Left to right: Elliott Mackey of the Wine Appreciation Guild and Charles L. Sullivan.

There’s a fondness in my heart for Charles Sullivan. When I asked him once about the history of Irish winemakers in the United States, he told me that he hadn’t researched that area in depth (yet), but there are logical inferences that can be deduced from historical facts that would present themselves upon further investigation.

“Logical inferences…” That’s stayed with me as long as the memory of visiting with Roz (his wife) and him in Los Gatos a few years ago. Charles is as much a historical treasure as are the books for which he’s authored. This award has been a long time coming and so deserved.

According to a press release from the Wine Literary Award Foundation:

Charles L. Sullivan, the famed wine historian’s career was celebrated at a gala banquet and award ceremony in San Francisco, California, this past April 25, 2008. The Wine Literary Award is administered by the Wine Literary Award Foundation, which seeks to advance wine writing and wine knowledge through gifts of academic scholarships for excellence in wine writing in the various fields of eonology.

Charles L. Sullivan accepted wine literature’s top prize in front of a sold-out audience of admiring wine industry notables, among them keynote speaker Andrew Beckstoffer (right), who thanked the wine historian for the breadth of his contribution to the historical knowledge of the Napa Valley and the performance of his work.

“A lot of writers use Napa Valley for one reason or another. To cause division and scandal…to exploit the Valley by exaggerating controversy. Charles didn’t use Napa. He gave it a gift of insight. For that, on behalf of the Valley, thank you.”

In his acceptance speech Sullivan said, “Most historians are loath to make predictions about the future. But sometimes we can’t help expressing a sense of foreboding or optimism, given the state of the moment. For me the latter is my sense of the future of wine for all of California.”

Since his 1978 article on the origins of Zinfandel in California appeared in the California Historical Journal, Charles Sullivan’s work has established him as, in Charles Olken’s words, “the single most important wine historian alive today.”

Image to the right is Warren Winarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars fame, who is featured in many of Charles’s stories.

In 1982, Sullivan published the first scholarly history of a California wine region, Like Modern Edens, which focused on the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The next year he coauthored Late Harvest, a history of wine growing in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1988 he penned another first, the highly acclaimed Napa Wine: A History from Mission Days to Present. His 1998 book Companion to California Wine, a historical encyclopedia of the wine industry in California, won the Julia Child award for best wine book of that year. In 2003, Zinfandel: A History of the Grape and its Wine won Sullivan the Veuve Cliquot award for best wine book of the year and was a James Beard award finalist. A second edition of Napa Wine is due to be published in May 2008, and Sullivan is currently working on a three-volume, comprehensive history of the California wine industry.

“Those of us in this room,” said speaker Dan Berger, “know that there are two aspects of wine that help to determine its intrinsic quality: terroir and history. These two elements of wine must necessarily be a part of what’s in each glass, and they are at the heart and soul of what Charles Sullivan has done with his investigation into wine over the decades.”

Wine Literary Award Laureates include Hugh Johnson, Robert M. Parker, Jr., Harry Waugh, Leon D. Adams, Dan Berger, Jancis Robinson, Gerald Asher, Tom Stevenson, Gene Ford, Michael Broadbent, Robert Lawrence Balzer, Andrea Robinson, Kevin Zraly, and Karen MacNeil.