Wine and Grape Groups Honor John Martini

New York vineyard and winery owner presented with inaugural Richard Smith Distinguished Service Award

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grape grower new york richard smith award john martini
Jason, Claudia and Kacy Smith (from left) present the Richard Smith Distinguished Service Award to John Martini, whose son Peter Martini looks on today in Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento, Calif.—The Richard Smith Distinguished Service Award for research and major contributions to the American grape and wine industry was presented to John Martini, owner of Martini Vineyards and Anthony Road Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Smith’s family—his wife Claudia, son Jason and daughter Kacy—were on hand today to present the award to Martini at the Winegrape Growers of America’s annual leadership luncheon. That organization co-sponsored the award along with WineAmerica and the National Grape and Wine Initiative. The luncheon was held during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the country’s largest industry conference and trade show.

The late Richard Smith, founder and co-owner of Smith Family Wines and Paraiso Vineyards in the Monterey region of California, was a very active member of the three sponsoring organizations as well as other groups on the state and local levels. He was known and admired for his passion for the winegrowing industry, commitment to enhance its future and collaboration with colleagues to achieve that goal. The award will be presented each year to a person reflecting Smith’s traits: passion, commitment and collaboration, as well as his accomplishments for the common good of the industry.

This year’s recipient, John Martini, is similar to Smith in that he is a family man first, a grape grower second, and a winery owner third. He and his wife, Ann, planted their first 5 acres of Maréchal Foch in 1973 and gradually added to the vineyard acreage. Ann managed the vineyard and raised their four children while Martini worked for Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. The Martini’s started their Anthony Road Winery in 1989, and today they have 80 acres of vineyard and produce 15,000 cases of wine. The Finger Lakes Teaching and Demonstration Vineyard occupies 2.5 acres of Martini Vineyard land and is used by the Experiment Station and Cornell viticulture and enology students.

Like Smith, Martini has been active in all three sponsoring organizations in addition to others on the state and local levels. He served as chair for both WGA and NGWI, was president of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and the New York State Wine Grape Growers, and has served for many years on the board of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.

Claudia Alexander Smith said, “I maintain fond memories of board meetings in D.C. with much 'pounding the pavement' in teams with the Martinis as we visited our congressional representatives on behalf of Winegrape Growers of America and WineAmerica. John Martini never ceased to amaze both Rich and me with his boundless enthusiasm to build not just his and Ann's dream business in the Finger Lakes, but the grape and wine business in every state across America. And it has changed from a few states growing wine grapes and making local wines, to every state having a healthy robust wine business. John continues to be very active with both those organizations to this very day, as well as the National Grape & Wine Initiative. Rich is surely smiling to see John Martini, with Ann by his side, receive this ‘Rich Smith’ Distinguished Service Award on behalf of WA, WGA, NGWI and Smith Family Wines."  

Smith’s son Jason added, “Our family is honored to have my dad’s commitment to this industry represented by this perpetual award. John Martini is the East Coast version of my Dad…true dedication, passion and love for the industry, the community and, most importantly, his family. His tireless work and ability to put others before himself made this selection easy for the Richard Smith Distinguished Service Award. We know my dad is raising his glass of Pinot Noir in celebration of this great achievement and recognition.”

“Rich and John are basically spiritual brothers,” stated Jim Trezise, president of WineAmerica, which initiated the award. “They first met through WGA in the early 1980s and immediately developed a strong bond centered around their love for family, winegrowing, the community it creates and the joy of working together for the common good. They are people you can always count on.”

Todd Newhouse, chair of Winegrape Growers of America, said: “There isn’t a more deserving and more fitting recipient for this prestigious award that John Martini. John has always given more time than is expected to our national industry on both the winery and vineyard sides. When it comes to national issues, including research, he understood there shouldn’t be a distinction between wineries and vineyards because we are all one industry. No one understands that more than John.”

In numerous ways, the lives and wineries of the Smith and Martini families paralleled one another. The Smiths moved to Monterey County in 1973 and he started a vineyard farming business, Valley Farm Management. He started a custom harvesting business in 1977 and 10 years later bought Paraiso Vineyards. Their first wines were produced in 1989, the same year the Martinis opened their winery in New York. Paraiso Vineyards now has 289 acres of grapes, and Smith Family Wines produces 20,000 cases of wine. At both Anthony Road Winery and Smith Family Wines, the second generation is actively involved in running the business.

All three organizations sponsoring the Smith Perpetual Award and the Smith family were asked to submit nominations of potential recipients, and then representatives of the three groups and the family made the final selection. There is no requirement that the recipient be associated with any of the three organizations, only that he or she has made major contributions to the American grape and wine industry while demonstrating the key characteristics of Rich Smith.

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