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Warren Winiarski at the 2022 CAAA Alumni Awards, where he received the Distinguished Friend of the University award for his ongoing support of the UC Davis Library and the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Remembering Legendary Napa Winemaker Warren Winiarski

Winiarski's philanthropy included his enduring support of the Library and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Warren Winiarski, renowned Napa Valley winemaker, grape grower, land preservationist, and philanthropist, passed away on June 7, 2024 — the grapes of what would have been his 60th harvest still ripening on the vines. Winiarski devoted his life to elevating the heritage of wine and its cultural importance in the United States and around the world, and preserving the agricultural land of his beloved Napa Valley.

Wine bottle bearing the label 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. (Smithsonian catalog number 1996.0029.01)

Winiarski was the founder and former winemaker of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where he produced the legendary 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon that won the 1976 Judgment of Paris Tasting, putting California wine on the global map. It was such a momentous turning point in the history of American wine that the bottle is now part of the collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

He also worked for more than 50 years to protect the agricultural lands and rural beauty of Napa Valley. In the 1960s, he advocated for the creation of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve. He backed several ballot initiatives over the years to protect agriculture and open space in the county. More recently, he and his wife Barbara donated six conservation easements to the Land Trust of Napa County, protecting nearly 200 acres of wild land and vineyards in perpetuity.

Philanthropically, Winiarski left his mark through the Winiarski Family Foundation, which donated funds to various organizations to conserve wine and food history, and to advance research related to wine.

A visionary partner to the library

The UC Davis Library is honored to have had Winiarski as a long-time supporter and partner. He gave $3.3 million to the library to build the most comprehensive Wine Writer Collections in the world. Thanks to his contribution, the library continues to acquire, preserve and share the works and papers of prominent wine writers — “creating a powerful resource,” as Winiarski said, “for people who want to see how writers helped develop the wine industry [and] influenced the aesthetics of wine.”

The Warren Winiarski Wine Writer Collection includes the papers of Gerald Asher, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Charles Sullivan, Bob Thompson and others.

It’s not just about preserving their work, but also building a home where something new can be made from the past. We need to continue to get more finesse in our wines and I’m hoping that this collection will help bring about those developmental benefits for the industry for many years to come.”

— Warren Winiarski

In 2023, the library partnered with Winiarski to establish the Spurrier-Winiarski Wine Writer-In-Residence award for wine writers to contribute new perspectives to the canon of wine writing. The inaugural recipient of the $50,000 award, Las Vegas-based journalist, essayist and author Meg Bernhard, will use her three-month residency at UC Davis this year to pursue a library-based research and writing project on the intersection of climate change and labor in the global wine industry. The award will be offered again in 2025.

University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship William Garrity credits the UC Davis Library’s reputation as the world’s preeminent wine library in no small part to Winiarski.

“Warren’s vision was instrumental in creating our growing wine writer collection, which has become a cornerstone of our collections on wine, benefiting winemakers, scholars and students alike,” Garrity said. “He also nurtured future contributions to the wine writing canon through the Spurrier-Winiarski Wine Writer-in-Residence Award. Just as the wine world will cherish Warren’s enduring legacy and profound influence on the creation and appreciation of fine wine, his unwavering support and dedication to UC Davis and its Library will likewise be remembered for generations to come.”

Funding for viticulture research

Winiarski also provided support for the Department of Viticulture and Enology in UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for many years, contributing nearly $2 million. In 2021, he created the Warren Winiarski Fund for Advancing the Amerine-Winkler Index to fund an ambitious research project to better understand the environmental factors that affect vine growth, berry chemistry, and wine quality.

This will be used on a worldwide scale, just as the original work of Amerine and Winkler was used on a worldwide scale to give winemakers the opportunity to make better wines, more beautiful wines and more satisfying wines.”

— Warren Winiarski

As Napa viticulturalists wrestled with the realities of climate change, Winiarski saw an opportunity to update and expand the Winkler Index, which winemakers use to classify the climate of wine-growing regions based on heat summation or growing degree days. The eight-year research project is led by Assistant Professor of Viticulture and Enology Elisabeth Forrestel, whose team visited the library in 2021 to conduct research using Winkler’s original records, which are preserved in the library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Winemaker Warren Winiarski donated more than $450,000 toward The Warren Winiarski Fund for Advancing the Amerine-Winkler Index. (Video courtesy of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)

College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Helene Dillard said Winiarski’s vision and research support has been transformative, allowing Forrestel and her team to use advanced technologies to better understand how climate change will affect the wine industry in the future.

