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Maynard A. Amerine; Wine Industry Expert

Obituaries

March 13, 1998|DAN BERGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maynard A. Amerine, a virtual textbook on winemaking and a powerful force in guiding the California wine industry's recovery from Prohibition, has died. He was 86.

Amerine, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died Wednesday night at his home in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.

He was a founder and later chairman of the department of viticulture and oenology at UC Davis, which became known worldwide as a wine research center.

Amerine, who earned a doctorate in plant physiology at UC Berkeley, used his expertise to help California grape growers revive an industry that had been hard hit during Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933.

He also was credited by the French wine industry with kick-starting scientific advances in France. Over the years he received seven awards from the French government for his scientific writings that helped improve French wine.

In more than 400 scientific papers, Amerine developed guidelines on topics as wide-ranging as winery sanitation, fermentation science, microbiological stability and soil analysis.

He was widely considered one of the four most important people in the U.S. wine industry, along with Eugene Hilgarde, the first professor of agriculture in the UC system; UC Davis professor and researcher Albert J. Winkler; and Napa Valley winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff.

Amerine was a technical advisor to hundreds of start-up wineries in the post-Prohibition period. In countless talks and technical papers, he stressed the need for wine without defects.

"Maynard's epicurean background and personal travel opened the eyes of California producers to the fact that their best wines weren't quite as good as they could be," said UC Davis oenology researcher James Lapsley, whose book on the history of wine in the Napa Valley, "Bottled Poetry," was published in 1996.

"Maynard was a gastronome who tasted wine in a professional way, and he translated his feelings into standards that were adopted by hundreds of wineries," Lapsley said.

The researcher and historian credited Amerine's two- and three-day courses in winemaking, which Amerine called "missionary work," with providing a sound base for many new wineries.

Amerine retired in 1974, with the title professor emeritus.

Never married, he had no known survivors.

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