American History (After Hours): The Judgement of Paris and American Wine by National Museum of American History
On May 16, 2016, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris with a special American History (After Hours) program at the museum with wine tastings, food, and dynamic conversation.
The Judgment of Paris was a pivotal moment forty years ago when American winemakers surprised a panel of French wine experts (and the world) by placing first in a blind tasting that pitted the new American wines against the best of France.
Watch the panel discussion from this evening about the legacy of the Judgment of Paris and American wine history featuring experts and some of the original participants:
Steven Spurrier – The organizer of the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
George Taber – The only journalist to cover the tasting and author of Judgment of Paris (New York: Scribner, 2005).
Warren Winiarski – The winemaker of the winning 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Bo Barrett – The CEO and former winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery and son of the late Jim Barrett who owned Chateau Montelena at the time of the Judgment of Paris.
Violet Grgich – The daughter of Mike Grgich, the winemaker of the winning 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and founder of the winery, Grgich Hills Estate, where Violet is co-proprietor.
Ted Baseler – The CEO of Ste. Michelle Estates and CEO of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
Moderated by Paula Johnson, Curator, National Museum of American History.
In 1996, on the 20th anniversary of the tasting, the museum collected bottles of the two winning vintages, which are now on display in the “FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950–2000” exhibition. At that time, the museum launched an oral history and documentation project on winemaking in 20th century America and formed the American Food and Wine History Project, which led to the collecting of winegrowing and winemaking objects, archival materials and audio interviews with many people working in the American wine industry.
Held in Paris May 24, 1976, the “Judgment of Paris,” also known as the “Paris Tasting,” was a formal blind tasting of red and white wines—six California Chardonnays against four white Burgundies and six Cabernet Sauvignons against four red Bordeaux—pitting the best of the Old World against the best of the New World.
The tasting was organized by English wine merchant Spurrier and his American business partner Patricia Gallagher, who enlisted nine well-respected French judges for the blind tasting. After results were tallied, surprise turned to shock as two California vintages, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, scored first in their respective groups. The outcome crushed the then widely held belief that only the French could make premium wine and brought significant acclaim to the winning winemakers, their wineries and the Napa Valley. It is regarded as pivotal to the rebirth of the American winegrowing and winemaking after the industry’s devastations during Prohibition.
The museum’s events in celebration of the 40th anniversary are made possible through a donation by the Winiarski Family Foundation as lead sponsor and additional funding by Altria Group.