People love lists; they can be a great source of education and discussion. But making a list such as this is not an easy process. Who are the most influential wine people in the U.S., and how exactly do you define ‘influential?’ Does influential mean people who move markets, impact consumers, inspire winemakers, and create debate? In a word, yes. These 100 people, from winemakers to law makers, bankers to bloggers, and sommeliers to celebrities are definitely people who influence wine; how it is made, marketed, perceived, sold, shipped, purchased and shared.
As this is the first annual IntoWine.com list, we hope that it will help educate you about the wonderful world of wine right here in America. To help assemble this list we asked for suggestions from a lot of people, many of whom are named here, though they did not name themselves (well, OK, one guy did). We are grateful for all the help we received in compiling this. And we chose to release it today, January 29th, as it was on this day in 1919 when the lunatic policy of Prohibition was ratified on a national level. So to honor winemakers, wine drinkers and wine lovers of every conceivable demographic, we hope you use this list, comment on it, share it and learn from it, and continue to enjoy being into wine!
100-Bill Knight: of The Wine House in Los Angeles opened his doors 35 years ago and has been a destination for savvy wine buyers ever since. Revenues hit $20 million in 2011 and 45% of their wine sales are California wines. Knight competes against the major U.S. retail chains in his market by focusing on service, and he eschews selling private labels or direct imports. To round out the customer experience they started Upstairs 2, a restaurant on the second floor with small plates and 50 wines by the glass. They continue wine classes, wine and food pairings, and winemakers dinners with tremendous success.
99-Paul Dolan: started out as the winemaker for Fetzer in Mendocino, helping ramp up production to over two million cases and fundamentally beginning the shift toward more conscious farming. He moved on to form Mendocino Wine Company and fully supports and promotes biodynamic farming practices. He introduced the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing to the Wine Institute, authored a book on sustainable framing and served on President Clinton’s Council on Sustainability and speaks across the U.S. advocating for healthier farming.
98-Charles Bieler - with Three Thieves, is a wine innovator. At a time when rosé was ignored, he travelled the U.S. in a pink Cadillac to promote rosé and helped light a fire under what is now a respected wine. He pushes marketing boundaries with packaging like Tetra Pak, (lightweight, eco-friendly, re-sealable boxes) and using kegs, growlers, screw tops, anything and everything to promote and sell wine in a new and different formats to a new audience of wine drinkers. He established a successful partnership with Paul Newman, introducing a line of wines under the popular Newman’s Own brand.
97-Richard Becker: formed Becker Vineyards in Texas in 1995 producing only 1,500 cases. Now he routinely produce 50,000 cases of 20 different varietals, including Voigner, Chenin Blanc, Mouvedre, Merlot, Malbec, even Gewurztraminer. But he is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon. The awards that Becker has won for these wines, especially the Voigner, prove you can make fine wine in Texas Hill Country. Becker has influenced a number of Texas wineries by showing that for a well crafted product, there is always a market. President George W. Bush served them at the White House.
96-Paul Draper: has been the chief winemaker at Ridge Vineyards in California since 1969. Without any formal training in winemaking, Draper first gained recognition for his 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon when it placed fifth at the Judgment of Paris wine tasting. Draper has played a significant role in the history of California wine through his pioneering work in popularizing vineyard-designated wines as well as instigating the resurgence of old vine Zinfandel. He is considered one of the most important figures in the history of Californian Zinfandel, rescuing the grape from obscurity and demonstrating its full potential. (see also #91, #67)
95-Greg Harrington: wear several hats; winemaker at Gramercy Cellars in Washington State (which Food & Wine Magazine called the Best New Winery in America), and 21 Grams winery, Master Sommelier and formerly the wine director for Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in New Orleans and Las Vegas and wine director for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. He is a regular speaker at wine festivals across the country, including the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and others. He has also appeared as a wine expert on numerous radio and television shows, including Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. (see also #42, #75)
94-Jeannie Cho Lee: achieved the Master of Wine title, becoming the first ethnic Asian to do so. She has contributed to international wine publications such as Wine Spectator, The World of Fine Wine, Wine and Dine, Wine Business International and Decanter, and is a frequent judge at international wine competitions. Lee helped establish The Fine Wine School in Hong Kong, and her first book, Asian Palate, has won numerous awards for helping wine and food pairings for the Asian audience.
93-Trey Beffa: of K&L wine merchants (with three retail stores in Hollywood, Redwood City and San Francisco, in California) has a rich website with a vast selection of wines, from rare to common table wines, at good prices. While the selection of wines from around the world is strong the website distinguishes itself by the breadth of West Coast wines. They offer wine reviews, monthly wine clubs, wine e-mail alerts, and a free wine newsletter. Named the best wine website by the Wall Street Journal, and one of the 10 best online wine shops by Food & Wine Magazine, he continues to exert influence by exposing customers to a world of wine.
92-Richard Sanford: Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford is among the inductees into the 2012 Vintners Hall of Fame. Sanford started one of the first modern wineries south of the Bay Area in 1982 and for several decades, his Sanford Winery and Vineyards was the lone outpost in the now-sizzling Santa Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County. He was the first winemaker to prove the potential for Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills and spent the next 20 years making some of the best regarded Pinots from the region. Sanford left his namesake winery in 2005 and founded Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards.
