Remembering Warren Winiarski

Peter W. Wood

Warren Winiarski has passed away at age 95. Best known as a Napa Valley vintner, Warren was a man of many parts, and not least a good friend of the National Association of Scholars. He came to international fame in 1976, at age 47, when his Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon bested the top French cabernets in a blind Paris tasting. Stag’s Leap reputation leaped, but Napa Valley did an entrechat as well. California wines had a new found respectability thanks to Warren. According to the New York Times, he took the news of his victory in stride. When his wife told him, he replied, “That’s nice.”

I made Warren’s acquaintance about a decade ago when one day a check for $20,000 arrived in the mail from him. This was out of the blue and I immediately called him up. NAS isn’t known for its prominence among vinophiles, and while I like cabernets, the size of Mr. Winiarski’s check seemed out of proportion to my enthusiasm. When we spoke, he explained that his gift to NAS was in support of our mission to uphold the liberal arts tradition in American higher education.

It happened that Warren was a graduate of the Great Books Program at St. John’s College in Annapolis and had gone to study at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He had a deep-seated interest in the Italian Renaissance. In other words, he was the archetype of an NAS supporter. He had also spent a few years teaching, but after a few years, at age 35, he left the shady groves of academe for the sunburnt hills of Napa, where he apprenticed at Chateau Souverain and learned the art of winemaking from the grape up.

Though he loved good wine, his was not the work of just a connoisseur or that of an entrepreneur. He was a man in love with civilization, and thus he gave generously to his alma maters. And somehow, he came to know about NAS as well. He told me one of his friends from St. John’s had put him on to us.

It turned out that Warren’s $20,000 gift to NAS was not a one-off act of generosity. He repeated it for nine more years, most recently in December. I spoke to him several more times to express my gratitude, but I never again asked for an explanation—or a refill. He was plainly a man who had his own idea of how to bestow his wealth. I had the sense that he enjoyed the prosperity that came his way, but that he never aimed at becoming rich. He sold Stag’s Leap—the New York Times reported—in 2007 for $185 million, and his charities included the Smithsonian Institution.

His gifts to NAS were perhaps small in comparison to those he gave our national museum, but they were momentous to NAS—helping us to launch our in-depth studies of social justice activism on campus, the infiltration of the Chinese Communist Party at American universities, and our work to drag DEI into the sunlight for taxpayers to inspect. I can’t say whether any of these were of particular moment to Warren, but he understood the larger war of which we are all a part. He was a man who understood the larger picture of civilization and the myriad elements of soil, sun, and stock needed to grow it.

Photo: by Bob McClenahan - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 4.0,

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