Louis P. Martini
Louis M. Martini Winery, St. Helena
Photograph: Richards Lyon
Louis M. Martini founded Louis M. Martini Winery in 1933. He had already established a winery in Kingsburg where his son Louis had grown up working alongside his father after school. Young Louis continued his studies at UC Berkeley under Maynard Amerine as he helped to expand the Martini winery in St. Helena. Its Monte Rosso property in Sonoma County was acquired in 1938, and a good part of Stanly Ranch in Los Carneros in 1942. After college, Louis joined the Army Air Forces. Once home from WW II, he went to work at Martini’s fulltime. He became winemaker in 1954 and president and general manager in 1968. Louis’ father died in 1974. His son Michael has been Martini’s winemaker since 1978 and daughter Carolyn, president since 1985. E. & J. Gallo bought the winery in 2002.
Throughout his career, Louis worked closely with UC Davis to improve the types of grapes and methods of winemaking in Napa Valley. Clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling were improved by his efforts,he and André Tchelistcheff reestablished vineyards in Los Carneros, where sheep had overtaken vines, and Martini was among the first to adopt stainless steel tanks and controlled fermentation temperatures. Martini also produced the first Los Carneros Pinot Noir in 1952 and bottled America’s first Merlot in 1968.
Louis constantly and thoughtfully promoted the excellence and reputation of Napa Valley wines. He helped found NVWLA,of which his daughter Carolyn is now president, and a reorganization of Napa Valley Vintners Association, chairing its first wine auction. In 1989, in honor of his 75th birthday, Louis’ children established a research fund for the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, now the Louis P. Martini Endowed Chair in Viticulture of that department.
To take Louis’ picture, Dick and he sat at ease out on the porch. Louis’ wife, Liz, had met Dick in college where they were lab partners in organic chemistry. It was a challenge keeping the reflections down on Louis’ eyeglasses, but Dick says Louis was “gracious enough to give me a second try, and that caught the person I knew.”