91-Kent Rosenblum: started out as a veterinarian and moved into winemaking with Rosenblum Cellars. Until then, Zinfandel was pretty much a non-entity wine with the exception of White Zinfandel (see #67). Crafting more than 20 different Zins in his yearly portfolio, Rosenblum helped place this wine on the minds of a wine loving public. Kent was also a founding member of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates ad Producers) which has transformed Zinfandel into a serious wine, and he was one of the first to open an “urban winery” located in a ship repair facility near the Port of Oakland. Because of his steadfast devotion to a single wine, more people than ever now consume Zinfandel. (see also #69, #67)
90-Madeline Triffon: was named a master sommelier in 1987 and was then one of just two women in the world to hold that title, and the first woman in North America. These days she serves as master sommelier at Plum Market, the Michigan-based gourmet retailer who in 2010 sold $8 million worth of wine at their three stores. She directs local wine tastings and events and serves as corporate wine educator. She was formerly wine director at several restaurant groups.
89-Rudi Wiest: started Cellars International, Inc. and has since become the largest importer of German fine wine to the U.S. Since that time he has been a crusader, focused exclusively on German wines and his distributorship has allowed restaurants and consumers to discover all the great German wine growing regions and have access to wines they might not otherwise taste. His Rudi Wiest Selections educates the wine trade with a variety of national tastings, helping to give German wines a high profile. (see also #60)
88-Warren Winiarski: left his teaching position at the University of Chicago and moved with his family to the Napa Valley. After apprenticing at Souverain Winery with friend and mentor André Tchelistcheff. Winiarski became assistant winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery, then bought property below the Stag’s Leap palisades, and would go on to found Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. His first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon won the now-famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, besting top Bordeaux entries and fundamentally transforming how California wines were viewed worldwide.
87-Eric Solomon: of European Cellars is an importer of French and Spanish wines to the U.S. and notably many of these wines receive top scores in the national wine press and thereby expose the population to everything from Cava to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. He was named by Food & Wine Magazine as the Top Importer in the U.S. and Solomon has been featured in every major wine trade publication. (see also #82, #73, #63)
86-Sofia Perpera: is the backbone of Greek wine in the U.S. She participates as a judge in international wine tasting competitions and writes regularly for various Greek publications, and her Atlanta based website, All About Greek Wine promotes Greek wine in the U.S. Having worked in Greece for four years at the Greek Wine Federation, she was intimately involved in the marketing and promotion of Greek wines as well as working to update Greek wine legislation and create educational programs for the wine sector. Currently she represents the wines of Greece in the U.S. and Canada.
85-Richard Peterson: Tinkering in winery labs owned by large corporations, Peterson invented systems that revolutionized production, including the first wine cooler, Hearty Burgundy, and a wine barrel stacking system. He published prolifically in industry journals and played a large role in wines made by Gallo Winery, Beaulieu Vineyard, Atlas Peak, and Folie a Deux Winery. Oh yeah, the Dick Peterson Trophy from the Mid-America Wine Competition is named after him. And yes, his daughter is Heidi Peterson-Barrett who put Screaming Eagle on the map.
84-Alexander Payne: A film director? Seriously? Absolutely; here’s why. The film “Sideways” may have been populated with flawed characters, but this ode to the wine industry won an Academy Award, 2 Golden Globe awards, and a Directors Guild Award, grossing over $70 million. Local business in the Santa Barbara region saw a jump in sales of 25 percent. Pinot Noir (which the film lovingly embraced) saw sales increase nationwide by 15% all because of the movie. And with ancillary rights, the film continues to reap rewards for the wine industry in terms of tourism dollars.
83-Eddie Osterland: was the first Master Sommelier in the U.S. Today he speaks to CEOs and executives from Fortune 500 companies and professional societies who learn the finer aspects of wine. In addition to writing the definitive wine training guides for the restaurant industry, he boasts clients like Ritz-Carlton, Ford, IBM and General Mills.
82-Jorge Ordoñez: owner of Fine Estates From Spain, is a pioneer in the modernization of Spanish wine and the driving force behind more than 130 wines from 40 Spanish wineries in the U.S. market. Ordoñez wears many hats, working as consultant, marketer, broker, blender and winemaker. He partners with established winemakers to create unique wines, and is credited with launching a wine revolution in Spain and creating the market for modern-style Spanish wines in the United States. (see also #87, #73, #63)
81-Steve Olson: and his company ‘aka wine geek,’ teaches, lectures, and writes all over the world about wine, beer, spirits, even sake discussing their integral cause-and-effect relationship with food as he preaches the gospel of his mission: making tasting fun by removing the intimidation factor and the pretense. He is the Wine and Spirits Consultant for Bon Appétit Magazine, was selected as Santé Magazine’s Spirits Professional of the Year and was chosen as Cheers Magazine Beverage Innovator of the Year.
80-Carole Meredith: is a grape geneticist, a former professor at the Department of Viticulture and Enology of UC Davis. Meredith and her research group pioneered the use of DNA typing to differentiate Vitis vinifera grape varieties and for elucidating their parentage, which gives insight into the varieties' history and place of origin. She established the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, which was the first application of such techniques. Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel followed. Lagier-Meredith is the winery she runs with her husband and of which Robert Parker calls consistently great syrah.
79-Jerry Lohr: was an early pioneer establishing a new outpost of winegrowing on the California Central Coast. He planted in Monterey County in 1972, and Paso Robles in 1987, giving Lohr an integral role in catapulting both regions onto the global winemaking stage. Today, in addition to over 1,300 acres in Monterey County, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines farms 2,300 acres in Paso Robles, and 35 acres in the Napa Valley, and has tasting rooms in Paso Robles and San Jose. J. Lohr wines are available throughout the U. S. and over 30 countries globally. U.C. Davis honored him with its Award of Distinction. (see also #65)
78-Richard Jennings: with over 25,000 tasting notes posted on CellarTracker, more than any other individual on the site, this prolific, knowledgeable wine blogger and finalist for the 2011 Wine Blog Awards for best overall blog and writing proves that you can still keep your day job as you expand your knowledge and reach in the wine world.
