On Monday, the historical Napa Valley winegrowing elite gathered on the second floor of The Culinary Institute of America to talk, mostly, about people who weren't there. But this wasn't just another social gathering, it was the annual Vintners Hall of Fame inductee ceremony, and three of the four inductees had failed to show. César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers labor union, had a good reason, having passed away in 1993; writer and journalist Frank Schoonmaker (1905-1976) was similarly hindered; and, perhaps the evening's most-talked-about absentee, Robert M. Parker, Jr. had hurt his back.
Fortunately, winemaker Merry Edwards is both charismatic and gracious enough to carry the torch for the class of 2013.
The Hall of Fame was started seven years ago as a place to, in the words of Karen MacNeil, house not only the great talents of the the California wine industry, but to serve as a physical place for those people and their families to gather. "In 100 years, California has made it to the world stage and we could not have done that without talented people," says MacNeil.
As part of the ceremony, friends and relatives of the mostly deceased 2012 inductees were invited to unveil impressive plaques (one year in the making) that are attached to gian,t old foudres in what is now referred to as "the barrel room" and was once The Christian Brothers winery (fittingly, it feels a bit like a mausoleum). Dramatically, Peter Mondavi, Sr. who is 98-years-old, was able to unveil his own plaque alongside his two sons Peter and Marc. Parker accepted his award via a video he had prepared in advance noting, correctly, that his induction would likely be a controversial one.
While still young, the Hall of Fame, which "honors contributions to California wine in any area not just winemaking," says Chairman W. Blake Gray, has already become significant to the industry and, according to MacNeil, "takes on a greater gravitas" each year.
Gray says he looks to the Baseball Hall of Fame for inspiration in selecting nominees, and notes that this year the Vintners Hall of Fame was a lot more interesting because, you know, they actually inducted someone. Edwards, evidently, tested clean. And as for Parker, well, he's on the DL so anything goes.