John Wright, who helped Domaine Chandon launch its Napa sparkling wine business and ran it for more than two decades, died in January in St. Helena. Wright was fascinated by wine and made his own as a hobby, eventually planting a vineyard on Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Wright encouraged his brother Bill to purchase vineyards adjacent to his property. The brothers called it Kitty Hawk Vineyards.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1933, Wright was raised in Virginia. After college he volunteered for the army and was stationed in Germany’s Rheingau region, where he first became interested in wine. Following his tour, Wright received an MBA at Wharton School and went on to join Arthur D. Little, a management consulting firm, where he authored an influential three-volume study on the future of California wine.
The study caught the attention of executives at France’s Moët Hennessy, which was looking to expand into California. The company hired Wright and set its sites on Napa Valley. In 1973, Domaine Chandon started producing méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, becoming the first French sparkling wine house in California.
Wright oversaw all aspects of the winery’s design, from buying grapes to building a facility, with Moët & Chandon providing technical guidance. For the first few vintages the company worked out of the Trefethen winery before moving into a beautiful facility in Yountville in 1977. Wright even persuaded Moët to develop a high-end restaurant pairing sparkling wine with French cuisine. Chandon is now one of the most popular destinations in the valley.
Wright was popular with his staff, known for his warm attitude, sense of humor and enthusiasm. He made an impression on many of his employees, and alumni of the winery remain a tightly knit group. Even after he retired in 1995, Wright continued to give wine lectures to visitors at the property.
Wright is survived by his former wife, Renate, his son Gerald, his daughter Karin and four grandchildren.
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