77-Mike Dunne: is the former wine columnist, restaurant critic and food editor for the Sacramento Bee and continues to contribute to the Food & Wine section, focusing on value wines. He contributes to a number of wine publications and his blog, A Year in Wine, is based on wine selections he discovers on tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions.
76-John Aguirre: is the executive director of Wine Grapegrowers of America, and the president of the California Association of Wine Grapegrowers, who lobby Congress and state governments about legal issues relating to wine, from inclusion in the Farm Bill to taxes to immigration reform which includes guest worker programs, they work behind the scenes to lake legislative actions equitable for the wine industry.
75-Chris Camarda: is winemaker at Andrew Will in Washington State, whose wines routinely score 90 points and over in the major wine magazines. You may think scores are meaningless, but the attention Camarda has achieved has helped to give new life to Washington wines. Wine & Spirits magazine called his winery, located on an island off the Seattle coast, America’s best Washington State producer, and named him one of the 50 most influential winemakers in the world. (see also #95, #42)
74-Mary Ewing-Mulligan: is an author, journalist and wine educator and Master of Wine, the first American woman to achieve this accreditation. She has been the director of the International Wine Center in New York since 1984, and is executive director of the U.S. programs for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. She is also a freelance journalist of wine articles to various publications, and the co-author of seven wine books including Wine For Dummies, selling nearly a million copies and making wine easy to understand for the masses.
73-Kermit Lynch: is a wine importer, author, winemaker and even musician, importing wines from France and Italy. He is the author of two highly regarded books on wine, and winner of the James Beard Foundation's Wine Professional of the Year, not to mention the Chevalier de l'Ordre de Mérite Agricole medal presented by the French government for his service to the wine industry, and the insignia of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government. He continues to educate about wine via his retail store in Berkeley. (see also #87, #82, #63)
72-Peter Mondavi, Jr.: heads up the flourishing Charles Krug Winery and CK Mondavi Family Vineyards. Amidst corporate buyouts up and down the Napa Valley, Mondavi has been determined to keep Charles Krug in the family, and to preserve the 850 estate vineyards, farming them sustainably. Additionally he has helped preserve the historical legacy of wine in the Napa Valley by refurbishing the original buildings on the property, thus maintaining one of the oldest wineries in California.
71-George Taber: is a journalist and was a reporter and editor with Time magazine in the United States and Europe for 21 years. Stationed in Paris between 1973 and 1976, he reported on the Judgment of Paris where California wines were ranked alongside France’s best, an event that revolutionized the world of wine. His four-paragraph story about the tasting has been called “the most significant news story ever written about wine,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of four wine books and continues to educate about wine. The film Bottle Shock was loosely based on his book.
70-Greg Jones: is a climatologist, and Professor of Geography at the Department of Environmental Studies at Southern Oregon University who conducts applied research for the wine industry. He was named One of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the Wine World by Decanter magazine for his global ability to present climate change to wineries. Now he consults around the world on the relationship between climate change and grapes and lectures frequently.
69-Adam LaZarre: has a knack for producing excellent value priced brands. Has produced so many labels it’s hard to keep them straight. At Monterey’s Hahn Estates, LaZarre helped catapult them to a wider audience. He helped create the HRM Rex Goliath brand, which grew from 19,000 cases in 2002, its initial year, to 300,000 cases in 2005. Next he helped produce Cycles Gladiator, again with roaring success. These days his inventive approach to Villa San Juliette and LaZarre Wines keeps him at the forefront of value.
68-Evan Goldstein: as a Master Sommelier, author of two books and co-author of several other books on wine and frequently nominated for James Beard awards as Outstanding Wine Professional, his wine education reach is global. He regularly contributes to Santé magazine, Sommelier Journal, as well as Wine & Dine, Singapore’s wine and food publication, and Wine Review, South Korea’s leading wine and food magazine. He is the president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, a global wine education firm.
67-Robert Trinchero: Vintners Hall of Fame inductee Bob Trinchero took over Sutter Home Winery and made Amador County Zinfandel, purchasing fruit from some of the oldest vines in California. In 1972, looking for a way to make the wine more intense, he drained off some of the juice before fermentation and left some natural sugar in it. Say what you want about White Zinfandel, it was affordable, introduced non-wine drinkers to wine, and preserved some old Zinfandel vineyards that might have been lost forever. Sutter Home White Zin became the best-selling premium wine in the U.S. Wine Spectator, gave Trinchero its Distinguished Service Award for “having introduced more Americans to wine on the table than anyone in history.” (see also #91, #96)
66-Alice Feiring: is a journalist, author and former wine and travel columnist for Time magazine, and an advocate for natural winemaking techniques. In addition to contributions to publications such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, LA Times, Condé Nast Traveler and Forbes Traveler, her blog The Feiring Line is considered to be among America’s leading wine blogs. She is the author of, The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.
65-Gary Eberle: has earned the title, the “grandfather of Paso Robles wine.” One of the first to purchase major acreage in Paso, and then build one of the first large commercial wineries long before anyone had ever heard of the area, his tireless promotion of the Paso Robles wine region is clearly evidence today with a region labeled as the next Napa. As the single most awarded winery in the country, constantly winning at competitions across the U.S., Eberle continues to promote not only Paso Robles, but wines which reflect a sense of place. (see also # 79)
64-Elin McCoy: is an award-winning journalist and author, focusing on the world of wine. She is a wine and spirits columnist for Bloomberg News where she writes a bimonthly column as well as a monthly column for Bloomberg Markets which reach a worldwide audience. She has written two books on wine, contributes to Food & Wine, The New York Times and other wine publications and fits time in to speak at wine conferences.
