Dr. Harold Olmo
" give me enough time and I'll grow a great grape on the moon!"
Dr. Harold Olmo, a grape breeder and viticulturalist, played a key role in the development of the California wine industry starting in the 1930s. Olmo died on June 30, 2006. He was 96.
As Professor of Viticulture Emeritus at UC Davis, Olmo began his post Prohibition viticultural research at the university's experimental station. His work involved surveying and classifying each and every grape variety grown in California. A renowned plant geneticist, he established a clonal station at Larkmead Vineyards during the 1930s and 40s, developing clones that became the foundation for other great Napa Valley vineyards and for the UC Davis clonal station in Oakville.
Devoting his career to breeding and developing improved grape varieties, Dr. Olmo traveled the world conducting research. He created new seedless table grape varieties and introduced many of the grape cultivars found in California today. Creating experimental vines designed to thrive in hot, difficult and even disease-ridden areas, his contributions to the wine industry have been significant and his herbarium specimen collections at UC Davis (spanning the 1930s-80s) are invaluable.
A Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright scholar, he was awarded the International Vines and Wines medal for 'outstanding contributions to world viticulture' in 1965 and recently, the California State Fair awarded him their Grape and Gourmet Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Olmo retired from UC Davis in 1977, but was occasionally found wandering through Larkmead, "which is as beautiful today as it was in the '30s." In February 2007, post-mortem, Dr. Olmo was named an "Icon in the Vintners' Hall of Fame."
The "Indiana Jones" of Horticulture
"When agricultural experts from Afghanistan visited UC Davis last month..."
— San Francisco Chronicle, Monday December 1, 2003
(References: "Bottled Poetry," Lapsley; "A Salon at Larkmead," Sparks/Kellman, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, UC Davis.)