History of vinNEBRASKA
By 1989, a wine scene had emerged in the United States to rival those of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, and the rest of the world’s most famous wine producing regions. Thirteen years earlier, a Paris-based Englishman named Steve Spurrier had traveled through Northern California, sampling wine. He took several cases of wine back with him to France, and in front of some of the most reputable experts and sommeliers of the time, put them up against French First-Growths in a blind tasting. The winner of the red wine category was a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon made by Warren Winiarski, while the winner of the white wine category was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay made by Miljenko Grgich. Both wines hailed from California’s Napa Valley. Any doubt about the potential to make world class wine in the United States vanished instantly. Over time, this event has come to be known among wine lovers as “The Judgement of Paris.” The American viticultural scene was on the rise.
In the years that followed the Judgement of Paris, the American wine industry would experience unprecedented growth. Wineries had existed in the Napa Valley since the mid-nineteenth century, and brave pioneers like Stu and Charlie Smith, the Mondavis, the Eiseles, the Davies, and others had planted vines and established or reestablished wineries in the post-prohibition era long before the boom that came with the American “victory” in Paris in 1976. Soon, valleys and wine regions up and down the west coast, from Paso Robles to the Napa Valley, Sonoma to Willamette, Columbia and others, were playing host to thousands of wineries producing tens of millions of gallons of wine each year, while around the nation, appreciation for fine wine was on the rise. In 1989 a group of dedicated and knowledgeable wine lovers gathered in Omaha to celebrate their love of viticulture and raise money for important causes in the process. Art Meyer, David Deao, Steve Seidel, Claudia Moseley, and others combined a love of wine and a heart for supporting local charities, and vinOMAHA was born.
The first vinOMAHA event took place on June 16, 1990, and was held in the atrium of the Omaha Public Power District. The event was a fundraiser for a local chapter of the American Cancer Society, and included a wine tasting with twenty-six premier wineries and a live auction of various wine-related lots.
The wineries in attendance were represented by their winemakers, owners, or both, and included such esteemed producers as Beringer, Chateau Souverain, Domaine Mumm, Freemark Abbey, Pine Ridge, Smith-Madrone, Steltzner, Sterling, and Trefethen from the Napa Valley, Buena Vista, Gloria Ferrer, Kenwood, La Crema, and St. Francis from the Sonoma Valley, Chateau St. Michelle from the budding Columbia Valley, as well Bersano Winery and Brolio Winery from Italy, Barton & Gustier from Bordeaux, and Joseph Drouhin from Burgundy.
The first lot auctioned was a magnum of 1987 Jekel Chardonnay, and the second was a three-liter bottle of 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau St. Michelle. Both were sold for a mere $50. Early in the auction, it became apparent that the fast-talking, traditional-style of the auctioneer was ineffective in this setting. With a nod from his friend Dave Deao, winemaker Stu Smith of Smith Madrone soon stepped up to the microphone. He slowed the pace of the bidding, and spoke knowledgeably about each winery, each auction lot, and what made it special. By the end of the bidding, lot 27e, which contained Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons vintages 1981, 1982 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987, had sold for a whopping $1,050. The first vinOMAHA event raised more than twenty-thousand dollars, and was deemed a great success. Stu Smith returned to his Spring Mountain winery and continued to make phenomenal Cabernet, Riesling, and Chardonnay, and has returned to serve as the auctioneer for the event every year since.
vinOMAHA continued for four more years, through 1994. In 1995, the committee took a break and reorganized. When the event returned in 1996, it was renamed vinNEBRASKA and had grown into a two-night event. On Friday, April 26, a winemaker dinner was held at the Omaha Country Club. Saturday, April 27, the live auction was held at the Mutual of Omaha dome in Midtown. Stu Smith again served as auctioneer. The event maintained the format for the years to come. From 2002 to 2004, the vinNEBRASKA Foundation partnered with the Easter Seals, and the event became known as “A Taste for Independence”. In 2005, All Our Kids assumed the role of the foundation’s charity partner, and vinNEBRASKA continued to raise more and more money to support important local causes.