63-Katrin Naelapaa: is the executive director of Wines of Spain USA, and she oversees promotion, marketing, advertising of all Spanish wines in the U.S. She also links Spanish wineries with importers, all of which means that without her, the representation of Spanish wines in the U.S. would be minimal. Currently Spain is the 5th largest importer of foreign wines to the States, providing quality wine at a variety of price points, most notable in the under $10 range. (see also #87, #82, #73)
62-Daryl Groom: has held numerous positions in the wine industry including Vice President of Winemaking & Operations for Peak Wines International, and Beam Wine Estates, and both Senior White Winemaker, then Senior Red Winemaker for Penfolds Wines in Australia. His foundation was producing Penfolds famed red wine, Grange, which he oversaw six years. He has been named Winemaker of the Year by the LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Huston Chronicle, Quarterly Review of Wines, and others. He currently produces Groom Wines, and judges at international wine competitions.
61-Kenneth Volk: is probably best known for creating Wild Horse Winery in Templeton, which he grew into a powerhouse national brand. After selling Wild Horse to Constellation Brands, Volk resumed winemaking by started Kenneth Volk Vineyards in Santa Maria. But what sets Volk apart is his love for and constant support and promotion of heirloom varieties like Negrette, Cabernet Pfeffer, Blaufrankish and Aglianico, among others. With winemakers like Volk, many of these relatively unknown wines might never get made, and never be appreciated by the public.
60-Terry Theise: is a wine importer who started importing German wines to the U.S. in the 1980s making previously obscure grapes, such as Riesling, Gewuerztraminer, and Gruner Veltiner now trendy. He has received the wine industry’s top prize, a James Beard Foundation medal for the nation’s outstanding wine and spirits professional. The award hailed Theise for what his loyal followers have long appreciated: his role as champion of small producers, and his holistic approach to the joys of drinking wine. (see also #89)
59- Mark Chandler: Though he retired from his position as Executive Director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Commission in November, 2011, Chandlers’ influence on the Lodi wine region has been nothing short of amazing. He helped create the Lodi Appellation, and under his leadership Lodi wineries grew from 10 to over 80 and have created a new and viable wine destination, thereby creating a tourism economy for a region pretty much in need of anything. He was named Sunset Magazine’s Wine Professional of the Year, and is past president of the Society of Wine Educators. He continues as a wine judge, and frequent speaker at wine venues around the country.
58- Jeff Newton: is co-owner of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates and he has been growing grapes in Santa Barbara County since 1984. He manages over 2,000 acres producing high quality fruit using environmentally sustainable means. Newton’s company manages a who’s who of Santa Barbara wineries including Stolpman Vineyards, Jonata, Fiddlehead Cellars, Alma Rosa, Foley Estates and Zaca Mesa, among others, providing trellising and site recommendations, financial evaluation, even foreman mentoring, and all this has helped catapult Santa Barbara into a major wine region.
57- Jon Rimmerman: is often credited with sparking the “email offer” revolution in fine wine sales. Rimmerman started Garagiste on a shoestring budget of just $500 with a simple concept: to bring the winemaker and consumer closer together by taking advantage of a then-new technology known as the email offer. Offering wines described in story form, Garagiste ranks in over $25 million in annual sales with over 100,000 subscribers.
56-Clark Smith: is the winemaker for the tiny cult brand WineSmith and a respected winemaking innovator and wine production consultant. As Adjunct Professor at CSU Fresno he lectures on innovative views of winemaking, presenting new technologies. He is a leading authority on the enhancement of wine structure and a vocal proponent of living soil. He developed a host of winemaking techniques including the use of reverse osmosis to optimize wine grape maturity and tannin refinement through micro-oxygenation. He judges wines at competitions.
55-Tom Wark: has been in the public relations wine business since 1990 and has become a force to be reckoned with. In addition to his promotion of the wine industry as a whole, his blog, Fermentations, has become for many, a daily reading ritual where he covers the wine business, wine communications and public relations. He is the founder of the American Wine Blog Awards as well as one of the founders of the Wine Bloggers Conference. Additionally, Wark appears at industry conferences as a panelist and moderator covering subjects as diverse as small winery marketing, blogging, social media and the politics of wine.
54-Fred Frank: manages Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes region in New York. As Konstantin's grandson, Fred Frank, has expanded the business tenfold and Dr. Frank wines are now distributed in 38 states and internationally. Earning 51 gold medals in 2011, their wines, specifically Riesling, have earned the reputation as world class. Wine Enthusiast nominated the winery American Winery of the Year, and the winery is one of the Finger Lakes’ Most Award-Winning Wineries.
53-Gordon Burns: established ETS Labs to provide technical and laboratory assistance to the burgeoning wine industry. ETS has continued to expand its technical expertise and new methodology in the analysis of wine in ways most people have no clue about. ETS was awarded ISO 17025 accreditation making it the first and only independent, domestic wine laboratory with this accreditation. Burns has been a member of the American Society for Enology & Viticulture, Association of Official Analytical Chemists, and many others.
52-Jon Fredrikson: of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates is the oldest professional consulting firm dealing exclusively in wine industry matters. The firm publishes management information, offering a broad range of wine property investment, industry research and consulting services and is the only established information source that monitors monthly and annual comparative shipments of leading California wineries and wine imports by country. The report also provides insightful commentary and analysis of current business conditions and trends shaping the market. Considered the bible of the wine industry, this behind-the-scenes firm has a great impact on the business side of wine.
51-Kevin Zraley: held the position of wine director for the Windows on the World restaurant, on the top floors of New York’s 1 WTC World Trade Center, America's top-grossing restaurant. Zraly’s book Windows on the World Complete Wine Course with its annual updates is among America's best-selling wine books selling over 3 million copies worldwide, and Zraly's American Wine Guide is the first book that deals comprehensively with all 50 states as modern wine-producing states. He’s been awarded the prestigious James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award.
