Harold P. Olmo passes

Dr. Harold Olmo

Harold P. Olmo


“The passing of Professor Harold Olmo marks the end of an era for the wine and grape industry. His breadth of knowledge and his adventurous spirit were critical to the reemergence of viticulture in California. His 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.” Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, Professor and Interim Chair, Department of Viticulture and Enology, UC Davis.


“Dr. Harold Olmo was the leading grapevine geneticist of his era.” Dr. Nick Dokoozlian, Vice President of Viticulture and Chemistry, E&J Gallo Winery.


Harold Olmo received his BS degree in Horticulture in 1931 from UC Berkeley, followed by a PhD in Genetics from UC Berkeley in 1934. He then worked as an Associate in the Experimental Station before beginning his career at UC Davis as an Assistant Professor of Viticulture in 1938. Dr. Olmo retired in 1977 with a legion of awards and merits, which continued to be bestowed upon him during his emeritus years.


This San Francisco native received The Wilder Medal of American Pomology Society in 1958, The Laureate and Medal for Outstanding Contributions to World Viticulture, by the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin, Lesbon in 1965, The Charter and Honorary Life Member, American Society for Enology and Viticulture in 1973, The Award of Merit by the American Pomology Society in 1974, The Papal Medal, Benemerenti by the Catholic Church in 1979, and the Rockefeller Spirit of Service Award, International, Executive Service Corps in 1993. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, and a consultant to the United Nations for over twenty years.


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. His exciting travels through Afghanistan and Iran led him to be nicknamed the “Indiana Jones of Viticulture”. Wherever you travel his name is recognized for his academic and practical contributions to regional and world viticulture. Dr. Olmo released 29 grape varieties over his university career including the widely grown Redglobe, Perlette, Ruby Seedless, Ruby Cabernet and Rubired. He donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in patent royalties from his varieties back to the Department of Viticulture and Enology where the endowment is used to assist new faculty and graduate students.


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. However, it is likely that the contribution he will best be remembered for was his mentoring of countless students, colleagues and viticulturists across the world.


The public is invited to the rosary, which will be held at Davis Funeral Chapel, 116 D Street, Davis, California on Thursday, July 6th, at 7:00 p.m. The funeral services, also open to the public, will be held at St. James Catholic Church, 1275 B Street, Davis, California on Friday, July 7th, at 1:00 p.m. A celebration of his life will immediately follow in the St. James Fellowship Hall. Plans are underway for a memorial service on Sunday, July 30th, the eve of his 97th birthday.