Since the conception of the event, there have been a number of wineries and winemakers who have been especially devoted to the event, and to whom much thanks is owed. “Geoff Gorsuch of Goosecross Cellars was a staple of the event for many years,” recalled an original board member. Other wineries to attend the event more than ten times since 1990 include Flora Springs, Fourth Estate, Hahn Family, Landmark, Michael David, Mill Creek, Optima, Quady, Seghesio, Silver Oak, and Trentadue, and to each of these producers we are forever grateful for their sustained commitment to our event over the years. Of course, no one has been more generous to the event with their time and their wine than Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone, who has attended every year the event has been held since 1990.
Over the past thirty years, vinNEBRASKA has raised more than six million dollars for charities including the Ronald McDonald House, Partnership 4 Kids, Easter Seals, Girls Inc., the Omaha Public Library Foundation, Omaha Hearing School for Children, Inc., All Our Kids, KVNO Public Radio, and the Omaha Public Schools Foundation. In 2021, the vinNEBRASKA Dave Deao Memorial Scholarship was established in the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Community College, and offered a full ride scholarship to aid one Nebraska Youth in pursuing a culinary arts degree. Beginning in 2022, vinNEBRASKA is excited to partner with the Stephen Center to help raise money for their important work. We thank you for supporting our charity partners with your time and generosity. Let’s raise a glass to thirty more years of charitable giving in Nebraska!
The vinNEBRASKA Committee
For more than ten years Mark has worked as a wine writer, focusing most of his attention on America’s west coast. A regular contributor to Edible Marin & Wine Country and Napa Valley Life, Mark is a Fulbright Scholar, has his doctorate in education, and has passed the level II exam from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust with merit. His forthcoming book, The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris put California Wine on the Map, is due out from the History Press in May of 2023. The author of four books, Mark is presently working on two more books about the Napa Valley and a third on pedagogy, all due out in 2024. When he isn’t helping out with vinNEBRASKA, Mark serves as a college professor, is an avid runner, and enjoys reading and planning his next trip to wine country. He lives in Omaha with his wife and their children.
BOARD VICE PRESIDENT
Deanna is the owner/manager of Vino Mas, a boutique wine store/wine bar in Northwest Omaha. She holds a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification through the Society of Wine Educators and her Level One Sommelier certification through the Court. Deanna loves wines from all over the world and drinks all varietals. She joined the vinNEBRASKA team in 2019. Her passion for wine, working in the industry, and giving back to the community make serving on the committee a perfect fit.
Sherri, a registered nurse, has always had a strong desire to help others in any way possible and her long career as a real estate agent has brought her closer to her community. Joining the vinNEBRASKA committee in 2019 she has found this way of serving to be very fulfilling. Sherri has a long history of volunteering to help others and her love of wine is why she was asked to join the vinNEBRASKA committee. Sherri enjoys the wealth of knowledge about wine that is gained when participating in vinNEBRASKA and finds the opportunity to meet, educate and serve very fulfilling.
Christa is a Nebraska native that began her wine journey in college while working at a country club. Since that time, she has loved learning about wine through her travels, exploring wines with friends, and attending various wine events. One of her favorite wine regions is Tuscany. Christa and her husband have had the pleasure of traveling to the region twice and visiting a variety of wineries. She hopes that more than one of these amazing wineries can support future events! Christa also spends a fair amount of time supporting charitable causes, so vinNEBRASKA brings together two of her main passions!
Christa spent 17 years working for Union Pacific Railroad before “retiring” to manage her real estate business and start a new business offering web design and social media management. She resides in Gretna with her husband and their four daughters. Their youngest daughter is named Siena, after their favorite town in Italy!
Chip grew up in his family’s business working at Watkins Concrete Block, holding many positions over the years. He eventually left to work for T Hansen Construction until his retirement in late 2019. Chip has been enjoying wine since the early 1980’s with his introduction to fine wines in Napa and Sonoma wine country. Over the years, he has visited wineries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Temecula Valley and many points in between. He relishes mostly rich and full bodied reds but also enjoys an occasional well-made white wine. He has attended every vinNEBRASKA event since the early 2000’s and joined the vinNEBRASKA committee in 2018. He has also volunteered for the Boy Scouts, the Knights of Columbus, coached youth soccer, ran an adult soccer club and the Nebraska Men’s Soccer League. He loves traveling with family and friends and meeting friends at different restaurants several times a year.
