Vintner Warren Winiarski will be inducted into the 11th class of the California Hall of Fame on Dec. 5 in recognition of his global efforts to showcase and preserve the quality and history of California wine.
Others being honored in 2017 include entertainer Lucille Ball; bioscientist Susan Desmond-Hellmann; artist and activist Mabel McKay; atmospheric chemist Mario J. Molina; quarterback Jim Plunkett; poet Gary Snyder; filmmaker Steven Spielberg; musician Michael Tilson Thomas and Winiarski.
The 11th class of inductees and family members of posthumous inductees will receive “Spirit of California” medals presented by Gov. Jerry Brown in a ceremony hat the California Museum in Sacramento. The new inductees’ lives and accomplishments will be commemorated in a new exhibition open to the public on Wednesday, Dec. 6 through Oct. 31, 2018 at the California Museum.
Winiarski is only the second California wine industry member to be honored with this “Spirit of California” medal. Robert Mondavi was inducted to the California Hall of Fame in 2006, its inaugural year. His nomination for this award came at the suggestion of state Sen. Jim Nielsen, who worked with Winiarski on the state’s Conjunctive Labeling Law passed in 1989 to protect the Napa Valley name and its wine as one of the state’s most important agricultural resources.
“I am deeply honored to be inducted into the California Hall of Fame and accept this award on behalf of the entire California wine community,” said Winiarski. “Especially following the terrible fires, which affected our Northern California region, it’s an honor for all of us. I have made it part of my life’s work to preserve Napa Valley, which I consider a National Treasure, with land conservation, world-class wine and cataloging its historical significance. It is not enough to make fine wine, we can be stewards of this land that gives us the opportunity.”
“It was an honor to be a part of the effort and write a letter in support of this well-deserved recognition,” said State Sen. Bill Dodd.
Winiarski moved to the Napa Valley from Chicago in 1964, and in 1966, he became Robert Mondavi’s first winemaker. In 1970, he planted his first Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon vineyard in a former prune orchard. Six years later, Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won the Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting of California wines against venerated French classics. A bottle of Winiarski’s victorious 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and Robert Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, included the bottle in his book “The History of America in 101 Objects.”
A longtime advocate for agricultural land preservation, he will celebrate his key contributions to conservation in 2018 with the 50th anniversary of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, the first of its kind in the United States. Following the passing of this key legislature in 1968, Winiarski went on to become the first in Napa Valley to place vineyard land under a conservation easement to ensure it would remain in agricultural use forever, and he has since donated to the Land Trust of Napa County more than 200 acres of vineyard and open space. These practices have been emulated by others throughout the Napa Valley and replicated across the country.
In 1996, Warren and Barbara Winiarski initiated the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History’s American Food & Wine History Project. The project uses food and wine history as a lens for understanding American history by tracing the long and diverse history of wine in the United States.
In 2017, Winiarski recognized five Mexican American California winemaking families and made possible the archiving of their stories and oral histories into the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Winiarski had mentored several of these Mexican Americans as young vineyard workers. One of them was Rolando Herrara, who went on to open his own winery, Mi Sueño, in Napa Valley.
A supporter of archiving manuscripts, papers and multimedia that document California viticulture and enology, Winiarski has supported the UC Davis library in the the formation of a wine writers’ collection and helped to secure for it the papers of international wine writers Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Robert Thompson.