MONTY STAMP, a major reason for our industry's success, passed away on New Year's morning at age 71. Happily, his beautiful spirit lives on in the incredible Stamp family and all of us whose lives he touched.
The New York wine industry is a phenomenal success, a Phoenix rising from the ashes of economic crisis to become the fastest growing industry in New York's agricultural and tourism sectors. That 25-year overnight success didn't happen by chance: Its roots go back to the New York State Wine Grape Growers, an organization created in 1963 to represent grower interests.
Monty was the group's Secretary/Treasurer from day one. He was part of a core group of grape growers-Vince Bedient, Art Hunt, Doug Knapp, John Martini, Gene Pierce and Neil Simmons among them-who had an audacious vision: If we work together, we can do anything. They also refused to give up, even in the darkest of times. They are the bedrock of our success.
In the early 1980's, they secured a wine grape marketing order and hired me to create research and promotion programs. One snag: the marketing order was immediately taken to court, overturned, and dissolved. In short: no money. There was enough to keep the office open for a little while, but soon the bank account was drained. So Monty wrote a check from his family account so we could keep working and try to help others. Monty was a team player, a quiet leader, everyone's older brother who always took care of others before himself. He was also a compendium of terrible jokes, but we gladly endured them to be warmed by his winning smile and the twinkle in his eyes reflecting the radiance of his soul.
Monty was always there-in Albany or Washington-to advance the interests of the grape industry. He would even testify if asked, despite his strong dislike of public speaking. Along with Vince Bedient and John Martini, he became a fixture at Winegrape Growers of America, the national organization where he met many soul mates from Lodi, CA like Jerry Fry, Bob Hartzell, John Kautz, Brad and Randy Lange, John Ledbetter and Robert Young-all with the same vision of unity and dedication to the industry.
Physically strong and ruggedly handsome-John Wayne in the vineyard-Monty had a straight back and strong gait. Before Parkinson's. That debilitating disease would cause many to feel embarrassed, to withdraw and give up. Not Monty Stamp. He just kept on being Monty Stamp: dedicated family man, proud grape grower, Secretary/Treasurer of NYSWGG, chief of the Watkins Glen Fire Department, and so much more. When Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Lakewood Vineyards to view firsthand the winter damage from 2004, Monty could have asked sons Chris or Dave to escort her through the vineyard. Instead he did it himself, shuffling, shaking, stammering and joking all the way. At one point he said, "Be careful you don't step in that ditch, Senator, or you'll twist your ankle and start walking like me." Parkinson's didn't beat Monty; Monty beat Parkinson's.
When I think of Monty Stamp, one word rises above all others: "respect". There are many others-honesty, integrity, commitment, dedication, passion, perseverance, toughness, compassion, selflessness, and an incredible work ethic-but those qualities are why I respect him as much as anyone I've ever known. When I recently received the most precious honor of my professional life, the Wine Integrity Award from the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, I said that whatever integrity I may have is not my creation but rather a gift from many people who have been shining examples. Monty Stamp is at the top of that list. The award is a beautiful bronze sculpture of an open hand holding a cluster of grapes. I dedicate the Wine Integrity Award to Monty Stamp.
I am not alone in my feelings. Monty received practically every award the New York Wine & Grape Foundation gives-Unity, Industry, Grower, Winery-along with many others from other groups. Wednesday night's calling hours caused a traffic jam in Watkins Glen like those during the Grand Prix in the summer, and long lines outside the funeral home for hours. The next day's funeral procession was led by a fire truck, and workers at the highway department stopped and held their hats over their hearts as we passed by. And then after the internment, just as Monty would want, we went to the Stamp home for wine and food and hugs.
At the suggestion of John Martini, the Monty Stamp Memorial Education Fund is being set up by the organization Monty served for a lifetime, the New York State Wine Grape Growers. The funds will be used to support people pursuing education in grape growing. Anyone wishing to contribute may write a check to New York State Wine Grape Growers (with a note that it's for the Monty Stamp Memorial Education Fund) and send it to Louis Gridley, NYSWGG Treasurer, P.O. Box 364, Keuka Park, NY 14478.
Here's to you, Monty!
"Monty was my brother." --Vince Bedient
A Votre Santé To Your Health
New York Wine and Grape Foundation