2017 Rich Smith Distinguished Service Award Presented to Wine Industry Legend Pete Downs
SACRAMENTO, CA, January 24, 2018 — The second-annual Rich Smith Distinguished Service Award for major contributions to the American grape and wine industry, and to research, was given to Edgar B. “Pete” Downs, President of the Family Winemakers of California.
The award was given in a surprise presentation by the Smith Family at the Board of Directors meeting of Family Winemakers of California on January 23. (Click to see video of the surprise presentation.) Additional recognition took place today at the annual Leadership Luncheon of the Winegrape Growers of America (WGA), which co-sponsored the award with the National Grape & Wine Initiative (NGWI) and WineAmerica-three organizations for which the late Richard “Rich” Smith was a tireless leader and advocate. The luncheon was held during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the wine and grape industry’s largest conference and trade show.
Rich Smith was founder and co-owner with his wife, Claudia Alexander Smith, of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Rich was widely known and revered for his passion for the wine and grape industry, his commitment to enhancing its future, and his collaboration with colleagues to achieve collective goals. Those three words—passion, commitment, collaboration—are inscribed on the award, which is presented annually to a person who emulates Rich’s defining traits and works as tirelessly for the common good.
Rich’s wife Claudia and their daughter Kacy presented the award to Pete. In presenting the award, Claudia said, “Rich spent decades working together with Pete with both WGA and WineAmerica, addressing issues of import to America’s rapidly growing grape and wine industry,” Claudia said. “Sometimes when we would see Pete, we would just talk about grandbabies, family being number-one for Pete and Mary, as it always has been for Rich and me. But Pete’s passion for the winegrape industry was always strong, and couldn’t be more apparent than in his recent return from retirement to lead Family Winemakers.
“Both Pete and Rich have an easy, yet articulate way with words and an ability to see the big picture in tense situations, guiding all involved toward unity,” Claudia continued. “If he could be here, Rich would be proud to present this Distinguished Service Award to Pete today, and I know he would have some fun, wry stories to share from their years together.”
“I am surprised and touched by the recognition,” Pete said. “But more than anything, I am humbled to be considered worthy of Rich Smith’s legacy.”
Since July 2016, Pete has served as Acting President of the Family Winemakers of California, the trade organization of more than 400 wineries that are primarily family-owned and produce less than 5,000 cases annually. He had retired in 2012 from 20 years of service at Kendall-Jackson to launch a consulting firm, and has been an active board member of Family Winemakers and head of its Legislative Committee.
Pete also has served as President of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV), as a Board member and Chairman of the International Committee of WineAmerica, and Board member of the Sonoma County Wineries Association, American Vineyard Foundation and the Coalition for Free Trade. He was appointed by the California Secretary of Food & Agriculture to the oversight boards tackling Pierce’s Disease and the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. And in 2015, Pete received the ASEV Merit Award, an honor the organization presents annually.
Pete began his career in 1973 as a chemist with Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, leaving to become Research Director at Korbel, then arriving as a sparkling winemaker at Chateau St. Jean, where he helped to establish the winery in Graton and oversee custom programs for wineries including Gloria Ferrer, Shadow Creek, Sebastiani and Cueno. In 1992, he became General Manager of Kendall-Jackson’s Vinwood, Lakeport and Edmeades wineries before he became the winery’s chief ambassador for trade organizations and community affairs.
“Pete Downs is truly an icon of the American wine industry,” said Jim Trezise, President of WineAmerica. “After years as a lauded winemaker, he gradually became involved in many industry groups focused on government affairs, research and other vital areas. He is a great listener, an active participant and a team player—all of which add up to a respected leader. When Pete talks, people listen; and when people talk, Pete listens. His natural collegiality and instinctive collaboration reflect the same innate qualities of his longtime friend, Rich Smith.”
John Martini, last year’s award recipient, owner of Anthony Road Winery in New York and member of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors for NGWI, recalled, “When Pierce’s Disease devastated many California vineyards, Pete went into high gear, working with colleagues to raise money, lobbying Sacramento for disaster relief funding, and reaching out to the research community for potential solutions. He also worked to educate wine and grape industry colleagues—including those of us on the East Coast who were unaffected—that this was not a California problem but a national problem for which we all needed to work on together by asking our Congressional representatives to approve funding. With this kind of big-picture, collaborative perspective on issues that can and should be addressed collectively, Pete’s was a welcome voice as NGWI created its first set of strategic national research priorities.”
John Aguirre, Executive Director of WGA, said, “Pete’s willingness to step up and provide leadership to the Family Winemakers in a transitional time speaks volumes about his commitment to the industry, and to the organizations and causes he champions. He has been a staunch defender of grower and winery interests, and one of our most persuasive advocates for reforming and modernizing state and federal regulations affecting our industry. We have all benefited from Pete’s passion, energy and vision.”
To select the recipient of the Rich Smith Distinguished Service Award, all three organizations and the Smith Family submitted nominations and, together with the previous year’s winner, John Martini (Anthony Road Winery), made the final selection. It is not required that the recipient be associated with any of the three organizations, just that he or she has made major contributions to the American grape and wine industry while demonstrating qualities consistent with Rich Smith’s memory. The award sponsors and Smith Family are proud to honor Rich and encourage a legacy of service worthy of his name.
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John Aguirre, Winegrape Growers of American, firstname.lastname@example.org, 916-379-8995
Donnell Brown, National Grape & Wine Initiative, email@example.com, 916-446-3900
Jason Smith, Smith Family Wines, firstname.lastname@example.org, 831-678-0300
Jim Trezise, WineAmerica, email@example.com, 202-223-5175