Some sad news to report. Over the weekend, legendary Napa Valley vintner George Vare passed away. I learned the news from Dan Petroski, who wrote about it in the latest release from Massican:
“Over the weekend George Vare, the man who is directly responsible for bringing Ribolla Gialla to the United States, passed away. A friend, mentor, and leader in the Napa Valley, George was an inspiration for the wines we produce here at Massican. I am blessed to have known and spent time with George. While his contributions to the industry go beyond his three acres of Ribolla Gialla, to me he will always be the man who, when I met him in his vineyard in August 2009, offered me a generous smile and an infectious enthusiasm for an obscure North East Italian grape variety.”
I was fortunate to meet George once. We were introduced by Robbie Meyer of L’Angevin while I was out in Napa working harvest this past October. We arrived to George’s house unannounced, and after walking through the vineyard, George was gracious enough to chat with us. He talked about how the California wine industry had changed, how excited he was about all the new interest in balanced wines, and even the blogosphere.
Unsurprisingly, we also talked about Ribolla Gialla — and George made a fantastic joke about some of his clients picking too early.
“It’s Ribolla Gialla,” he told me, “not Ribolla Verde!”
By all accounts, George was simply awesome. At various times in the past three years, Robbie Meyer, Steve & Jill Matthiasson, Dan Petroski, Matt Rorick, and countless others went out of their way to talk about George — unprompted — and tell me why he meant so much to them. (Wine writer Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka also thought the world of George, and wrote several excellent pieces on him. See her excellent February piece on orange wines and her four-part series on “Ribolla Gialla University.” One; Two; Three; Four.)
George entered the wine industry in 1972 while an executive with Schlitz Brewing Company. That year, the company purchased Geyser Peak Winery and appointed Vare as president. Over the next few years, he grew Geyser Peak into a 700,000 case winery before resigning to launch a number of other wine brands. George is likely best known for Luna Vineyards, which he founded in 1995 with wine industry veteran Mike Moone.
Our thoughts go out to all George’s friends and family. He’ll be missed.