50- Bartholomew Broadbent: is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Port and Madeira and he’s credited for being responsible for the growth of Port consumption and the re-introduction of Madeira to the U.S. His company, Broadbent Selections, is the exclusive U.S. national importer for some of the worlds most sought after family wineries, including Chateau Musar, Warwick Estate, Spy Valley, Ferreira, Quinta do Crasto, Aresti, Louis Guntrum, Montsarra Cava, Pago de Larrainzar, Vilafonte, Badenhorst, and Dr. Hermann. He also produces his own Broadbent Port, Madeira, and Vinho Verde in Portugal. Broadbent was named one of the “fifty most influential people in the wine world,” by Decanter Magazine, and was nominated Importer of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
49-Ann Noble: is a sensory chemist and retired professor from the UC Davis. During her time at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, she invented the Wine Aroma Wheel which is credited with enhancing the public’s understanding of wine tasting and terminology for tens of thousands of new wine lovers. At the time of her hiring at UC-Davis in 1974, Noble was the first woman hired as a faculty member of the Viticulture department. She is currently Emeritus Professor of Enology and participates as a wine judge, and lectures about sensory evaluation.
48-Steve Miller: and his brother and father own and farm Bien Nacido Vineyards, the most well-known and respected vineyard on California’s Central Coast. Bien Nacido also has the distinction of being one of the major viticultural nurseries in California for certified, varietal budwood. In addition to Bien Nacido, the Millers operate two other vineyard sites, French Camp, east of San Luis Obispo, and Solomon Hills in Santa Maria, with well over 2,500 combines acres, as well as two custom crush facilities in Santa Maria and Paso Robles where hundreds of winemakers got their start. Bien Nacido was called one of the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine, and Food & Wine Magazine called them one of the ten best vineyards.
47-Mike Benziger: leads one of the most prominent and one of the last in-tact families in the wine industry. Based in Sonoma, the 30-year old Benziger Family Winery is widely known for their pioneering exploration and practice of biodynamic, organic and sustainable agriculture and grape growing. Though they did not start out this way, as time evolved, they began to embrace a different way of farming. The validation of this is high scoring wines in the national press and medals at wine competitions. Through dedicated promotion of these practices, biodynamics is gaining more traction as a viable farming method.
46-Karen Ross: is the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Prior to that she served as president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and as the Executive Director of Winegrape Growers of America, a coalition of state winegrower organizations. In these kinds of leadership positions, Ross helped sponsor scholarships for children of vineyard employees, created nationally-recognized Sustainable Winegrowing Programs, which assists wine grape growers in maintaining the long-term viability of agricultural lands and encourages them to provide leadership in protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, and enhancing their local communities.
45-Linda Reiff: is the Executive Director of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, a regional trade association with an active membership of 400 wineries, representing vintners and grape growers. Widely-recognized as one of the leading wine trade organizations in the world, Reiff continues to tirelessly promote the Napa valley and the many offerings of the association including Auction Napa Valley has given $98 million to local non-profits since its inception in 1981.
44-Gary Vaynerchuk: is a bestselling author and the former the star of WineLibraryTV.com, a video blog. His informal approach to wine appreciation helped revolutionized the industry by demystifying wine and empowering wine drinkers to trust their own palates, leveraging social media tools thereby attracted over 90,000 viewers daily. He was recognized as Innovator of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter magazine called him one of the 50 most influential people in wine.
43-Cyril Penn: is editor in chief of Wine Business Monthly, the largest circulation of any wine trade publication in North America. The magazine focuses on the most up-to-date and comprehensive editorial, including legislative changes, winery marketing, even covering everything from tank presses and mobile bottling lines, to properly cleaning a stainless steel tank to ATV’s for your vineyard and yeast selections. It’s the nuts and bolts of the wine industry and Penn directs a staff that covers the industry admirably.
42-Paul Gregutt: is a wine writer whose focus is the wines of Oregon and Washington. He publishes a column titled Wine Adviser in The Seattle Times, and contributes to publications such as Vineyard & Winery Management, Yakima Herald-Republic, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, and the Spokane Spokesman-Review, as well as Decanter and Wine Spectator. He is also the Northwest Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and via his book Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide, and his blog he continues to educate people about these two terrific wine states. (see also #95, #75)
41-Jason Eckenroth: founded ShipCompliant to allow wine producers, importers, marketers and wholesalers to distribute product across the U.S. with access of up-to-date state regulations and tax rates for direct shipments to consumers, and at the same time track their shipments so they can ensure compliance with regulations. ShipCompliant processes direct shipments for more than 2,000 wine brands across the U.S. and maintains a database of direct shipping rules in order to enable real-time compliance checks and auto-populated state shipping and tax reports. It’s not sexy, but it’s imperative.
40-Tim Gaiser: is a nationally renowned wine expert and Master Sommelier. He is the former director of education for the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas. With experience in all phases of the wine industry - online, wholesale, retail, winery, and restaurant - he has developed wine education programs for restaurants, winery schools, and wine distributors and taught classes on wine and spirits increasing the awareness of how our minds recognize and code smells and tastes. His client list includes Fosters, Diageo, American Express, Evian, PepsiCo International, Franklin-Templeton, and Wells Fargo.
39-Paul Mabray: Billed as the digital think tank for the wine industry, Mabray’s creation- VinTank Social Connect-is the wine industry’s most powerful social listening and data distribution platform. VinTank is designed to help revolutionize the wine industry through e-business and innovative digital products and marketing, including phone apps, QR codes and point of purchase information for consumers to access wine information.
