Who is Maynard Amerine?

By Axel Borg – July 5, 2016

“Drink wine, not labels,” declared Maynard Amerine, but you might be asking yourself just who was Maynard Amerine to make such a bold declaration. I first met him when he came to the Natural Resources Library on the UC Berkeley campus. I was newly graduated from library school and was told that he was a very important retired professor of wine from UC Davis. Amerine was down working on a bibliography of writings by UC faculty, staff and students on grapes and wine. I helped him find what he was looking for and a couple of days after he left I got a nice card thanking me for my assistance.

I soon realized that Amerine was more than just an important professor. In fact, Professor Maynard A. Amerine is still considered the most significant wine scientist ever produced in the United States.

Born in San Jose California on October 30, 1911, his family later moved to the Modesto area of the great San Joaquin Valley in California. It was there that he met the two brothers whose last name would become synonymous with California wine: Ernest and Julio Gallo. The three were in junior high and later in high school together. The Amerine/Gallo friendship continued through all of Amerine’s life. (And later through Amerine’s contacts in the Soviet Union, he was able to arrange for the Gallos to visit the largest sparkling wine factory in the world, which was located outside of Moscow.) After high school Amerine went on to Modesto Junior College and then transferred to the Davis campus of UC Berkeley. (Davis did not become a separate campus until 1959). Amerine finished his undergraduate degree at Davis and then went to Berkeley for his doctorate in plant physiology.

Amerine’s major accomplishments in the field of grapes and wine came while he was a faculty member at UC Davis. Shortly after finishing his doctorate he worked with Albert Winkler to determine the best growing regions for specific types of wine grapes. Based on cumulative temperature and named the Winkler Scale, these 5 regions are known to day as Zone I-V. This research provided the first data driven guide to where to plant which variety. Amerine then went on to work with Ed Roessler to make wine tasting more objective and less subjective and launching the field of wine sensory science. Amerine was also a bibliophile and a bibliographer. He published a number of bibliographies on grape growing and wine making. He was responsible for many great collections of wine and grape books becoming part of the wine library at UC Davis. Lastly, Amerine was tireless in his efforts to raise the general quality of wine produced in California and to educate the public to consumption of wine.

Amerine stressed the consumption of quality wine, but what did Amerine drink? His label collection of almost 5200 labels gives us a picture of the depth and breadth of his wine consumption.