Steve came into wine appreciation from vinNEBRASKA founder Dave Deao. Their wives were longtime friends and he became interested through osmosis. Because of their friendship, Steve was part of the inaugural event – then called vinOMAHA in 1990. He’s very happy to continue to assist with the fundraiser and hopes to see many of you there. Lately, he has become the bottle handler for auctioneer Stu Smith!
Dan’s interest in wine developed over the years. He enjoys blind tastings of delicious wines and traveling to wine producing regions with friends to learn more about the industry and to sample the fruits of their labor. Past destinations include Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Temecula, Vancouver, and Oregon. Europe and South America are on the bucket list. He attended the vinNEBRASKA events for 10 years prior to joining the board in 2020.
Dan is a 26 year wealth management industry veteran. He leads a 5-person team who specialize in portfolio management, financial planning, and wealth transfer. Proudly, he was named to a national finance publication’s Best Wealth Advisors in Nebraska list for the past 3 years.
Outside of work and wine, life centers around his family. He and his lovely bride Debbie have four daughters and sons-in-law. The current count is 10 grandchildren. Other hobbies include coaching soccer and softball, playing golf, and adding new species to his lifetime bird identification list.
Natalie Stroud, WSET Level 1
Natalie joined the vinNEBRASKA Foundation board in 2022. Her relationship with vinNEBRASKA started in 2021 when she attended both of the Foundation’s events that year, sparking her interest to combine
her desire for volunteering in her community with her passion of wine. Natalie earned the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines from the Napa Valley Wine Academy in 2021.
Natalie is the Associate Executive Director at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, overseeing the administrative, financial and contract/engagement operations. Natalie also enjoys traveling. She and her husband have visited Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, Venezuela, and the Caribbean. When she’s not traveling, learning about wine or being her kids’ biggest cheerleader, she loves exercising at Orange Theory, playing the piano and guitar, reading books or lounging by the pool.
Joe joined the vinNEBRASKA board in 2021 and is thrilled to be part of a great team with a tremendous mission. He appreciates the hard work, art, and passion that goes into wine-making and for him wine represents spending quality time with friends and family. More important than wine is the benefit that vinNEBRASKA has brought to nonprofit beneficiaries in Omaha. This is the primary reason he joined the group. To marry a side interest of wine with the opportunity to raise funds for causes of great importance was an opportunity he could not pass up.
Outside of his involvement with vinNEBRASKA, Joe enjoys a career working for U.S. Bank where he serves as Senior Vice President and Business Banking Market Leader for Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. Born and raised in Omaha, he is married to his wife, Dana, and they have a two-year-old daughter, Edie.
Ruth joined the vinNEBRASKA board in 2022, after volunteering at her first vinNEBRASKA Vintner Dinner Reception, Grand Auction and Tasting weekend. Her interest in wine started in 2000 when she married into a family of wine lovers, and quickly developed a passion for the stories of the wineries and winemakers, as well as the art of their craft. Ruth is a Client Success Manager at Talent Plus in Lincoln, but built the bulk of her career in the non-profit and financial world. Ruth continues to be involved philanthropically and is a passionate volunteer for two of her previous employers through her work with the American Heart Association and Friends of the Lied, as well as United Way’s Women in Philanthropy. In addition to being a foodie and wine connoisseur, she is also an avid supporter of the arts and enjoys regularly attending Broadway shows in Lincoln and Omaha, as well as New York City, whenever she gets the chance. Most recently, her love of Pinot Noir has taken her wine travels to Oregon, France and Switzerland.
Interested in Helping?
We welcome people to join our sub-committees to help plan the event and all of the details! If you are interested, email our chair, Mark Gudgel.
Mary Beth Wade