Last August, at SWE’s 41st Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon, a new tradition was begun. Barry Wiss CWE, the President of SWE, inaugurated a new annual award—to be known as the Lembeck Award. The Lembeck Award is intended to serve as a lifetime achievement award, presented annually to a person (or persons) for service to the wine and spirits industry and specifically, for outstanding support of the goals and programs of SWE.
It was a wonderful moment, at our conference luncheon on Thursday, August 10, 2017 when Barry presented the Lembeck Award to its first recipients—who after all, are the namesake of the award itself—Bill and Harriet Lembeck. In order to mark this occasion, I asked both Bill and Harriet to share a bit of their thoughts on the award, and to tell us about their involvement with the Society over the years.
Harriet’s journey in the wine and spirits field began with a part-time job at Hammacher-Schlemmer in New York City. One day a new product—a wine thermometer—arrived and she needed to research the proper service temperature of wines to create a list to be packaged with the thermometer. Harriet says, “I remembered that there was a book called ‘Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits’ that listed wine service temperatures, and I went to the NY Public Library to look them up. By a quirk of fate, I met the late Harold Grossman at the library, and he told me the answers to my question! Then he told me to take his wine course. I did. Then he asked me to work for him. I did. That’s the class that I’ve been teaching for the past 40 years. I also wrote the 6th and 7th editions of ‘Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits’ after Harold’s death.”
Harriet’s story continues, “One day I got a call from Bob Levine, who had a textbook publishing company, and who ran a school for engineering professionals. He was the Education Director of the American Wine Society. They had been called by the California Wine Institute, saying that the Wine Institute wanted to start a group consisting of wine educators. The AWS contacted Bob, who contacted me, and told me that there was going to be a new group, and that I should write bylaws. I didn’t even know what bylaws were, but I found a sample set in the back of my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and I wrote some makeshift bylaws (heavily edited over the years).”
Not long thereafter, Harriet and Bill Lembeck attended the first-ever meeting of the Society of Wine Educators, held at UC Davis, along with 160 other wine educators. Bob Levine was elected as the first President. Harriet describes that first meeting, “I recall looking around the auditorium at our first meeting, and thinking that these were ‘my people’. We all loved wine and we loved explaining it to others. We cared about teaching techniques. Education and Wine—all rolled up together. What could be better? Eventually we included fine spirits, which was a hard sell to some of our members in the beginning, but, fortunately, not anymore.”
At that first meeting, Harriet volunteered for and subsequently served on the inaugural Admissions, Certifications, and Awards Committees for the Society of Wine Educators. In the following years, she held a number of terms on the Board of Directors, presented at numerous conferences, and continues to be a frequent guest contributor to Wine, Wit, and Wisdom—the Society’s blog.
In addition to the Society of Wine Educators, Harriet remains active in the wine and spirits industry through the New York Wine and Food Society, Les Dames d’Escoffier, and the American Wine Society (where she earned an Award of Merit). She is also a frequent judge at wine competitions and has served as the Wine & Spirits Director for the New School University, a visiting Wine Lecturer for Florida International University–Chaplin School of Hospitality, and as Chairman of the New York Wine Press, an organization of wine journalists.
Harriet sums up her thoughts on this award by saying, “I like to think that this new Lembeck Award, which honored Bill Lembeck and me firstly by its name—which traditionally goes to the first recipient—but secondly, with the recognition of our demonstrable love of the Society of Wine Educators, which we have always professed. We think of it as noting our service to the Society, which we hope will inspire others to follow. It goes without saying that we appreciate SWE President Barry Wiss’ idea of a kind of ‘long-term service, love of Society’ award, which he had produced so beautifully. We are totally surprised and honored!”
Along with Harriet, Bill Lembeck is quite possibly the only person to have attended every one of SWE’s 41 conferences. Bill has a background in engineering and business (design, finance, and administration), and is a former instructor at New York University Medical Center, specializing in prosthetics and orthotics. His first experience in the world of wine and spirits found him contributing to Harriet’s edition of “Grossman’s Guide.” Through this project, Bill developed an expertise in drawing wine maps, which eventually led to the production of maps and diagrams for wine and spirits areas around the world—which he gifted to the Society of use in SWE Study Guides and Conferences—all at no charge.
Bill describes his involvement with SWE this way, “I have been a member of the Finance Committee from the very beginning of the Society. Eventually, I became the Society’s Treasurer and fulfilled that position for two separate terms. In the early years, the Society was almost always in financial difficulty. While in my second term as Treasurer, SWE’s certification program had been successfully developed and was up and running. Soon thereafter, we were finally in a position of financial well-being after carefully investing the earnings from our programs. After finishing my second term as Treasurer, I was designated a Director Emeritus and have continued to offer my advice, both financially and administratively.
“One of my favorite accomplishments was the purchase of 8,000 wine glasses for conference use. The reason for the purchase was that it became exceedingly difficult to rent glasses locally, especially in that quantity for the annual conferences. This glass purchase has provided a substantial saving in all our tasting sessions.
“Over the forty years of our Society’s existence, it is the numerous small details, many of which Harriet and I have initiated and performed, that has helped the Society to grow and prosper. We like to think that this service is what inspired President Barry Wiss to create this award, and to make us the first recipients.” Well said, Bill!
Please join me in saying a hearty “Congratulations” to Bill and Harriet Lembeck, the first recipients of SWE’s new annual Lembeck Award. Congratulations, Harriet and Bill!
Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE – your blog administrator