Winemaking

 

 

Warren Winiarski’s 1976 Judgment of Paris victory reverberated around the world. Perhaps the most important outcome was not the highest score, but the example he set for growers and winemakers globally—that great wines could be made in many other places around the world.

Early Winemaking

In 1964, Warren Winiarski moved from Chicago to Napa to apprentice for Lee Stewart of Souverain Cellars in the Napa Valley. As the second man in a two-man operation, Winiarski spent his days working over wine vats and his nights poring over books about winemaking. In 1965, Winiarski bought three acres on Howell Mountain and began planting grapes. He was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon at that high elevation on the mountain, an area later to become famous for its Cabernets. From 1966 to 1968, Winiarski was Robert Mondavi’s first winemaker when Mondavi opened the first new winery in the Napa Valley since Prohibition.

Blessing of the grapes 1966 at the unfinished Robert Mondavi Winery

Colorado Wine Industry

Winiarski left Mondavi for Ivancie Cellars in Colorado in 1968. He shipped California grapes to Colorado at the time, but he introduced the thought of planting vinifera grapes in Colorado. Winiarski continues to be associated with its viticulture and the wines of the Colorado wine industry. Most recently, the Winiarski Family Foundation awarded a scholarship and research grant to support the Viticulture and Enology Program at Colorado Mesa University - the first and only Viticulture and Enology program in the state.

Winiarski and Gerald Ivancie in Ivancie's Denver winery

              Working crush with Steve Ivancie 

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Winiarski purchased a prune orchard next door to Nathan Fay's vineyard in 1970. Fay was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in what is now the Stags Leap District and Winiarski was extremely impressed with Fay's 1968 homemade Cabernet. He called his land Stag’s Leap Vineyard, later known as the Paris Tasting Vineyard, now S.L.V. In 1973, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars opened its doors as bonded winery #4609.

Winiarski and Nathan Fay with Stags Leap Pinnacles in the background, 1985

Nathan Fay's homemade Cabernet, first Cabernet in Stags Leap District

                      Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Judgment of Paris

In 1976, eight French wine experts assembled for a blind tasting that marked the moment wine history took a sharp turn towards the United States. From a three-year-old vineyard, Winiarski's Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon won the red wine category. This victory proclaimed liberation from an artificial hierarchy that kept aspirations of achieving world-class-quality wine elsewhere in dormancy.

George Taber, a journalist of TIME magazine, attended the tasting and wrote the following: "Last week in Paris, at a formal wine tasting organized by [Steven] Spurrier, the unthinkable happened: California defeated all Gaul." This TIME article broke the news to the world that California had beat France at a game they assumed was no contest. The Paris Tasting put California and Napa Valley on the world wine map and Taber's article unveiled to the global wine stage that new players were in the top ranks, the then little known Napa Valley and Warren Winiarski.

1976 Judgment of Paris tasting

In 1996, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. put a bottle of the award-winning 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon on display. It remains part of the museum’s permanent collection for its historic importance in creating awareness and recognition of the quality of wine being made in California.

 

The bottle was included in the 2013 book The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects, by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. Other items chosen from among the collections for this historic list include Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, and Lewis & Clark’s compass.

On the 40th Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris in 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California declared a State Proclamation. It reads, “The ‘Judgment of Paris’ as this tasting came to be known, helped set the stage for the ascendance of the California wine industry, which today draws millions of visitors from around the world to the Golden State every year; and the hard work, the dreaming, the technical know-how and the blending of tradition and innovation that brought fine wine to California together exemplify all that makes our state exceptional. I, Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim May 24, 2016, as ‘Judgment of Paris Day’ in California.”

Inspiring and Mentoring Others

Winiarski’s contributions since he arrived in Napa Valley in 1964 transcend the California wine industry. He has surpassed his first titles as a grape grower, winemaker, and vintner to become a mentor, preservationist, and icon in the world of wine.  His commitment to 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 the State of California, but on the United States and the greater global community.

Footnotes.