New collections acquired by the UC Davis Library provide insight into two key figures without whom the Judgment of Paris, the 1976 blind tasting now widely recognized as the event that put California wine on the global map, would not have happened: winemaker André Tchelistcheff and wine tour operator Joanne DePuy.
The “dean of American winemakers”
Called the “dean of American winemakers,” André Tchelistcheff (1901-1994) is considered the most influential winemaker in California since the repeal of Prohibition. He mentored many of Napa Valley’s best-known winemakers, including both Warren Winiarski and Mike Grgich, whose Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, respectively, bested the French wines at the 1976 tasting.
Winiarski said he thought Tchelistcheff was so important for winemakers because he encouraged them to set their inspirations high. “For André, beauty in a wine was its most important character,” Winiarski recalled of his mentor. “He thereby elevated wine for all of us.”
The Russian-born winemaker, who had trained in France, first came to Napa Valley in 1938 as the chief winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards. During a career that spanned more than 50 years, Tchelistcheff played a key role in defining the style of California wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Renowned winemakers Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini were also among those who considered Tchelistcheff their mentor.
“André is the spiritual father of the Napa wine industry and the ‘godfather’ of many of the leading winemakers of Napa and Sonoma,” said Axel Borg, the library’s wine subject specialist.
Tchelistcheff’s legacy is preserved in a collection of scrapbooks that contain news clippings, correspondence, photographs and documents compiled over the years by his wife, Dorothy, which she recently donated to the library.
More than a wine tour
Joanne DePuy played a very different behind-the-scenes role. DePuy founded Wine Tours International because she wanted to “build a wine bridge between Napa Valley and other countries.” When the organizers of the 1976 tasting first visited Napa Valley, they reached out to DePuy for a tour. It was her tour that introduced them to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena.
As the date for the tasting approached, the organizers discovered that their shipment of American wines might not make it through customs in time and called upon DePuy again. She happened to be bringing a group of California winemakers (led by Tchelistcheff) on a wine tour of France, and the tasting organizers asked if her group could bring the bottles over on the plane. It’s thanks to DePuy that the American wines made it to Paris.
DePuy also broke new ground as a woman at a time when most leaders in California’s wine industry were men. Other women in the industry, such as winemaker Marimar Torres, founder and proprietor of Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery, considered her “a role model and a guiding light.”
“Joanne DePuy is one of Napa Valley wine’s greatest unsung heroes, helping to put Napa wines on a world stage from behind the scenes,” Esther Mobley, the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic, said. “In an era when it was not so easy for a woman to launch and run a business by herself, Joanne managed to become a diplomat: She was the first woman to address the Napa Valley Vintners Association, and even once convinced California Secretary of State March Fong Eu to lead a wine tour to China.”
DePuy donated her collection of photographs and documents to the library, which tell the story of Napa Valley during the wine boom in the 1970s, before the wine train became a defining feature of the valley.
Both the Dorothy and André Tchelistcheff Collection and the Joanne DePuy Papers are currently being cataloged by the library and will become available for public use by Winter 2020. For questions about the collections, or to schedule a research visit, contact Archives and Special Collections at SpecColl@ucdavis.edu.
Exhibit: A Tale of Two Tastings
Scrapbooks and documents from the two new collections are highlighted as part of an exhibit entitled “A Tale of Two Tastings” now on display through February 3, 2020, in the lobby of the Peter J. Shields Library at UC Davis.
The exhibit also includes a copy of a manuscript called Gentlemen Vintners of California, written in the 1960s, that mentions a blind tasting in Paris during which a 1957 Hanzell Chardonnay bested a 1955 Corton-Charlemagne. Letters discovered in Leon Adams’ archive describe that tasting in more detail.
The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular library hours: 7:30 am to 8 pm on weekdays, 12 pm to 6 pm on Saturdays, and 10 am to 6 pm on Sundays.