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The legend among us: Warren Winiarski: Napa Valley vintner to be honored with 'Wine Star'

The legend among us: Warren Winiarski: Napa Valley vintner to be honored with 'Wine Star'

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Wine Enthusiast magazine is awarding Warren Winiarski its Wine Star for American Wine Legend at this year’s Wine Star Awards held in January 2019.

The award recognizes Winiarski’s legacy in the wine industry as well as his many contributions to the land preservation, philanthropy and to reinforcing the culture of wine as an American tradition.

Each year, Wine Enthusiast honors individuals and companies that have made outstanding achievements in the wine and alcohol beverage world. The winners will be announced in Wine Enthusiast’s special “Best of Year December 31” issue, and honorees will be presented their Wine Stars at a black-tie awards dinner gala on Jan. 28, 2019, at Miami’s Nobu Eden Roc.

“The Wine Legend Award is reserved for our most influential people that have contributed to more than the wine industry. Warren’s dedication to elevating the status of American wine and contribution to the Napa Valley has been monumental,” says Adam Strum, editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Winiarski’s contributions since he arrived in Napa Valley 54 years ago transcend the California wine industry. He has surpassed his first titles as grape grower, winemaker, and vintner to become a mentor, preservationist, and California Hall of Fame Inductee in 2017.

His commitment to the Napa Valley has influenced other endeavors from land conservation to legacy support, while his example and mentorship have changed the lives of both native-born and immigrant Americans. He has left his mark not only on California, but on the United States and the global community.

In 1964, Winiarski moved to the Napa Valley to follow his dream of becoming a winemaker. He began his career as an apprentice working with Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars before moving on to be the first winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966.

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.

The Judgment of Paris is widely credited with putting Napa Valley on the global wine map and liberating winemakers around the world to aim for the stars. A bottle of Winiarski’s victorious 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon now resides 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 alongside Neil Armstrong’s space suit, Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis, and Lewis & Clark’s compass.

Winiarski’s contributions to the wine industry go beyond winemaking. Upon arriving in the Napa Valley, Winiarski recognized it needed to be protected from urbanization and development.

He was a key supporter of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. 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.

In 1996, Winiarski and his wife, Barbara, 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.

Over the years, the Winiarskis have donated significant funding to the Smithsonian for the conservation of wine and food history research, collecting wine and food objects, public events, as well the Annual Winemakers’ Dinners. For the future, Winiarski has proposed endowing a permanent position at the Smithsonian to enhance and grow the American Food & Wine History Project, continuing to raise public awareness about our American food and wine culture.

Winiarski, through his family foundation, has given the U.C. Davis Shields Library $3.3 million to create the first Wine Writers’ Collection. Broadly defined, wine writers include wine book authors, editors, wine journalists and critics, wine columnists, bloggers, and other editorial wine content creators. Winiarski has helped to secure the papers of renowned international wine writers Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Robert Thompson.

Winiarski has also been a crusader for wine quality, appearing frequently in symposia around the world and publishing articles in many wine journals. In 2001, he was president of the London-based International Wine & Spirit Competition, whose Cabernet Sauvignon trophy he has sponsored since 1986. He was also instrumental in the founding of Colorado’s vinifera wine industry.

Recognized for his global efforts to showcase and uphold the quality and history of California wine, Winiarski was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The 11th class of inductees was honored for its exemplary contributions to the “spirit of California.”

While his initial claim to fame may have been his Cabernet’s victory over the French, his devotion has matured from making exceptional wine to reinforcing the culture of wine as an American tradition and preserving his beloved Napa Valley.

Pop the cork on Napa Valley wine!

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