R.I.P. Arthur 'Jay' Fritz Jr.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Arthur "Jay" Fritz Jr. over the weekend. A long time ago, before my nearly 18-year-so-far (yikes!) tenure at Wine Spectator, I worked for J. Fritz Winery (now called the Fritz Underground Winery), and Jay was my boss.
For about a year, I worked in the business office for J. Fritz in San Francisco, my first full-time job in the area after escaping to California from Ohio with the dream of working in the wine business. I didn't have much experience—a few years of managing restaurants and selling wine at retail. Before that, I had worked for the Ohio House of Representatives as a constituent aide and had always thought I'd be a sociology professor. As I've written before, my life took a sharp turn after I was bitten by the wine bug.
I can't say that I knew Jay very well—I wasn't there very long, and my entry-level role as administrative assistant kept me on the fringes of the business. But I recall Jay as being a tough but fair boss, with a strong vision for his Dry Creek Valley winery, committed to sustainability before it was trendy. Jay was extremely devoted to his family. I always enjoyed it when various members would stop by the office. I still hang a beautiful ornament on my Christmas tree every year made by his wife, Barbara. My heart goes out to them.
Most of all, I will remember Jay's strong sense of service and charity. He was a member of various charitable organizations, including the Knights of Malta, and the Barbara and Jay Fritz Charitable Foundation, which focused on helping children in need. He was a deeply religious man—in fact, we spoke about religion during my interview, which I remember with a grin. It's far from the typical line of interview banter, but it gave me a lot of insight into what motivated him.
I'll always be grateful to Jay for giving me the job, and even though I wasn't there very long, it was a much-needed crash course in the wine business. I learned about importers and distributors, and got a sense of the payables and receivables of a medium-size winery. At the time, Helen Turley was a consultant, and I was fascinated by her influence. I helped design marketing materials, proofread back-label copy, and even packed up samples to send to Wine Spectator for review. Now I'm on the receiving end of thousands of such packages of samples a year.
I've long-since drunk all of my Fritz bottles of wine, but I'm going to track down a bottle of Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek and raise a glass to him soon. Thanks for giving me a shot, Jay!