“Warren has had a profound effect on winemaking in California and his generous contributions to our research will benefit the industry and wine lovers for generations to come,” Dillard said. “He understood that philanthropy could provide the kind of stable long-term funding required to plan, implement and pursue high impact multi-year projects. I wish his family and loved ones comfort during this time of loss.”

Born a winemaker

Winiarski was born in Chicago in 1928 in a tight-knit Polish community. Winiarski’s introduction to winemaking started at a young age when his father made mead and wines as a hobby. Coincidentally, the name Winiarski in Polish translates to “from wine” or “from a winemaker.” Despite his familial ties to wine, he did not decide to become a winemaker until 1964.

Winiarski studied philosophy and literature at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where he met his wife, Barbara. He then pursued graduate school at the University of Chicago, leading to a year abroad in Italy. It was there that he learned to enjoy wine regularly with dinner. When he returned to Chicago to complete his master’s degree, his fascination with wine took root.

In 1964, Winiarski and his family moved to Napa Valley, and in 1966, he joined Robert Mondavi as assistant winemaker in the Robert Mondavi Winery. After two years, Winiarski began to search for a place for his own winery. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was opened to the public in 1973. In 2007, he sold Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars but continued to grow grapes at his Arcadia Vineyards.

Winiarski contributed significantly to the history of wine through various writings, speaking engagements, and philanthropic contributions. He was a crusader for wine quality, often participating in symposia around the world and publishing articles in various wine journals.

He was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2017. In 2019, the Smithsonian Institute awarded him the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal. UC Davis recognized his longstanding support of the university with its Distinguished Friend of the University award in 2022. Most recently, earlier this year, he received the 2024 Trustee Medal of Honor from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. In the world of food and wine, and certainly here at UC Davis, his legacy will live on.

UC Davis Professor Emeritus of Enology Roger Boulton and Warren Winiarski at the UC Davis Library in November 2017. (Pattie Chen/UC Davis Library)

Tributes from our community

“Warren was not only an extraordinary winemaker but also a true interdisciplinary thinker. He understood the power and beauty of words to bring the art and heart of wine to life. As a historian, one of the things I appreciated deeply about Warren was his knowledge that education and experience elevate the quality of fine wine just as much as the science of winemaking. His support of wine history, culture, and writing will have an indelible impact on the stories we preserve and tell about wine and the legacy of wine in California and beyond.”

— Audrey Russek, Food and Wine Archivist, UC Davis Library

“Warren inspired all the qualities we aim to embody as educators: his curiosity, willingness to learn, bold pursuit of knowledge, and desire to educate and share his expansive expertise until the end of his days. His commitment to the humanities, arts and sciences in support of continuing to uphold the future of the wine industry in Napa, California and beyond, was unparalleled.

His contributions to UC Davis and the Department of Viticulture and Enology over the years are immeasurable, and while we feel the sadness of no longer receiving calls about a range of viticultural topics or engaging in lively conversations where he pushed himself and others to understand and communicate the why and how of it all, his legacy will surely carry through his generous gifts and shared knowledge. Warren Winiarski was a mentor, a supporter, a teacher and a force who will continue to inspire and not be forgotten.”

— Elisabeth Forrestel, Assistant Professor, UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology

“Without exception, every time I talked with Warren, I learned something about wine, about life and about myself. I am infinitely richer for having known Warren and for his friendship.”

— Axel E. Borg, Distinguished Wine and Food Science Bibliographer Emeritus, UC Davis Library

“Warren leaves an enduring impact. We are deeply appreciative of his partnership with the Department of Viticulture and Enology over the years, which has supported our faculty and students. His generous philanthropy represents a visionary investment in the future of California wine through generating new knowledge and training the leaders of tomorrow. We raise a glass to Warren.”

— Ben Monpetit, Chair of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology

“Warren’s interest in preservation went beyond Napa’s agricultural land to embrace the history of California wine, a story in which he played a major part. It was a privilege to partner with him to preserve that history and the influence of wine writers on it. We will all miss his passion, insights, and engagement very much.”

— MacKenzie Smith, served as University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship, UC Davis Library, from 2012 to 2023


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