Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seven Wine Industry Greats Who Passed in 2015

The wine industry lost several influential people this year. Today we remember seven world wine luminaries.

John Pedroncelli, Jr.
John Pedroncelli, Jr.
He was a second-generation California winemaker and played an active part in growing Sonoma County, California’s wine industry.

John Pedroncelli, Jr. followed his father, John, Sr. into the Pedroncelli Winery family business in 1948. John Jr. and his brother Jim purchased the winery from their father in 1963 and began increasing the line of wines and expanding the vineyards. (The Pedroncelli Winery is now operated by third and fourth generations of the family.)

John Pedroncelli prided himself on crafting affordable wines in the Dry Creek Valley. He wanted people to enjoy his wines now, not lay them down to age. Zinfandel was his favorite and he was the first winemaker in the state to make a Zinfandel Rosé. Besides Zinfandel, he also crafted Pinot Noir, Riesling, and various red blends, producing over 60 vintages for the winery.

John Pedroncelli died on January 4, 2015 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 89 years old. He is survived by his wife, Christine, three children and five grandchildren.

Evelyn Trentadue
Evelyn Trentadue
Evelyn Trentadue was the matriarch of a well-known Alexander Valley winemaking family.

Leo and Evelyn
She married Leo Trentadue in 1950. The couple left San Francisco in 1959 after purchasing a ranch in Geyserville. There they began a life-long love affair with wine grapes. While Leo tended 150 acres of plums and 60 acres of vineyards, Evelyn drove tons of grapes to market. By 1969, the couple had built one of the first wineries in the region; the Trentadue Winery.

The winery is known for its Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese, plus a red blend called Old Patch Red. Trentadue was the first California winery to release a 100% varietal Sangiovese – a nod to the family's Italian heritage.

Evelyn Trentadue died on March 21, 2015. She was 84 years old. She is survived by three children and six grandchildren, and was preceded in death by her husband, Leo.

Bob McLean
Bob McLean
One of Australia’s most respected winemakers passed away in April. Bob McLean was known as a “big guy with a big heart” in the wine world down under.

McLean made Barossa Valley his home and shared his love of the region by being a key tourism promoter for the region and deputy chairman for South Australian Tourism Association.

McLean worked his way up in the wine industry starting at “the bottom of the pile.” He spent 30 years in the industry doing what he called “communicating.” He refused to be labeled as a marketer, but his branding work with Petaluma, Orlando and Saint Hallett was famous. McLean worked on building winery images and promoting wine brands while helping to establish Australian wines in the international market, especially in Europe.

After years of success, McLean and his wife Wilma launched their own brand, McLean’s Farm Wines & Barr-Eden Vineyard, at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.

Bob McLean died on April 9, 2015 of liver cancer. He was 67 years old. In true McLean-style, he left a “farewell statement” to be published after his passing in which he confirmed “that these rumours of my death are true.” He is survived by his wife Wilma, two children and his grandchildren.

Joseph Henriot
Joseph Henriot
He was a legend in the world of Champagne and Burgundy wines, and a well-respected star of the French wine industry.

Joseph Henriot decided to take a different tack from the family business and was studying agronomy when his father died in 1957. Henriot then returned to the Champagne region in France to work in the family's Champagne Henriot Company. He became president of the company in 1962.

For the next several years he acquired several Champagne houses including Charles Heidsieck in 1975 and Veuve Cliquot. In 1985, Henriot sold the family business to Remy Martin. Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy acquired the family house in 1987. Henriot was president of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin during this time.

In 1994 he agreed to buy the family business back from LVMH. He also bought Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils, a well known Burgundy house, which included grand and premier cru vineyards.

Henriot went on to buy William Fèvre in Chablis, in 1998, and Villa Ponciago located in Beaujolais, in 2008.

Joseph Henriot died on April 27, 2015 at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife and three children. One son, Thomas Henriot will now run the House of Henriot.

Noël Verset
Noel Verset
He spent over 75-years cultivating wine grapes, and working to establish the Cornas appellation as an outstanding region for Syrah grapes.

Noël Verset loved the Cornas region and he worked hard to cultivate the wine grapes as his ancestors had done for centuries. Verset left school at the age of 12 to tend the family’s vineyard, but the pay was scant, so he also worked for the local railroad in Valence for years.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Verset began to bottle more of his "local wine." He became known as the “Grand Old Man” of Cornas and had visitors from around the world visit his vineyards and try his wine. The vino was said to be expressive, complex and faithful to the region – a dark, brooding wine with a wonderful texture that could enrapture the soul.

Verset continued to craft wine for sale until 2000. His last vintage for family use was in 2006.

Noël Verset died on September 11, 2015 in Guilherand-Granges, France. He was 95-years-old. He is survived by two daughters; his wife preceded him in death. Verset will be remembered for gaining the acceptance of the Cornas region as a great wine province.

Brian Wheaton
Brian Wheaton
He was a man with a list of acronyms behind his name; MW for Masters of Wine, AWE for Association of Wine Educators, and AGG for All-around Good Guy.

Brian Wheaton qualified for an MW – Masters of Wine - the highest distinction in the UK Wine Trade, in 1967. He was the only person awarded the distinction that year. (Today, only about 350 people hold an MW.)

Wheaton worked as a wine buyer for years, traveling around the globe before “retiring” to the lecture circuit aboard cruise ships where he made wine more approachable to the public.

Brian Wheaton died on November 29, 2015 after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, Anne, and three daughters.

Don Ditter
Don Ditter
As the former chief winemaker for Penfolds, he introduced changes that were relevant and far-reaching, both for the company, and for Australian wines.

Don Ditter was raised in the Barossa Valley and began his career at Penfolds Magill Estate in 1942 working as a lab assistant. Thirty years later he was the head of winemaking, holding that position from 1973 to 1986. During his time there, Ditter changed vineyard management and wine crafting techniques, producing award-winning results for the Penfolds label.

Ditter brought back the popular “special bin releases,” a marketing technique that had been allowed to lapse in the 1970s. The Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, which originated in 1964, was a special release that became extremely popular.

Ditter also concentrated on expanding the Koonunga Hill and Magill Estate line of wines during a time when the government was paying vineyards not to plant grapes due to a failing wine industry. He focused on developing the style of Penfolds Grange to make it more fruit-forward, garnering rave reviews.

Don Ditter died on December 16, 2015.  He was 89-years-old. Ditter might have been considered “old school,” but he was someone who knew what needed to be done and had the fortitude to see it through.

As 2015 comes to a close, here's wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

~ Joy