Sunday, June 26, 2016

True Wine Lover 17.

I have just finished reading Vineyards in the Sky a biography about pioneering California vintner Martin 'Rusty' Ray.  The book, which reads like a novel, was written by his second wife Eleanor (herself, in a small way, a contributor to California's wine history - y'know, behind every successful man...).  It tells of the interesting life of Martin Ray; a man whose persistence, and passion, in championing for strict varietal wine regulations, and the establishment of identifiable viticultural areas in California, made him quite a controversial character.  And, nowadays, hardly anyone in California has ever even heard of Martin Ray.
Martin Ray, a protégé of Burgundian transplant Paul Masson, railed against the production of cheap blended wines - wines whose producers then passed off, onto the unsuspecting consumer, as varietal wines.  (Let me just say, Ray despised Thompson Seedless grapes.)  In 1936, Ray purchased Paul Masson's La Cresta vineyard and winery (2000 feet up in the Santa Cruz mountains).  Six years later, after selling La Cresta to Seagrams, he developed his own vineyard on another crest to the northwest: his very own vineyard in the sky.
Ray made a bit of a nuisance of himself by insisting that California vintners should make 100% varietal wines - wines that he believed could compete with any of the wines coming out of Europe.  He was a bit of a stickler.
Martin Ray was also perhaps one of California's earliest advocates of the use of clonal selections in winegrowing, himself identifying and then propagating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones that were originally brought to America by Paul Masson.  Interesting reading - if you're a vine-geek like me.
Today, June 26th, would have been Martin Ray's 112th birthday.  Happy birthday Rusty!

8 comments:

Dennis Tsiorbas said...

Stupid ?: why did he hate Thompson Seedless grapes?
I'm assuming he was the founder of this winery: See-your-comment

Vinogirl said...

NHW: In the mid 40s Martin Ray, who was an avid reader of California's annual grape harvest report, was perplexed that whilst the acreage of wine varieties stayed pretty much the same, the volume of wine being made (that claimed to be a varietal wine) increased dramatically. A bottle labelled Chardonnay might not contain even one drop of Chardonnay. The culprit? The Thompson Seedless grape which could produce approx. 24 tons of grapes per acre, versus 3 tons for a fine wine varietal - ¾ of the wine crush in California was coming from non-wine grapes. The producers of the cheap blends just couldn't help themselves and Martin Ray thought the practice was contemptible.

Martin Ray's Winery was located in the Santa Cruz mountains above the town of Saratoga (the last wines were made there in 1970/71). The Martin Ray winery in Sonoma was not on my radar, as it has no affiliation with the original Martin Ray winery. The folks producing 'Martin Ray' wines now merely bought the brand name.

Dennis Tsiorbas said...

VG: Thx for clearing all that up!

Thomas said...

Yes, those pesky "brand" name buyers who prey on later generations.

VG: Marrtin Ray sold P. Masson to distributors Fromm amd Sichel, of Christian Brothers fame; Seagram was an investing partner at first. It wasn't until later Seagram began to interfere with the operation, and ruin it.

Another aspect of Martin Ray's history was his close friednship with Maynard Amerine that strained under the former's gentlemen-like way of chiding the California wine industry as opposed to the latter's "Bull in China shop" manner.

Incidentally, Barbara Marinacci, co-author on the book, wrote a wonderful series on Martin Ray in the now defunct Wayward Tendrils Quaretrly. But you can see the archives here: http://waywardtendrils.com/vinaceouscorrespondents.html

Thomas said...

Sorry, I meant the latter's gentleman-like way and the former's Bull in China shop ways.

Vinogirl said...

Tomasso: Yes, Seagram's did ruin it.
There is also an interesting story in the book about how Paul Masson tricked André Tchelistcheff with some Pinot blanc budwood that turned out to be Aligoté.

And thanks to Historian-Tomasso for the 'Wayward Tendrils' link.

Thomas said...

"Pinot blanc budwood that turned out to be Aligoté."

A common occurrence in the wine world!

Vinogirl said...

Tomasso: The 'confusion' over the two varieties makes for a good story :)