38-Rajat Parr: was appointed wine director all of the Michael Mina restaurants throughout the United States. One of the groups restaurants, RN74, had a $4.5 million budget and opened with a 84 page wine list. Parr in collaboration with Jordan Mackay published the book, Secrets of the Sommeliers, which won the 2011 James Beard Cookbook Award - Beverage Category. It’s no secret that Parr influences a great number of high-end diners.
37-George Miliotes: Master Sommelier George Miliotes began creating award-winning wine lists in the late 1980s and eventually created one, the first of its kind, for The California Grill at Disney World. He is currently Director of Beverage and Hospitality for the Capital Grille, a Darden restaurant concept, where he oversees the wine list for all 40 locations of the national steak house chain, with wine lists ranging from 300 to 1,000 selections. That translates to a lot of wine. Miliotes is also the food and beverage director for the nationally recognized, Seasons 52, with locations in Florida and Georgia.
36-Wayne Belding: Originally trained as a geologist, Belding found his way from the oil fields to the vineyards. He began in the retail wine business, became an award-winning sommelier in Denver, then became the 13th American to pass the Master Sommelier examination. He has served as Education Chairman and Chairman of the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers. He has been a wine teacher and competition judge both nationally and internationally, and was the former owner of The Boulder Wine Merchant in Colorado, and author of Diving Into Wine.
35-Tim Hanni: is a professionally trained chef, Master of Wine, and Certified Wine Educator. Hanni’s unique perspective on food and wine and his techniques for creating easy to use wine lists and retail wine programs for clients like Ruth’s Chris and P.F. Chang, are focused on balancing food and wine flavors from physiological, biological and psychological perspectives. Hanni is recognized for introducing the concept of the “umami” taste phenomenon to the wine and food community. He has lectured in over 27 countries around the world on the topics of flavor balancing, sensory sciences, wine and culinary history.
34-Jeremy Bensen: is the executive director of Free the Grapes!, a national grassroots coalition of wine lovers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers. Established in 1998 by five wine industry associations which together represent thousands of U.S. wineries, Free the Grapes’ operations are funded exclusively by contributions from wine consumers, winemakers and retailers.
33-Alder Yarrow: started Vinography in 2004 before wine blogging was even remotely accepted. His site is among many of the most influential wine blogs on the Internet. Featuring wine and sake reviews, restaurant reviews, editorials, book reviews, wine news, and wine event coverage, Vinography publishes new content daily to a global readership. The site works hard to create an alternative to the traditional sources and styles of wine journalism, partially through its emphasis on the stories, the people, and the passion behind wine, all told from a decidedly down-to-earth perspective.
32-Steven Tanzer: is editor and publisher of the critically acclaimed bimonthly International Wine Cellar, an independent journal read by wine lovers in all 50 states and 28 countries, and translated into French and Japanese. Tanzer has also served as Senior Editor and wine columnist for Food & Wine magazine and wine columnist for Forbes FYI, and has authored two wine books, and the wine blog, Winophilia.
31-Rob McMillian: is the founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division based in Saint Helena. You might not think a banker would be on a list like this, but wineries need capital and this bank is the leading provider of financial services to the fine wine business. McMillian publishes reports on emerging trends and is author of the bank’s Annual State of the Wine Industry Report. Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division is the leading provider of financial services to wineries and vineyards in the western United States, with over 300 winery and vineyard clients in Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast, Oregon and Washington.
30-Erle Martin: is CEO of Crimson Wine Group, a wine business with five brands, over 700 planted acres in five growing regions and 11 AVAs across California, Oregon and Washington and representing over 250,000 cases. Their holdings include, Archery Summit in Oregon, Pine Ridge in Napa, Chamisal in the Edna Valley, Dry Creek Valley’s Seghesio Vineyards, and the company also owns a vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills. All this proves that consolidation in the wine business need not mean sacrificing quality or individual brand identity.
29-Andy Beckstoffer: in 2006, the Napa Grapegrowers Association awarded its first Grower of the Year Award to Beckstoffer. The Napa County Farm Bureau acknowledged him as Agriculturist of the Year, and he also received the first ever U.S. Congressional Wine Caucus Commendation. In March 2010 he was inducted into the CIA Vintners Hall of Fame, being the first grape grower to receive this honor. As a grower, with some of the most valued land in Napa, and some of the most sought after fruit, wines made with Beckstoffer grapes routinely score very highly in the national wine press.
28-Lettie Teague: Before joining The Wall Street Journal as a wine columnist in 2010, Lettie Teague was the executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine, where she wrote the monthly column Wine Matters. She received the James Beard Foundation's M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award in 2003 and won a 2005 James Beard Award for magazine columns. Her writing at both the Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine reach a massive market, and that translates to sales
27- Doug Cook: is the proprietor of the Able Grape, a wine search engine with a database of over 26 million pages and over 41,000 websites, all related to wine. This self professed “computer geek turned wine geek” has amassed a social media empire with over a quarter of a million Twitter followers. Able Grape has become the largest wine search engine on the Internet. If you need to find something related to wine, you will find it here.
26-Andrea (Immer) Robinson: continues as one of the country’s’ leading wine educators, and is one of only 16 women in the world appointed Master Sommelier by the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers. Her company JGR Productions produces informative food, wine and travel video content for Delta Air Lines and broadcast media and she has worked with the Food Channel and PBS. She is the author of eight wine and food books and her articles have appeared in publications such as Health, Eating Well, Esquire, Real Simple, Money, and Bon Appétit, She has received a James Beard Award for Broadcast Journalism.
25-Tyler Colman: is better known to most people as Dr. Vino, an award winning wine blogger and author of two wine books including, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. He is also among the contributors to The Oxford Companion to Wine. His blog is one of the most consistently highly rated wine blogs, no small feat in today’s over saturated wine blog market. In addition to being nominated for a James Beard Foundation award, his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Forbes.com, Wine & Spirits and a host of others.
