Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy And Helpful, That Was Ralph Kunkee

Dr. Ralph E. Kunkee
I can't claim to have known well Dr. Ralph E. Kunkee, but I admired the intellect, patience and candor he showed whenever I asked him a question of winemaking. More than a source, however, he was a fun guy to be around, however brief and casual the encounter. The good doctor died early Saturday of cancer while under hospice care in Davis, where he'd been a longtime member of the department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis. He retired 20 years ago, but remained active in the wine culture as a consultant, lecturer and judge on the competition circuit.

His academic specialties involved the microbiological spoilage of wine, malolactic fermentation and yeasts. Beyond the classroom, he embraced life with the same curiosity, zest and joy with which he studied winemaking and with which he inspired his students. He told funny stories, he quipped bluntly, he enjoyed a party as if he were student rather than professor. For years, he ran the Bay to Breakers. He toured wine regions about the world, wrote about 150 scientific articles and co-authored two enological textbooks. His research was pivotal as California transitioned from sweet, rough, high-alcohol dessert wines to dry, clean and smooth table wines over the past half century. In 1998, scientists from Washington State University and the Institute of Food Research in the United Kingdom found a new microrganism implicated in problematic fermentations; they named it Lactobacillus Kunkeei in tribute to Ralph Kunkee's many contributions to understanding the microbiology of wines.

For a more intimate measure of the man, check out this posting by Sandra Oldfield, winemaker at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia, one of perhaps more than a thousand practicing commercial vintners influenced by Ralph Kunkee's instruction, research and counsel. In his final days, others added their thoughts to a CarePage set up for him. Read those tributes and give thanks for the selflessness, industry and spunk of this remarkable guy.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for all the fun, as well as the contributions you brought to us in the wine industry. Bill Henri, Napa, CA.