Professor Harold P Olmo, who died on June 30 at the age of 96, was a giant in the development of the modern California wine industry.

Considered the leading grapevine geneticist of his era, Olmo retired from the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California in 1977.

The department’s interim chairman, Dr Andrew Waterhouse, observed that Olmo’s ‘lasting imprint will be his tradition of innovation, illustrated by the tremendous collection of diverse Vitis vines that remain a key asset in California viticulture.’

A San Francisco native born in 1909, Olmo received a bachelor of science degree in horticulture in 1931 from the University of California at Berkeley and his doctorate in genetics from Berkeley in 1934. His Davis career began in 1938. Throughout his academic life and in retirement he received innumerable professional awards.

His department said, ‘Dr Olmo traveled the world extensively acquiring and searching for grape varieties and species for use in his breeding program, which he amassed into one of the world’s greatest grape collections.’ It added that he ‘released 29 grape varieties over his university career, including the widely grown Redglobe, Perlette, Ruby Seedless, Ruby Cabernet and Rubired.’

It went on, ‘While developing and commercializing new grape varieties, Dr Olmo contributed knowledge to nearly every aspect of viticulture, including the development of new trellising and mechanical harvesting methods. He long considered his most important contribution to be the formulation of the first grapevine certification program to insure clean and selected plant material.’

On the commercial side, Paul Lukacs said in his book ’American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine’ that Olmo’s clonal research ‘brought widely available, inexpensive wines closer to exclusive ones in terms of both style and quality.’

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York