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John H. Wright

1933–2012

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John H. Wright

John H. Wright

John Wright passed away peacefully at St. Helena Hospital on Jan. 15, 2012. He was born July 28, 1933, in Buffalo, N.Y., to Henry H. and Freda (Gerngross) Wright. He was raised in Virginia. After graduating from Wesleyan University in 1954, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. While stationed in Germany, he met his future wife, Renate Binder. John and Renate were married in Philadelphia in 1957.

After graduating from the Wharton School with an MBA in 1958, John embarked on an exciting career as an international business consultant for Arthur D. Little in Cambridge, Mass. Long a home winemaker and wine buff, he proposed, researched and wrote for ADL, a study to assess the future of the wine market in America that attracted the attention of the chairman of Paris-based Moët-Hennessy.

This quickly led to a new career for Wright as founding president and chairman of Domaine Chandon. With technical guidance from Moët & Chandon, in 1973 John and his winemaking staff began producing high- quality “méthode champenoise” sparkling wines from Napa Valley pinot noir and chardonnay. Under John Wright’s leadership, Domaine Chandon earned acclaim as a world-class, environmentally and socially responsible winery and vineyard operation. 

When it opened to the public in 1977, Domaine Chandon became a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike, featuring a welcoming and bubbly hospitality program and the first fine-dining restaurant in the Napa Valley. John loved proving that haute cuisine and sparkling wine can live year-round in perfect harmony.

John was revered and loved by the staff he motivated each and every day with his quick wit, creativity, sense of humor, enthusiasm and infectious optimism. Understanding that doing things differently could produce amazing results, he gave challenging opportunities to bright, talented people who did not necessarily have the experience most employers would require. He never missed an opportunity to show them his caring spirit and his generosity. They, in turn, honor his unconventional leadership by remaining a tight-knit alumni group calling themselves the Domainiacs.

John enjoyed his retirement years by giving entertaining wine lectures to visitors (one of whom pronounced him “a national treasure”), playing the occasional round of golf and continuing his lifelong dedication to the arts, the symphony and the opera. The stamps in his passport reveal a man who traveled the world, always curious about different cultures and lifestyles.

Two brothers, William H. Wright and Karl M. Wright, predeceased him. John is survived by his former wife and good friend, Renate; one son, Gerald Wright (Lek); one daughter, Karin Oliver (David); and four grandchildren, Madeline Oliver, Andrew Oliver, Eric Wright and Alyssa Wright.

Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to Clinic Olé Foundation, 1141 Pear Tree Lane, Suite 260 Napa, CA 94558; Chamber Music in Napa Valley, 4375 Atlas Peak Road, Napa, CA 94558; or Napa Valley Symphony, P.O. Box 3204, Napa, CA 94558.

A celebration of John’s life will be on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, from 5 to 7 p.m.

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