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Tribute: Paul Lukacs Ph.D., 1956-2021
By Michael Franz
Jun 22, 2021
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On Tuesday, June 15, 2021 the wine world lost one of its most insightful writers, and we at Wine Review Online lost one of our founding contributors and best friends.

Paul’s life was marked by so many accomplishments that no brief posting in this space can do more than begin to do it justice. 

But begin we must, so let me start with this:  He was such a modest and unassuming gentleman that most of his hundreds of friends and acquaintances in the wine world didn’t know he held a Ph.D., was a beloved professor and department chair, and a national leader in academic circles – including the highest levels of Phi Beta Kappa. 

Likewise, many of Paul’s academic colleagues were unaware that he had authored three wine books, had won James Beard, Cliquot and IACP awards for them, was arguably the world’s leading authority on the history of both American wine and the overall history of wine, was a successful restaurant consultant, and had judged wine competitions all around the globe.

Paul began writing about wine as a regular columnist for The Washington Times in 1994, and authored many freelance pieces aside from that role before publishing American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine in 2000.  In 2005 he helped launch Wine Review Online by co-authoring “Wine With” — a wonderful feature offering recipes and wine pairings — along with his beloved wife, Marguerite Thomas.  Marguerite has continued to author “Wine With” after Paul became too ill to continue, and the archive of recipes and pairing tips on this Web site is a marvelous resource for all who love food and wine, as Paul emphatically did.

In 2006, Paul published, The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages, which won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award, and about which Eric Asimov of The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Lukacs’s list could easily have resulted in a familiar, ho-hum rendition of greatest hits, but he refuses to settle for that. Instead, he offers a group of wines that is fiercely individual, in which distinctiveness is as important as critical approval.”

Paul’s most ambitious work on wine was published in 2012, namely, Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.  I’d imagine all can agree that writing a history of wine is the most audacious undertaking a wine writer can attempt, and yet the book was even more daring than the title suggests.

Paul’s academic specialty was American Literature, but he was also an accomplished historian (and the son of a famous one), and as such, he knew this:  Excellent historical writing involves much more than chronicling something; it is an interpretive art, and one’s interpretations must have theoretical principles underlying them.  Paul approached the history of wine with thoroughly developed principles, and his book prompted Gerald Asher (one of Paul’s favorite writers and the former wine editor of Gourmet magazine) to write these perceptive words of praise: “Paul Lukacs’s book is more than a history of wine: it’s a history of our perception of it — and ourselves — over millennia.  Informative, persuasive, and entertaining, Lukacs helps us understand how wine, like music, books, or anything else we create, is a cultural reflection of who we are and how we live.”

“Inventing Wine” was very widely and glowingly reviewed, but rather than reading the reviews to learn about the book and about Paul, listen to the recording of his conversation with Terry Gross (not a wine lover), who devoted an entire episode of her famed National Public Radio show, “Fresh Air,” to a discussion of the book.  Here is a link, which you may need to copy and paste into the URL field of a new browser window:

https://www.npr.org/2012/12/04/166186416/inventing-wine-the-history-of-a-very-vintage-beverage

In addition to writing “Wine With,” Paul began writing a regular column here on Wine Review Online in 2013, and these columns are also archived on this Web siteEvery one of them is more than mere musing about wine, as you’ll see.  All of them argue a thesis, and regardless of whether you share Paul’s view, you’ll be a more appreciative and critical lover of wine after thinking along with him.

I’ll close with a personal note.  I had the great and unique good fortune of working shoulder to shoulder with Paul in both of his careers.  Professors at the same university who were falling madly in love with wine at the same time, but unbeknownst to one another, we were introduced by our colleague Rick Boothby, with whom we forged a tripartite friendship marked by a closeness that few people are fortunate to experience.  For more than 30 years, Paul and I learned together, raised children together (my 28-year-old daughter has never called him anything other than “Uncle Paul”), argued about politics and history together, played tennis together, fought together to maintain excellence at our university, tasted more than 48,000 wines together in our shared consulting business, spent every New Year’s Eve together, and flew all over the world together, taking the greatest possible pleasure in the company of one another.  Paul didn't have a brother and neither did I, but he was such a marvelous friend that I know no brother could have been his equal for me.



Read Paul's wine columns:   Paul Lukacs
and his wine pairing columns:   Wine With...