The Vintners Hall of Fame recognized three under-appreciated groups at its induction ceremony on Monday: Mexican farmworkers, powerful wine critics and women winemakers.
United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez and wine critic Robert Parker were controversial choices when announced last fall, and Parker acknowledged as much in a video message he recorded for Monday's ceremony in St. Helena, California. He was unable to travel to the event because he twisted his back in Europe earlier this month.
Looking professorial with a salt-and-pepper beard in his video message, Parker said that on his first visits to California wineries in the 1970’s, "I was frustrated that I saw enormous potential to make great wine and too few people doing it. In the late '80s and into the early '90s, all that skepticism turned into a bullish advocacy."
Parker has admitted on his erobertparker forum that he is “thinking of making a comeback in California.” In his address, he admitted the state’s wines still instilled "a level of excitement, of pride in my country, and of joy, because I'm a wine consumer like every other wine lover."
Parker called his induction "a very humbling occasion," and said: "I have been reminded many times that I was a somewhat controversial choice."
Indeed, Parker has been on the ballot previously but had not garnered enough support from the electorate. While he has been hugely influential, some dislike his preference for ripe wines and reducing wines to a score out of 100.
The other controversial choice was Cesar Chavez. He organized two national boycotts of grapes and was a frequent antagonist of large wineries, particularly E. & J. Gallo Winery. Chavez was instrumental in improving living conditions for the Mexican immigrants who pick the overwhelming majority of California's wine grapes, and also helped gain some recognition for them as skilled workers.
"Cesar believed you could only understand the poor by sharing their plight," said Chavez’s former spokesman Marc Grossman. "He never made more than $6,000 a year, never owned a home, and left nothing behind for his family." Grossman pointed out that Barack Obama borrowed Chavez's slogan "Si, se puede!" ("Yes we can!") for his 2008 presidential campaign.
When this year's honorees were announced, the chairman of the nominating committee, W. Blake Gray, said: “It's interesting to see the two most argued-about candidates of recent years, Robert Parker and Cesar Chavez, going in at the same time. I think this is a testament to the quality of discussion people have conducted online and in social media about the merits of the candidates."
Winemaker Merry Edwards was also inducted on Monday, along with the late wine writer and importer Frank Schoonmaker, who was instrumental in encouraging California wineries to use varietal names instead of naming their wines after European places like Chablis, Burgundy and Chianti.