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California Vintage Wine Society works with UC Davis Library to put together archival collection

After stumbling upon a set of scrapbooks from his father, Mike Henry scrolled through the pages and soon realized he recognized some of the names and faces printed alongside his dad. Photographs, menus and itineraries dating back to the '60s included the likes of Maynard Amerine, Ernest Gallo, and Warren Winiarski, and as a founding member of the California Vintage Wine Society, Mike’s father Warner Henry was sure to document everything.

Henry’s discoveries have since been donated to Cal Vintage, so the society has joined forces with the UC Davis Library to incorporate these snapshots of history into the university’s already-extensive wine collection.

“UC Davis has one of the leading viticulture and enology programs in the world, and so as a library, we always try to mirror and support these areas of the university,” said Jessica Nusbaum, director of communications for the library.

“It was this sort of fortuitous discovery that Mike Henry made of this set of scrapbooks that cover the very earliest pioneering years of the society among his father’s papers, and now, they are working with their current members and inviting them to share their meeting minutes, menus from events, wine labels, photographs, all of these different things that people may have collected among their own memorabilia,” she said.

As a top wine library in the world, the UC Davis Library has plenty of reference texts and materials to accompany these pieces of memorabilia and fill in any gaps in information, so staff are thrilled to be adding this human interest aspect to the collection.

“We are ultimately building toward writing a history of the society for their anniversary which is coming up in 2023, [so] 2022 will be the year that we are going to pull all the stories together and get the oral histories with founding members who are still alive,” said MacKenzie Smith, head of the library.

Smith and her crew are planning on putting together a physical collection as well as an online archive of these materials, which will be sourced from all over the globe and detail what guests were drinking and thinking about.

“We are the number one wine collection in the world, not just California wine but all wine, so our library is uniquely positioned to put California wine in context and talk about the influence of California on the world,” said Smith. “A lot of the faculty at UC Davis not only helped get Napa and northern California going, but have had an influence worldwide … We want to help people see the centrality of Napa, and that’s why we are collecting papers and things from people all over the world.”

Cal Vintage president Dieter Hellmoldt doesn’t work in the wine industry, and while he and his wife Jaina Selawski have always loved wine, the couple’s respect for the industry and its founders has only ballooned since the beginning of this project.

“One of the things that struck me was how small the industry was back then,” said Hellmoldt. “Seeing what it was like early on and the fact that these people were heavyweights in the industry gave us a lot of respect for the early members … It drives home how important [the society] has been to what has now become a much more US-wine centric industry, and how it has grown from that North Bay nuclei.”

For Graeme MacDonald, co-proprietor of MacDonald Vineyards, the project has allowed him to connect deeper with his own family and their generational land. As someone whose family has a history in wine — his family first planted their vines in 1954 and has sold to Robert Mondavi for over half a decade — MacDonald had missed out on a lot of the grape growing guidance he seeks now as a professional.

“My grandfather had a stroke in 1997 when I was still pretty young, so all that generational knowledge used to farm the land before me didn’t pass on,” said MacDonald. “So I started getting into history and one of the first Napa history books I was reading, the picture in the book of the To Kalon winery was credited to my great uncle.”

From there, MacDonald has been diving as deep as he can into the history of To Kalon and his family’s portion of the vineyard, and the more he looked, the more notes he found from his great uncle, Gunther Detert. An attorney from San Francisco, Detert served as president of both Cal Vintage and the Napa Valley Wine Library during the '70s. Come 2000, his grandchildren would found Detert Family Vineyards in Oakville.

“Gunther’s work has been really instrumental to me because I’ve inherited that love of history, and so it's kind of like someone leaving you the breadcrumbs … I was too young to know the right questions to ask before they passed,” said MacDonald.

“The history of To Kalon has been really fascinating to me because it basically teaches you that you don’t just plant a vineyard and make a great wine in one generation … There is this philosophy that you don’t start raising a child at birth but 100 years before they are born because that’s when you shape the environment that they are born into, and to me, that’s what it’s like to be part of a multi-generational family vineyard.”

So by putting the pieces together using these archival materials, MacDonald has been able to not only connect with his family and their land, but with Napa Valley’s landscape and history too.

“It is really evidence for future historians to document the fact that the culture of food and wine was something that we had to build and we had to invest time and energy into,” he said. “That transition from quiet Napa Valley into a wine region of the world was something that not just one winery or one person did … It was really this movement.”

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