I think about X…” piece – namely, between writing a USA Today style event report ,or interpreting an event through the prism of my unique but twisted perception – is sort of like having to choose between being brutally murdered or having amazing sex.  In other words, there’s really no choice at all, is there?

So, you’ll hopefully understand why I’m having trouble trying to decide how best to bring you news of the Fifth Annual Vintners Hall of Fame event held earlier this week at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena (I was invited as part of the 2011 Pro Wine Writers Symposium, which in turn I’m attending as a speaker but more so as a learner as I gear up my efforts trying to make a living in the wine world).  To further complicate the matter, I promised my friend W. Blake Gray (who chairs the VHF Electoral College) that I’d consider writing something about the event, and he’s really a very talented and nice guy so I’m gonna feel really bad about myself if I don’t at least give this the old college try.

See, even that tiny bit of exposition was painful to write.  F*ck me, I need a drink already.

Anyway, rather than give you a litany of facts about this year’s thoroughly deserving inductees (you can read all about them at http://www.ciaprochef.com/winestudies/events/vhf_inductees.html), I want to share with you what those inductees – or, rather, the what the speeches that introduced those inductees – tells us about how California wine came of age.  And it can be summed up in two words…

Passion, and Pride.

Sounds wincingly, excruciatingly, Hallmark-card-esque cliche and soporific and sentimental, doesn’t it?  And it would be, if it weren’t actually totally accurate and on-point.

One of August Sebastiani’s sons delivered the acceptance speech on behalf of his father (who died in 1980 and was inducted posthumously into the VHF this week). He noted that there seemed to be a common thread that weaved together the current and past VHF inductees: none of them would ever have sought induction as an end in-and-of-itself, because they were too busy doing what the loved most and for which they had an undying passion – making great wine. They didn’t think about accolades, they thought about giving people pleasure through the sometimes scientific, often-times artistic, but almost always luck-reliant act of turning fruit into vino.  To quote the sages 311, the fact that you don’t even know makes it totally legit.

I found another common thread weaving together those VHF inductees (at least, the class of 2011, but I suspect it holds true for the previously inducted classes as well): they engender pride – not in themselves, but from others. Those who introduced the inductees were beaming with pride that was so palpable that it would have been harder to cut than the succulent portions of beef served up by the CIA staff after the ceremony (directed that night by CIA grad and former White House Chef Walter Scheib).  Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson’s son Morgan (himself a gifted winemaker) provided an introduction so touching it nearly had father and son both teary-eyed; it was the kind of speech that showed a sense of pride and admiration nearly every parent dreams of one day receiving from their own children.

Passion and pride – the stuff of which families, and, apparently, entire industries are made.  The kind of stuff that took the simple labors of love of hardworking farmers and turned them into products that can rival the best in the world.

Hackneyed?  Maybe.  Accurate?  In the case of the CA wine industry, most definitely.

And based on those introductory speeches, I think we can forgive the CA wine industry for being a tad self-congratulatory for one evening a year – I for one wouldn’t argue against them deserving it.






  • Ron Saikowski

    I have suggested that California organizations establish a Vintner’s foundation honoring the like of all great American Vintner’s before some joint in Cleveland or Topeka establishes such a Foundation. To date, this suggestion is falling on deaf ears. It deserves to be in California, not somewhere else. Any thoughts?

    • 1WineDude

      Ron – well, CA could make a great case of course, but it's not the only place in the U.S. making wine :). It would be an interesting debate, for sure – CA certainly would top the list of potential sites. Another thing is that the Vintner's HoF could consider encompassing this idea as well.


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