February 1, 2007
Finally, a Wine Hall of Fame

Wine pioneer Robert Mondavi
Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

The Napa Valley branch of the Culinary Institute of America is addressing a long and mysterious oversight, the lack of a California Wine Hall of Fame. It's creating just such a venue, to be the Vintners Hall of Fame on its Greystone campus at St. Helena.

On March 9, it will induct its first "pioneer" - veteran Napa Valley vintner Robert Mondavi. In addition, six "founders" and two "icons" will be inducted at the same time. I'm not clear on the whole concept, especially what distinguishes a "pioneer" from a "founder" from an "icon," but that didn't stop me from just filling out the ballot sent me to help select the "founders" and "icons."

According to information accompanying the ballot, a "founder" is someone whose "early ventures planted the roots of the present-day California wine industry," while an "icon" is someone whose "achievements have contributed to the establishment, nourishment and future of the California wine industry."

This was no easy task, given that the ballot nominated 15 candidates to be considered as founders, seven as icons. All are men, most are dead, and many will be familiar to even casual wine drinkers: Louis M. Martini and Paul Masson, for example, both nominated to be founders. I'm not going to quibble at this time about potential candidates who could have been on the ballot but weren't, other than to remark that I find it mighty odd that neither Ernest nor Julio Gallo were nominated.

At any rate, here's my six choices to be inducted as founders: Capt. Gustave Niebaum, founder of Inglenook Winery at Rutherford in 1879; Jacob Beringer, co-founder of Beringer Winery at St. Helena in 1876; George de Latour, founder of Beaulieu Vineyard at Rutherford in 1899; Charles LeFranc, founder of Almaden Vineyards at San Jose in 1852; Charles Krug, founder of Charles Krug Winery at St. Helena in 1861, the Napa Valley's first commercial winery; and Pierre Pellier, founder of Mirassou Vineyards at San Jose in 1854.

For the icons, my two votes went to Father Junipero Serra, who planted the first Californian vineyard at Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769, and Maynard Amerine, chairman of the department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis from 1957 to 1962, but whose dedication to upgrading California wines through research and teaching extended far beyond that relatively brief tenure.

All the inductees will be revealed March 9.

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