Twelve great names in the modern history of wine

Scientists, writers, explorers, entrepreneurs, hands-on cultivators… So many different characters have influenced the story of wine in the last 400 years. Here is a selection of twelve.

Background image credit: Wine cellar in Chvalovice near Znojmo by Che [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

André Jullien

A Parisian wine merchant and wine writer, André Jullien was the first great wine explorer. In his quest to discover and assess all the world’s wine regions, and to categorize the characteristics of as many different crus as he could find, he travelled throughout Eastern Europe, along the Silk Road to ‘Chinese Tartary’, and to the vineyards of Africa.

William Vere Cruess

A biochemist, teacher, and author, Cruess began his wine research in California before the American Prohibition. In the ‘dry years’ he studied other vine products, and immediately upon Repeal in 1933 he re-established viticultural and oenological research at the University of California. His Principles and Practices of Wine Making (1934) was the first work for the guidance of commercial winemaking published after Repeal.

André Tchelistcheff

Russian-born, and trained in wine-making in France, Tchelistcheff moved to California after the end of Prohibition. He is considered the founding father of the modern California wine industry, and among the practices he introduced were winery hygiene, temperature-controlled fermentation, and frost damage prevention techniques such as the orchard heaters and wind machines that dominated Napa Valley for so long.

Jean-Antoine Chaptal

French chemist, statesman, and polymath who rose from humble beginnings to become Minister of the Interior under Napoleon. In 1799, he wrote the article on wine for the Abbé Rozier's monumental Dictionnaire d’agriculture, but is better known in wine circles for his l’Art de faire le vin (1807) and his support for the concept of increasing the alcoholic strength of wine by adding sugar to the must, the procedure now known as chaptalization.

Émile Peynaud

The work of this Bordeaux oenologist had a profound and worldwide impact on winemaking and wine appreciation. Peynaud wanted to understand every detail of the winemaking process, to eliminate its hitherto haphazard nature, ‘monitoring the whole process of winemaking from grape to bottle’. Many of the practices that now seem commonplace are rooted in his wide-ranging scientific research, including careful selection and handling of grapes, and better control of maceration and fermentation.

Dom Pérignon

The famed Benedictine monk was in charge of the cellars at the Abbey of Hautvillers. Though he has gone down in history as ‘the man who invented champagne’, his life was in fact devoted to improving the still wines of the Champagne region, trying to avoid the second fermentation which produced the effervescent wine that was to prove so popular. He introduced many practices that continue today: among them severe pruning, low yields, and careful harvesting.

James Busby

The so-called father of Australian viticulture was born in Scotland. Busby first planted grapevines there after sailing from Britain to New South Wales in 1824 and was later responsible for taking cuttings of many European varieties to Australia and planting the first vines in New Zealand. Some clones of vine varieties such as Chardonnay and Shiraz which are still important today can be traced back to Busby’s imports.

Pierre Galet

The French scientist and prolific author who developed a comprehensive system for identifying and describing grape varieties based on their unique botanical characteristics, a science known as ampelography. His work has also involved vine identification for the purpose of settling legal disputes, and advising wine regions on which varieties are actually growing in some of their old vineyards.

Robert Parker

Influential American wine critic who devised the 100-point scale which came to dominate the world of fine wine from the 1980s to this day. Published in his bimonthly newsletter The Wine Advocate, the scoring system was easy to grasp, but Parker urges caution, asking readers to use the numerical ratings ‘only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you’. In 2015, he ceded coverage of Bordeaux en primeur wines to his British colleague Neal Martin, signalling a significant reduction in his workload.

Stéphane Derenoncourt

Noted French winemaking consultant who helps to make hundreds of wines around the world every year, including such famous names as Clos Fourtet in St-Émilion, Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan and Inglenook in California’s Napa Valley.

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