At 5.30pm last Friday, just as those of us at the Masters of Wine symposium down the road were listening to Josh Wesson of Best Cellars tell us that the average retail price paid by Americans per bottle of wine had now reached $12, UC Davis's best-known viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo died peacefully at a home in Davis, a month before he would have been 97.
It was he who, at the invitation of the Western Australian government, was responsible in 1955 for suggesting that Frankland could make suitable terrain for grape growing - and laid the foundations for Dr John Gladstones' espousal of Margaret River. How right he was. Frankland Estate call their top Bordeaux blend Olmo's Reward in his honour. In the 1930s, he had successfully explored Afghanistan on horseback and by camel in search of plants that were likely to thrive in the California climate which indeed subsequently thrived.
He was also a fiendishly prolific grape breeder, responsible for, inter alia, such varieties as Emerald Riesling, the widely planted crossing of Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon Ruby Cabernet, Carnelian, and the infamous Rubired that has increasingly been used in California and Australia to add colour to wine made from over-productive vines. He did not shrink from frankness, pointing out in 1951, "I do not know of a single vineyard of the Pinot Noir in California where I could recommend that a grower obtain propagating wood, because our plantings are largely poor strains and the proportion of our vines showing degeneration is large indeed." A Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright scholar, he retired from Davis in 1977.
Richard Bowling, MCM, Marlborough:
Hello Jancis, I am pleased you acknowledged Harold Olmo. I met him when he visited NZ over 30 years ago and I, then being in my early 20's and NZ being winewise in its nappies, found him an incredibly inspiring man. Someone of great academic ability with a perceptive and practical approach and with great humility. Rare in my experience of the wine world's persona.