Before welcoming 2009, Wine Spectator would like to reflect upon some of the trailblazers, winemakers, collectors and cheerleaders of the wine industry who died this past year.
In 2008 we bid farewell to perhaps the most influential vintner in the history of American wine, Robert Mondavi. The Mondavi name is known the world over thanks to his tireless efforts to promote and improve the California wine industry.
We also said goodbye to California sparkling-wine pioneer Jamie Davies of Schramsberg; Sonoma icon Bob Kunde; Bordeaux's Anthony Perrin of Château Carbonnieux; Gianni Masciarelli, Italy's Abruzzo champion; and David Lett, who brought Pinot Noir to Oregon's Willamette Valley. While many of the vintners here lived long and full lives, some careers were sadly cut too short, as iconic Loire Valley winemaker Didier Dagueneau was killed in an aircraft accident in September. Following are some of the many memorable characters that the wine industry will miss in 2009.
Dr. Bailey Carrodus, the founder, owner and winemaker of Yarra Yering winery in Victoria, Australia's Yarra Yarra Valley, died this year after a short illness. Carrodus, a trained botanist, founded his winery in 1969, and his 1973 vintage was the first commercially produced wine in Yarra Yarra in more than 50 years.
Iconoclastic Loire Valley winemaker Didier Dagueneau died in an ultralight aircraft accident at age 52. Dagueneau's eponymous winery is known for high-quality Pouilly-Fumés that stand apart from the rest of the region's Sauvignon Blancs. He championed rigorous techniques in both the vineyard and the winery, including severe pruning for drastically low yields, hand-harvesting of fruit and barrel fermentation, to great success and critical acclaim.
Jamie Davis, who cofounded Napa Valley's Schramsberg winery in 1965, died at age 73. Her trailblazing efforts to make high-quality sparkling wine in California gained worldwide recognition in 1972 when President Richard Nixon toasted China's Premier Chou En-Lai with her 1969 Schamsberg Blanc de Blancs.
Celebrated New Orleans-based wine collector Lloyd Flatt died at age 71. Flatt amassed a Bordeaux-focused 15,000-bottle collection, which included rarities such as 1806 Château Lafite Rothschild and jeroboams of 1929 Château Mouton-Rothschild, and was known to share generously with friends and wine lovers.
Sonoma county winemaking pioneer Bob Kunde, who founded Kunde Estate in 1990 with his late brother Fred, died after complications from surgery at age 80. The Kunde family has been in the grapegrowing business for more than 100 years, and Bob focused the Kunde brand on estate-grown grapes.
David "Papa Pinot" Lett, the first to plant Pinot Noir vineyards in Oregon's Willamette Valley, died of heart failure at age 69. Lett brought Pinot Noir to the Willamette Valley despite prevailing sentiment that Oregon's climate was too harsh for the grape to ripen. He became a mentor to many other fledgling Willamette Pinot producers.
Famed Italian grappa producer Romano Levi, dubbed Piedmont's "grappaiol'angelico" (angelic grappa distiller), died at age 79. Levi took over his family's distillery as a teenager after the deaths of his parents, and his limited-production grappas are highly sought-after.
Southern Italy winemaking pioneer Gianni Masciarelli died at age 52 after suffering a cerebral brain hemorrhage. Masciarelli raised both the quality and reputation of the wines of his native Abruzzo, focusing on local grapes, namely Montepulciano and Trebbiano.
Hudson Valley winemaking pioneer Mark Miller died at age 89. The founder of Benmarl Vineyards purchased his Marlboro, N.Y., farm in 1951 and received New York's first farm winery license in 1976.
California wine icon Robert Mondavi died at his home in Yountville at age 94. Mondavi, perhaps the most recognized figure in the history of American winemaking, was a visionary vintner and brilliant marketer who devoted himself tirelessly to the continued improvement and increased recognition of California wines. His influence stretched well beyond U.S. borders. Mondavi worked with wineries in France, Italy, Chile and Australia, most notably partnering with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux's famous Château Mouton-Rothschild to create Opus One in Napa Valley.
Napa Valley pioneer Peter Newton died in St. Helena at age 81 after a long illness. Newton, an Englishman, founded Sterling Vineyards in 1964, where he focused on Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon and Burgundian Chardonnay, and Newton Vineyards in 1978, where he made high-quality Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay.
After a two-year battle with lung cancer, Anthony Perrin, owner of Bordeaux's Château Carbonnieux in Pessac-Léognan, died at age 68. Perrin helped modernize the Carbonnieux estate with his father in 1956 and was instrumental in establishing the Pessac-Léognan appellation in 1987. Perrin also served as the president of the Union des Grands Crus from 1992 to 1994.
Collector, vineyard owner and Heitz winery investor Barney Rhodes died after a brief illness at age 88. Rhodes and his wife, Belle, planted their first vineyard, which later came to national prominence as Martha's Vineyard, in Napa's Oakville district in 1960.
Tom Shelton, former president of Joseph Phelps winery, succumbed to brain cancer at 55 years of age. During his time at Phelps, Shelton was an active member of the Napa Valley wine community, and a voice for the Napa Valley Vintners.
Jean-Claude Vrinat, owner of Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Paris restaurant Taillevent, died of lung cancer at age 71. Under Vrinat's guidance, Taillevant garnered three Michelin stars. In 1987 and 1994, Vrinat expanded his empire by opening Les Caves Taillevent in Paris and Tokyo, respectively.
Napa Valley Farm Advisor Ed Weber, a valuable ally of the California wine industry, died suddenly while riding his bike at age 51. Weber entered the wine business in the early 1980s as a viticulturist for Joseph Phelps before accepting a position with the University of California and later Napa County.
Acclaimed Veneto winemaker Sergio Zenato succumbed to leukemia at the age of 73 after a long battle with the disease. Zenato founded his winery in 1960 and was known for his Trebbianos and Amarones.
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