24-Leslie Sbrocco: is an award-winning author, speaker, wine consultant, and the author of two national wine books. As host of the PBS series Check Please!, she has won a coveted James Beard award, two Tasty Awards, and three Emmy awards. Sbrocco was also a featured judge on the PBS national series, The Winemakers, and she is a regular guest on NBC’s Today Show. She is also a wine educator for Crystal Cruises, and Holland America Cruise Lines, and actively promotes a website, Thirsty Girl, which aims to empower women in their wine and food choices.
23-Alyssa Rapp: is the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, Inc., the leading resource for new to intermediate wine enthusiasts interested in learning about wine, sharing tasting notes, and tasting wine. Alyssa is also the author of “Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips.” Her daily newsletter reaches over 140,000 subscribers. Additionally, this on-line forum brings together wine lovers of all stripes, allowing everyone to share their tasting notes via every from of social media including I-phone. Bottlenotes sponsors wine events in major cities across the U.S.
22-Eric Levine: a former Microsoft program manager, created CellarTracker after he had made the program for himself, in order to track his own wine. The concept was launched online in a public format and CellarTracker proved immensely popular and over the years it has out-paced other similar sites. CellarTracker has more than 185,000 user entries for 30 million individual bottles, and nearly 2.5 million wine reviews from across the globe. It has become a social media whirlwind, connecting wine lovers from all points of the globe.
21-Jon Kapon: is the president of Acker, Merrall & Condit, which bills itself as America's oldest wine store and has, under his watch, become the world’s leading vendor of fine wine at auction, including on-line auctions. In addition to auctions, they are a retail wine store, wine club serving the ultra rich. Kapon has made Acker the leading vendor of fine wines in America, with auctions from New York to Hong Kong. Revenue for 2011 was $110 million, which makes Acker the first wine auctioneer to cross the $100 million mark. Should we care that the wealthy buy wine? Yes. They can move markets and Kapon directs them.
20- Fred Franzia: runs an empire known as the Bronco Wine Group. As CEO Franzia, nephew of wine legend Ernest Gallo, is best known for his Charles Shaw brand, nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck.” Franzia's marketing methods contrast with those of his higher priced competitors, although he is credited with introducing new consumers to the wine market and ultimately to the premium brands. His business model is based on ownership of over 45,000 vineyard acres, and 50 different wine brands. Savvy and assertive, he speaks his mind in the normally staid wine world and passes value to the consumer.
19-Anthony Blue: was the West Coast editor for Food & Wine magazine, and wine and spirits editor of Bon Appétit Magazine, (a position he held for 26 years) as well as writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Zagat Guide, and the San Jose Mercury News, Blue acquired the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest international wine competition in the U.S. (over 4,200 wines were entered in 2011). Next Blue purchased Patterson's Beverage Journal, a 65-year-old beverage trade publication that was renamed The Tasting Panel. It has become the highest circulation beverage industry publication and promotes wines from across the globe to both trade, media and the general public.
18-Robert Koch: is the CEO of the Wine Institute, whose aim is public policy advocacy. Wine Institute brings together the resources of 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses to support legislative and regulatory advocacy, international market development, media relations, scientific research, and education programs that benefit the entire California wine industry, thus affecting a lot of people. Koch also acts as the chief lobbyist in Washington D.C. for wine matters related to California.
17-Allen Meadows: is publisher of the Burghound, a quarterly newsletter. The related website, Burghound.com offers subscribers newsletters with reviews specific to the Burgundy region and he covers California and Oregon Pinot Noir. But what sets Burghound apart is its comprehensive coverage of Burgundy and Meadows spends usually four months there each year. There are subscribers in all 50 states and more than 50 countries globally. Meadows also regularly speaks on Burgundy and other wine subjects.
16- David Trone: As the CEO of Total Wine, Trone operates 76 stores in only 11 states, therefore many people may not have heard of them. But $1 billion in sales in two decades is nothing to ignore. There are on average 8,000 wines represented and nearly half of those are imports, exposing wine lovers to a broad diversity of wines they may not otherwise be aware of.
15- Eric Asimov: is the nephew of the late author Isaac Asimov, and he has been writing about wine since 1999. He was named chief wine critic at the New York Times in 2005, taking over the mantle from Frank Prial. He writes two columns for the paper and a blog, and is lauded by followers for his thoughtful, objective, yet inclusive approach to wine. An advocate for less powerful wines, Asimov is in a position of influence with the Times to promote this goal.
14-Joe Roberts: is known to many as 1 Wine Dude, the author of a wine blog that has reached stratospheric heights and was begun as a blog for the “intermediate” wine lover. He is now a wine consultant and a member of the U.S.- based Society of Wine Educators, and other organizations. He was a winner of the Wine Blog Awards for best wine blog, and Wine Enthusiast ranked him as one of the top three wine blogs in 2010, proof that social media has forever changed the landscape of wine.
13- Wilfred Wong: is the Cellar Master for 114 BevMo! stores in California and Arizona with estimated annual sales of approximately $95 million. Tasting 8,000 wines yearly and rating them for the loyal BevMo! customers, Wong guides wine lovers to an incredible diversity of wines and at a diversity of price points. Given that he routinely travels the world looking for small producers insures a constant flow on new and exciting wines to the American market. If you live in California, chances are you’ve been to BevMo.
12- Jon Bonné: is The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine editor, responsible for the paper’s wine and spirits coverage and the annual Top 100 Wines list. Before coming to The Chronicle, Bonné was lifestyle editor and wine columnist for MSNBC.com. His work has earned him two James Beard awards and multiple awards from the Association of Food Journalists. Previously Bonné was wine columnist for Seattle Magazine and has written about wine for Food & Wine, Decanter, and Saveur. He has also reported for The New York Times, Court TV, and National Public Radio, and is working on a book about California wine.
