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Winiarskis make a $4 million bequest to the Smithsonian

Winiarskis make a $4 million bequest to the Smithsonian

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: June 12, 2021 series
Barbara and Warren Winiarski

Barbara and Warren Winiarski.

Warren and Barbara Winiarski have made a $4 million bequest to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History to fund a permanent curator of food and wine history.

The gift comes 25 years after the Winiarskis provided initial funding for the museum to launch a research and collecting initiative on the history of American wine and winemaking. The museum was subsequently able to create the American Food History Project, which brought together diverse sources to explore the American history through food and wine.

"Barbara and I are delighted to witness the light that grew brighter from the small spark we ignited with our first gift to the museum 25 years ago," Warren Winiarski said. "Our hopes then focused on restoring wine to the pre-Prohibition esteem it had once enjoyed.

"We wanted to bring back the goodness of wine and unite it with food, as it was before Prohibition tore them apart," he added.

"Inspired by the opinions of our founding fathers when we made our initial gift to the Smithsonian, little did we envision the major, more encompassing, food history project that spark engendered." 

One founding father, in particular, he said, was Thomas Jefferson, a fan of French wines, who planted grapevines at his Virginia home. "He thought our wines could be as good as the wines of France." 

Winiarski made good on Jefferson's hunch in 1976, the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote. Then a young winemaker in the Napa Valley, Winiarski made the Cabernet Sauvignon that won the Judgment of Paris, besting the best of France in a blind tasting. Milkjenko "Mike" Grgich made the white wine, a Chardonnay, that took top rating in the tasting. The wining wines put Napa Valley on the world wine map and inspired winemakers around the world  to aspire to make wines "as good as the French."

The Smithsonian acknowledged the impact of Winiarski's support in 2019 when the museum awarded him the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. "By presenting him with the (medal), the museum took one more — and vital — step to normalizing wine as a key art form in the American firmament," wine writer Dan Berger wrote at the time. 

The substantial new gift from the Winiarskis and the Winiarski Family Foundation will create a Winiarski Curator of Food and Wine History. "It's the way to make sure the position is there forever," Winiarski said. "Or -- if forever is a long time -- at least indefinitely.

"By endowing a dedicated curatorial position, we are supporting its sustainability beyond our own lifetimes and the title of the position, curator of food and wine history, represents the fulfillment of our original hopes." 

"We are delighted and so very grateful to the Winiarskis for their vision of documenting the impact of viniculture and the evolution of American winemaking and accompanying food culture to ensure its central place in U.S. history," said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum's Elizabeth MacMillan Director, who came to Napa Valley in 2019 to present the James Smithson medal to Winiarski. 

Researchers in Bordeaux are analysing a dozen bottles of a 5,000-euro bottles of Chateau Petrus Pomerol wine that spent a year in space. The precious liquid – along with 320 snippets of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines – returned to Earth in January after a sojourn aboard the International Space Station.

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Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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