Yesterday, Warren Winiarski, the college professor-turned-vintner who crafted the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon which bested the French 1er Cru giants at the Judgement of Paris, donated $3.3 million dollars to help build the world’s most comprehensive library of viticultural literature at the University of California Davis. A huge fan of Winiarski who, regrettably, is one of the few iconic wine pioneers of the Napa Valley whom I’ve yet to meet, I was especially excited that his donation was going toward a library, myself a bibliophile of some renown. I think on many levels, I’ve always admired the man who gave up a college professorship and left Chicago in search of a more rural lifestyle — it must be that I find his quest relatable.
I visited Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars last month, along with my friend Kaleb who works as a sommelier at a two Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco. Kaleb’s wine knowledge dwarfs my own, but his amiable nature and unyielding gentleness make him unintimidating to taste alongside and a pleasure to be friends with. We spent the morning looking out over the vineyards that helped to establish the Napa Valley’s now world renowned reputation, and tasting the grandchildren of the wines that put American on the wine map of the world. The serenity of the Vacas looming high over neatly planted rows of grapevine made it easy to imagine, at least in part, what would draw a successful college professor to such a place. As a college professor, I too am drawn to that place, as evidenced by my frequent return visits.
Having read earlier in the day of Winiarski’s generous donation and gearing up for a weeklong post-doc stint at Harvard where I will surely miss my family, I committed to cooking them dinner last night. I went to the grocery store and bought pickled beets — a favorite of little Titus, and some potato salad. Then I took the cucumbers a friend had given us the day prior and chopped them up with some sweet yellow tomatoes, feta cheese and balsamic. I also, in the pioneering spirit of a man ready to leave his home for new adventures, grabbed a slab of pork ribs and committed to cooking them on the grill — something I have never attempted before. I used to crock pot ribs all the time, and they turned out great, but I have always been afraid of grilling them. “No longer,” I told myself.
The last thing I did was to snag a bottle of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 vintage, from the cellar and decant it while I cooked. The ribs ultimately turned out pretty well — turns out Titus and Zooey enjoyed those almost more than beets, which makes our next trip to Kansas City even more fun to look forward to. For it’s part, the wine I opened in honor of the man I’ve never met was extraordinary, and drinking especially well at the moment I believe. The aromatics were such that there was no need even to bring the glass to my nose, the rich, classic Cabernet profile seemingly drawn to the smoky meat upon our table. Plush, the notes of black cherry, currants, and plumb were prominent, and it had a pleasant, velvety mouthfeel. I made sure to raise a glass to Professor Winiarski’s generosity before the night had ended.
As I wrap up this post, I hear little Zooey beginning to stir upstairs. Legacy is a strange concept, and as the years pass I give more and more consideration to my own. Fifteen years ago, I’d assumed I’d be a national bestselling author by now (I’m not), and I had no inkling of the amazing children I’d be raising. Perhaps the best guide for a man like me is to take in those of others, to appreciate and admire and, ultimately, in my own way, attempt to emulate. Warren Winiarski’s legacy is one of pioneering and bravery, of denying complacency, of immense success that did not come without a cost, of paving the way for countless others and, ultimately, one of incredible generosity. These are things worthy of much consideration, and also ultimately just as worthy of imitation. I’ll give this further thought as I go wrangle up my daughter. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!
Cheers to Warren Winiarski and his immense contributions to the wine industry and the world,