Wine icon Warren Winiarski wows
Napa Valley College viticulture students
About 50 Napa Valley College viticulture students were treated Nov. 15 to a first-hand account of how the Napa Valley wine industry was discovered more than 40 years ago.
The speaker was Napa Valley wine icon Warren Winiarski, who was born in 1928 in a Polish section of Chicago, and whose last name means "of wine" or "son of winemaker" in Polish.
Winiarski was invited to speak by instructor Paul Wagner, a wine marketing expert who has been teaching at the college for 21 years.
"It's an electric moment to have someone like Warren Winiarski visit my class," said Wagner. "The students really embrace the opportunity to learn from a master, and Warren's face lights up when he sees their enthusiasm."
Winiarski shared a few tips with the students.
When Warren and Barbara Winiarski arrived in Napa Valley in 1964, California had only about 600 acres planted in Cabernet grapes, including 350 acres in Napa County.
He went to work for Souverain Winery, moved to Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 and started the Colorado wine industry in 1968 with California grapes he helped select.
In 1970, he bought 44 acres of Napa Valley prune, cherry and walnut trees and replaced them with Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Sirah, making wine as Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.
"Never underestimate what you can do with a prune orchard," he advised the NVC students. "You don't make wine from grapes alone. You make wine from vision. Grapes. Ground. A Guy (or a Gal): The three G's that define the destiny of all wines."
Six years later, a bottle of Winiarski's first vintage, 1973 Stag's Leap Cabernet, was selected to compete in the now-famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, where it bested ten French and California red wines.
A bottle of the award-winning wine is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. and was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the "101 Objects that Made America."
Regarding how wine should be judged at wine tastings, Winiarski told the students, "On a 20-point score card, as long as it's wet it should get two points. If the wine composition is magnitude, then the subtleties will be gone. I want tension and interest between the elements. I don't want uniformity.
"Beautiful wines have a sense of completeness. For something to be complete it must have a beginning, end, and middle. This should be pleasant to humans because we are not complete. Wine has this amazing possibility of giving you something complete, if you do it right.
"When the wine speaks to you, listen. That's my final word."