In memoriam: James Wolpert
Wolpert retired in 2013 after 28 years as a UCCE specialist studying grape rootstocks and varieties.
In 1995, he established a wine grape varietal trial at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to find new varieties suitable for warm, dry weather. Wolpert selected 55 winegrape cultivars from Spain, Greece, Italy and other areas where the climate is similar to the San Joaquin Valley.
In a 2013 article in Wines & Vines, Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor in Mendocino County recalled Wolpert's rapport with growers.
“We were sitting around this table with this wine and Jim says to the farmer, ‘Oh this is really, really quite refreshing on a day like today,'” McGourty recalls with a laugh. “It was more a vacation sometimes when we were out there in the field, rather than work.”
In announcing Wolpert's passing, David Block, Department of Viticulture and Enology chair, posted photos and the following statement on Facebook:
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Jim Wolpert. Jim was more than just a colleague and friend to all of us in V&E. As a CE Specialist in Viticulture, he spent a good part of his career conveying mission-critical information to the grape and wine industry throughout the state. As a researcher, Jim focused on rootstock evaluation, as well as scion clonal trials, including the important Heritage Zinfandel clones that he planted at Oakville. For us here in the department, however, Jim will be most remembered for getting us to where we are today as a department, both figuratively and quite literally, as he was instrumental, as Chair, in creating the vision for the Robert Mondavi Institute. Without his vision and persistence, Jim would not have been able to convince Robert Mondavi that a world-class department needs world-class facilities in which to thrive. In this way, Jim shepherded the Mondavi's truly transformative gift into the reality of the beautiful complex we have today. Many of you will have seen the granite benches in our complex dedicated to leaders of our department. It is quite fitting that one of these benches is dedicated to Jim and is in the middle of the complex that he envisioned and built during his 10 years as Chair of the department. Today, the bench is adorned with flowers to celebrate his life.
On a personal note, Jim started as chair of the department the same day that I started as a faculty member at UC Davis in 1996. During the next 10 years and beyond, Jim was truly a mentor to me as I went through the tenure process and my program grew and developed, continuing on to my time now, as chair. His advice was always useful and his comments constructive—delivered with a healthy dose of his trademark Midwestern charm that immediately put you at ease. In fact, nearly all of the comments and remembrances I've received in the last two days have spoken of his mentorship. It's reassuring that Jim and his advice will live on in so many of our V&E family members in so many ways.
We will miss Jim tremendously.