11- Patrick Comiskey: A former sommelier, Comiskey serves as the critic for all domestic wines outside of California for Wine & Spirits Magazine. He contributes to the San Francisco Chronicle's wine section, the Los Angeles Times, Bon Appétit, Wine Review Online and the Robb Report, in addition to writing educational materials for selected restaurants and websites. He also teaches classes and moderates panels on viticulture, wine tasting and various wine regions.
10- Doug Frost: is one of only three people in the world to have achieved the title of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, which puts him in demand as a writer, speaker and wine judge. He has authored three books on wine, contributes to the Oxford Companion of Wine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Underground Wine Journal, Drinks International, Practical Winery & Vineyard, Wines & Vines, Wines & Spirits, Cheers Magazine, and Santé Magazine, among others. His incredible depth of knowledge and understanding of wine makes him sought after as an educator, impacting a variety of wine lovers, and he does this with humor and pinpoint accuracy.
9- Matt Kramer: since 1985 he has contributed to Wine Spectator, but he has been writing about wine since 1976, utilizing a style less formal and more open than most wine writers. He is the wine columnist for The Oregonian, and formerly wrote about wine for The New York Sun, and the Los Angeles Times. Praised for lucidity in his writing he has helped champion small wineries and now the commonly understood idea of terrior. He has seven books published about wine.
8- Adam Strum: as Founder and Chairman of Wine Enthusiast Companies and Editor and Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Magazine Strum heads up the largest group of wine commerce and media companies in the world. With more than 800,000 readers Wine Enthusiast Magazine provides editorial content and authoritative reviews and ratings of tens of thousands of wines every year. The Wine Enthusiast catalog and web business is the world’s leading inventor and seller of wine accessories and wine storage with catalogs distributed to more than 300 million wine-related publications in the United States and around the world.
7- Marvin Shanken: is the man behind the magazine, The Wine Spectator, which is one of the top wine magazines in the world. Shanken started his career in real estate and investment banking, then moved into publishing in 1973, purchasing Impact Databank Reports, an annual industry publication which provides raw wine data. His company expanded to other trade publications including Market Watch and Food Arts. He started Wine Spectator in 1976 with fewer than 5,000 subscribers. Today Wine Spectator is read by nearly 3 million people and exerts tremendous influence with its reviews on wines, up and coming wine regions and food.
6-Rob Sands: is the president and CEO of Constellation Brands, listed as a S&P 500 Index and Fortune 1000 company with 4,300 employees, sales in 125 countries and operations at approximately 30 facilities. Some of their well known brands include Clos du Bois, Robert Mondavi, Franciscan Estate and others. Total revenues for 2011 (including their large spirits division) reached $3.3 billion, this in spite of a weaker than expected economy and drop in wine purchases. Nonetheless they remain the biggest seller by volume of premium-category wines priced between $5 and $15.
5-Wayne Chaplin: is the president and COO of Southern Wine & Spirits, the nation’s largest spirits and wine distributor with estimated revenues of more than $9 billion in 2011. The company now has operations in 34 states and Washington, D.C., and also has a distribution license for the state of Texas. They employ over 11,000 people, and they move a lot of wine.
4- Gina Gallo: With well over 24 wine brands, and over 70 millions cases of wine produced and tens of thousands of acres of grapes, the E. & J. Gallo Winery is the world's largest family-owned winery and the largest exporter of California wine. And Gina Gallo is winemaker, spokesperson and all around wine supporter. But beyond that, Gina Gallo has tirelessly promoted wine in general and helped quality control and quality assurance for her wines on the backend. Long gone are the days when the name Gallo was associated with Ripple and Thunderbird and their offerings also include higher end fine wines. Sure, they are a wine-behemoth, but they sell more wine than anybody.
3-Annette Alvares-Peters: You may not know her name, but you definitely know who she works for. Alvares-Peters is the merchandise manager for wine, spirits and beer for Costco, and Costco is America’s largest beverage alcohol retailer selling wine in 433 stores in the U.S and Puerto Rico, and an additional 165 stores in seven foreign countries. Fully half of all alcohol sales in Costco are wine, and globally those wine revenues alone reached an astounding $1.3 billion for 2011. Certainly the selection of wines are limited and Costco typically offers just over 100 labels, but they move an immense amount of product, import wines to the American market, and have their own wine under the Kirkland label.
2-James Laube: Almost everyone knows his name and as the lead taster and wine writer for the Wine Spectator, Laube’s influence has been non-stop for almost 30 years. His three books on wine helped earn him a James Beard Award for best wine book of the year. Though you may not agree with his palate or his assessments of California wines, Laube’s influence is best expressed via the incredible sales that his recommendations provide to high-end and low-end wineries alike. People read and respect his opinion and therefore wines are bought and sold based on his recommendations. You may not agree with him, but you cannot doubt the influence.
1-Robert Parker: Love him or hate him, Robert McDowell Parker has had the single most significant impact on wine, ranging from wine aficionados to the average consumer who buys wine at their local grocery store. His 100 point rating system forever changed how wines are scored, and thus perceived, and therefore purchased. As a testament to his power and influence from his Wine Advocate newsletter (free of advertising, another novelty), he is courted by winemakers and winery owners across the globe who craft their wines to suit his palette, though few actually admit it. No other single critic in the last three decades has held that kind of influence; to actually shape and mold how wines are crafted, and chances are, in this day of segmented media attention, no one will again. Right or wrong, good or bad, Parker’s influence has been monumental. Say what you will, Robert Parker has impacted American wine more than any other single individual. Period