The eighth annual Rich Smith Award of Excellence for outstanding contributions to the American grape and wine industry was presented today to Nick Dokoozlian, Vice President of Winegrowing Research at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, California.
The prestigious award annually reflects the spirit and accomplishments of the late Richard (Rich) Smith, founder of Valley Farm Management and Smith Family Wines in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands wine region. Rich was first and foremost a family man, but also a successful grape grower and winery owner, and a highly respected colleague known for the combination of passion, commitment and collaboration which helped advance the American grape and wine industry.
After Rich passed away in December 2015, WineAmerica invited two other organizations–National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA), and Winegrape Growers of America (WGA)–to collaborate with Rich’s family to create this annual award since Rich had been a loyal member of all three groups. The 2024 award was presented at WGA’s annual Leadership Luncheon during the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento.
“We are pleased to present this award to Nick Dokoozlian, a colleague greatly respected by my Dad,” said Rich’s son Jason Smith on behalf of Rich’s wife Claudia and daughter Kacy. “Not only did the two friends share a passion for research, but they also shared the innate spirit of collaboration which makes things happen.”
Nick has been a leader for collaborative efforts locally, nationally, and internationally. He has been the Research Chair of the National Grape Research Alliance (NGRA) since 2017 and was instrumental in NGRA’s formation in 2003. He is also Board Chair of the American Vineyard Foundation (AVF) where he has long been an active member. He recently successfully advocated, with NGRA, for permanent federal funding for the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit in Geneva, NY, and the Sustainable Agricultural Water Systems Research Unit in Davis, CA.
“It is impossible to overstate the impact Nick Dokoozlian has had—and continues to have—on the grape and wine industry,” said Donnell Brown, President of NGRA. “In previous roles, he was a career-launching former professor and an impactful extension educator, applying his learnings not only from his academic tenure but from growing up working in his family’s wine, table and raisin grape vineyards. As a founder and research chair of NGRA, Nick has played a vital leadership role, and is always an enthusiastic collaborator and sage advisor. Somehow, he finds the time to contribute his laser-focused attention to other research organizations and initiatives, and is a popular speaker on the conference circuit, helping steer us all toward that rising tide that lifts all boats. Nick is a leading light of the research community, and it is a profound honor to call him a colleague.”
Nick has also played vital roles in several visionary projects, including but not limited to:
- The landmark GRAPEx (Grape Remote Sensing Atmospheric Profile and Evapotranspiration eXperiment) with E. & J. Gallo, USDA-ARS, Utah State and NASA. Now in its tenth year, with findings pointing to critical reductions in water usage, this project has been expanded to tree fruit (olives and almonds);
- The SCRI VitisGen projects, USDA National Clean Plant Network, and UC Davis Foundation Plant Services to support national grape germplasm improvement;
- The NGRA-initiated SCRI Efficient Vineyard project for advancing precision viticulture in the U.S., and the NGRA-initiated SCRI Vineyard Nutrition team;
“Nick’s brilliance as a scientist is matched by his commitment to collaboration,” said Jim Trezise, President of WineAmerica. “He works for the world’s largest winery in the country’s largest wine state, yet just like Rich, Nick understands the power of working together with others as equals to achieve common goals. He is as good a listener as a speaker, which makes him a true leader.”
Representing the Winegrape Growers of America, Colleen Frei added, “Nick showcases the collaboration and engagement with others that makes our industry a place for dynamic development, based on passionate thinking and research and the desire to share knowledge.”
The actual Rich Smith Award is a solid bronze, circular depiction of Rich holding a glass of wine in a vineyard mounted on a large marble back, emblazoned with the words, “Rich Smith Award of Excellence”, plus “Passion, Commitment, Collaboration”, and the name of the recipient.
Prior recipients, starting in 2017, were: John Martini, Anthony Road Winery, Finger Lakes, New York; Pete Downs, Family Winemakers of California; Jerry Lohr, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Monterey, California; Jim Trezise, WineAmerica, Washington, DC; Donniella (Donnie) Winchell, Ohio Wine Producers; Tom Davenport of National Grape Cooperative; and Marty Clubb, L’Ecole No.41, Walla Walla, Washington.