Martin Ray: California Wine Legend

When one thinks of some of the giants of the California wine industry, names like Mondavi, Gallo and Jackson certainly come to mind. Many others have made important contributions to the success of our state’s and country’s wine prominence, but one of the most important early pioneers was Martin Ray. I was reminded of this today when I read “The Legacy of a Wine Maverick” by Matt Kramer in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. Kramer outlined Ray’s determination in the 1940s to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon high above Saratoga in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The vineyards and winery, Mount Eden Vineyards, remain today and Kramer discussed the wines of the current proprietors, Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson. I actually visited their property several years ago when I was fortunate enough to be selling their wines. It is a beautiful one-of-a-kind estate and the wines are incredible. I left the winery that day with an excellent book called “Vineyards in the Sky, The Life of Legendary Vintner Martin Ray,” by Eleanor Ray (Martin’s widow) with Barbara Marinacci. It is a well-written biography of Ray and also an interesting chronicle of the California wine industry. Kramer didn’t mention it in his article, but I learned from the book that in 1939 Martin Ray was the first person in this country to produce and market 100% varietal wines. His efforts also commanded prices of four times that of other California wines. The book is a great read and is still available at Martin Ray Winery also exists in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. The founders there actually acquired the Martin Ray brand from his family and dedicated themselves to producing wines that would make Martin Ray himself proud. That winery’s history and mission are also worth reading at

~ by Thomas on January 17, 2010.

2 Responses to “Martin Ray: California Wine Legend”

  1. Oh, how perfect. I jumped over to see what was new and this is great. Was just thinking I’m in need of another wine history-based book (read House of Mondavi this past summer.)
    Thanks, T! I’ll check it out.

    • Thanks for the read. I think you’ll enjoy the book. Martin Ray was quite a character and obviously a huge trailblazer in the California wine industry.

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