I was with Frank Prial only once, but it seems as if I have been with him for close to thirty years. His death on election day saddened me, yet his is a life to celebrate, and for us who write about wine, a life to emulate.
Frank, as most of you know, was the wine writer for the NEW YORK TIMES for nearly thirty years. He quite possibly is the single most important influence on the evolution of American wine consumption during that period. When he took on that task, Julia Child was just getting started, there were no national journals dedicated to wine, such as the WINE SPECTATOR, there was no Robert Parker, so we who had interest in the subject turned to Frank.
I am comfortable calling him by his first name, partly because we are of the same age, but mostly because he invited me to do so on that day in September 1992 when we shared the dais in the Herrenweg Vineyard of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht at the official opening of that estate’s new facility. I almost said their new winery, but that would be misleading as the Humbrechts have been producing wine since a.d. 1620.
Mr. Prial invited me to call him Frank, and after the program and our sampling together a number of Leonhard Humbrecht’s fine wines, we compared notes on wine writing, wine criticism, pairing wine with food, and all things bibulous. It was as if we had known one another for years.
Since then, we have exchanged an occasional note but never met. I know if anyone had mentioned me to him he would have remembered that day in Alsace, because he was that kind of man. As Eric Asimov wrote in his obituary last Wednesday, Frank was just as keen writing about “Two-Buck-Chuck” as he was on the great bottles.
I am not given to reading obituaries, except in our local papers, but I do peruse the TIMES, and his name was quite visible on Wednesday. It was from Asimov’s column that I learned of his passing. (Eric Asimov is today’s wine writer for the TIMES.) I am pleased to have met Frank Prial and feel obligated to pay homage to him here.