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2015: In Memoriam

Honoring notable wine and food industry leaders who died this past year
Photo by: John McJunkin
Joe Phelps was a Napa pioneer whose Insignia red became a California benchmark.

Posted: December 31, 2015

On the eve of 2016, Wine Spectator pauses to remember the winemakers, vintners, industry champions and others who died this year.

This past April we lost California wine pioneer Joseph Phelps, whose 2002 Insignia Cabernet was named Wine Spectator’s 2005 Wine of the Year. That vintage was made by winemaker Craig Williams, but winemaker Walter Schug, who died this past October, helped create Insignia as Phelps’ winemaker in 1974. Schug, whose first wine love was Pinot Noir, went on to found his own eponymous winery in Carneros, where his son Axel continues their tradition of focusing on Burgundy varietals.

California pioneers Raymond Duncan, who cofounded Silver Oak, and Joe Martin who founded St. Francis Winery, also passed this year. And Burgundy lost the beloved manager of one of its most esteemed Chardonnay estates, Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive. This New Year’s Eve, we remember these great contributors to the wine world and more who will be missed in 2016. And we encourage readers to share their memories in the comments, and to add memorials for any other wine industry friends we weren’t able to include.

Walter Channing
Walter Channing, founder of Long Island's Channing Daughters Winery, lived a many-faceted life that entwined wine, art, celebrity and business. His winery on the South Fork was known for non-traditional grapes for the region, experimenting with Blaufrankisch, Muscat, Lagrein and more.

Christophe Delorme
Christophe Delorme spearheaded the effort to make his family's Domaine de la Mordorée one of the most dynamic estates in France's Southern Rhône Valley. Starting with a small collection of vineyards in Tavel, Delorme, along with his father and brother, grew the estate to more than 135 acres and produced a pair of consistently classic-rated Châteauneuf-du-Papes.

Photo by Roberto Frankenberg
Domaine de la Mordorée's Christophe Delorme

Don Ditter
Don Ditter stepped into legendary Australian winemaker Max Schubert's shoes as chief winemaker at Penfolds in 1973 and improved the overall quality of the wines at a critical juncture in the company's history. During his tenure, Ditter introduced vinification innovations, including a triage of every parcel of grapes harvested, by both taste and chemical analysis. He also reintroduced the high-end Bin 707 Cabernet, and protected the quality of the flagship Grange bottling through changes in ownership.

Raymond Duncan
Raymond Twomey Duncan’s first professional success came in the oil and gas industry as the founder of Duncan Oil. He followed that by establishing Colorado’s Purgatory ski resort. For his third act, he cofounded Napa’s Silver Oak Cellars with winemaker Justin Meyer, and later founded Twomey Cellars with his sons, David and Tim, who today oversee both brands.

Volker Eisele
Best known for championing farmland protection policies in Napa, vintner Volker Eisele was in 2008 named “outstanding agriculturalist of the year” by the Napa County Farm Bureau for his 30-year career as a grapegrower and his commitment to land preservation and conservation.

Charly Foucault
Jean-Louis "Charly" Foucault was co-owner of Clos Rougeard, the iconic Cabernet Franc vineyard in France's Loire Valley. An organic farming pioneer, along with his brother Nady, Clos Rougeard’s small-production Cabernet Francs and Chenin Blancs attained cult status among their devoted fans.

Joseph Henriot
French wine executive Joseph Henriot helped build Veuve Clicquot Champagne into a global icon and restored Burgundy négociant Bouchard Père et Fils' reputation and profitability. After leaving his role as an LVMH executive in 1994, Henriot built his family company into a top player, acquiring Bouchard, William Fèvre in Chablis and Villa Ponciago in Beaujolais. He also established an American import firm, Henriot Inc., and reenergized his family’s Champagne house.

Photo by Michel Joly
Joseph Henriot

Anne-Claude Leflaive
Biodynamic farming advocate Anne-Claude Leflaive managed iconic white Burgundy estate Domaine Leflaive and also owned Clau de Nell in the Loire Valley. As sole director of Leflaive beginning in 1994, she cut yields in pursuit of quality, producing some of the most exciting white Burgundies of the past 20 years. Its grands crus and top premiers crus routinely earned classic ratings; the Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 1995 scored a perfect 100 points.

Photo by Jon Wyand
Anne-Claude Leflaive

Joe Martin
San Francisco businessman Joe Martin sold his furniture company in 1971 and bought 100 acres in Sonoma Valley, planting Behler Vineyard. In 1979 he cofounded St. Francis winery and helped turn California Merlot into a household name.

John Pedroncelli
Sonoma wine pioneer John Pedroncelli started making wine for his family’s Dry Creek Valley winery in 1949; he and his brother Jim bought out their father's share in the winery in 1963. John remained active at the Pedroncelli Winery through the 2014 harvest.

Joseph Phelps
California wine icon Joseph Phelps arrived in Napa Valley in the 1970s following a career as a contractor in Colorado; he bought a 600-acre cattle ranch and turned it into Joseph Phelps Vineyards, where he pioneered a trademark Napa style of ripe, rich Cabernet Sauvignon accented by Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a generous use of oak. The 2002 vintage of his signature Bordeaux-style blend, Insignia, was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2005. For more on Phelps and his legacy with Insignia, read senior editor James Laube’s blog post, “The Making of Phelps’ Insignia.”

Photo by John McJunkin
Joseph Phelps

Walter Scheib
Former White House chef Walter Scheib was a champion of healthy American cuisine. He joined the White House in 1994 and ushered in a new culinary era at the president’s residence by focusing on light, low-fat fare made with high-quality ingredients. He spotlighted American wines by serving them to dignitaries from around the world at state dinners.

Walter Schug
Germany-born winemaker Walter Schug helped create Insignia for Joseph Phelps in 1974, but his passion was for Pinot Noir, and he left Phelps in 1983 to found Schug Carneros Estate, where he focused on Pinot and Chardonnay.

Robert Sinskey Sr.
Robert Sinskey Sr. was a distinguished eye surgeon who turned his attention to grapegrowing in the 1970s, becoming a partner in Acacia winery in Carneros. He founded his own eponymous winery in 1988 in Napa’s Stags Leap District.

William Sokolin
William Sokolin was a wine expert, retailer, author and key figure in the fine-wine business from the 1960s through the 1980s. Sokolin’s wine-investment books included Liquid Assets and The Complete Wine Investor.

Matthew Bayless
Woodland Hills —  December 31, 2015 2:12pm ET
Truly a sobering list, but lets not also forget Colette Faller from Dom. Weinbach and Serge Hochar from Chateau Musar.

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