On Oct. 29, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted a talk and a dinner to honor the contributions of some of the earliest makers of fine wine in the United States. It was also part of the museum’s American Food and Wine History Project, which has been curating artifacts, oral histories and documents about the history of U.S. wine and winemaking.
Distinguished guests on Oct. 29 included Warren Winiarski, the winemaker who crafted the Cabernet Sauvignon that famously won the red wine half of a blind-tasting in Paris in 1976, and Fred Frank, the grandson of the late Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant who proved that delicate, European varieties of grapes could thrive in harsher climates (in Frank’s case, New York’s Finger Lakes region).
All the honorees could trace the reason for their presence at the Smithsonian back to the early and mid-1960s, that period when American wine fine began to slowly—then quickly—emerge from France’s shadow and stake its critical, as well as commercial, claim upon the world stage. The September 1966 launch of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa Valley’s first ground-up winery since Prohibition, is generally credited with birthing modern fine wine in the United States.
Curiously, a full year before, Fritz Maytag’s re-launch of the Anchor Brewing Co. in nearby San Francisco birthed modern beer and brewing in the United States. Not that the Smithsonian appears to have noticed. Yes, in roughly 10 months, August 2015, it will have been a full half-century since Maytag famously saved Anchor from closing.
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