Sunday, March 25, 2001  
Register Staff Writer

Many a winemaker has won a blue ribbon. But only one, Daniel McFadden,
has a newly minted Nobel Prize.  McFadden, 63, took leave of his
two-acre vineyard on Soda Canyon Road in December to travel to
Stockholm to receive the 2000 Nobel Prize for economics.

A man of modest demeanor, McFadden lit up the economics world in the
1970s with his trailblazing statistical approaches for analyzing how
people make everyday decisions.

How do consumers pick one car over another or factor in price when
deciding on a breakfast cereal? McFadden's breakthrough work with
statistics helps sort through reams of data to provide answers.  His
contribution to economics is eminently useful to corporations and
governments, but does nothing to help him solve a pressing problem --
"recurring bunch rot in his vineyard," McFadden said during a recent
interview and tour of his farm.

McFadden divides his time between UC-Berkeley, where he is an
economics professor, and his historic "ghost" winery property in Soda
Canyon where he harvest figs for high end restaurants such as Chez
Panisse and Tra Vigne, squeezes olive oil from century-old trees and
tends cows and chickens.  Come autumn, he struggles to make the
perfect zinfandel.

The country life nicely complements his academic career, said
McFadden, originally a North Carolina farm boy.  His farm chores on
weekends clear his mind for creative thinking. "I can work in the
vineyard and on my research problems at the same time," said McFadden,
who is director of Berkeley's Econometrics Laboratory where vast
amounts of consumer data are crunched for a host of research projects.

McFadden is a soft-spoken, small-framed man with a cropped white beard.
When he kicks around his 30-acre spread, he looks every inch a farmer,
not an august Nobel laureate.  Winning the $915,000 prize, which he
shared with an economist at the University of Chicago, was a surprise,
although people had told him he was on "the list."

I fix problems," he said of his statistical solutions. "Normally they
give Nobel Prizes to grand themes."

The McFaddens are using the prize money to create a charitable trust
that will fund projects to improve public education. "I'm a great
believer in public education. I'd like to support it," he said.  His
money will go to school districts with more problems than Napa's. "I
think the highest priorities are probably in a place like Oakland," he
said.  Winning a Nobel is a "bigger deal than I realized," McFadden
said. He had won scores of academic honors over the years without
receiving media attention.  Then came the October phone call at 2:30
in the morning telling him he had won a trip to Stockholm.

McFadden and his wife Beverlee made a family celebration out of the
Nobel festivities. They took their three adult children and three

On their way to Sweden, the McFaddens were hosted at the White House
by President Clinton and dined with Treasury Secretary Larry Summers
and Supreme Court Justices Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor.  In
Stockholm, they attended a dinner party at the Royal Palace, where
Daniel shared a bottle of his '96 cabernet sauvignon with the king. He
got to make a speech before a TV audience of 13 million.  Upon his
return, life got stranger yet.

The international news media began calling. Reporters wanted his
opinion on any subject even remotely connected to economics.  "I'm
asked a lot more questions about things I don't know anything about
than I used to," he said.  Offers to speak at academic conferences
poured in. Most involved topics beyond his specialty.  In four months,
McFadden has turned down speaking engagements in Belgium, the
Netherlands, China, Peru and Mexico, where he was asked to talk about
economic development in Latin America.

His wife has helped keep him focused, he said. When an invitation
arrives, she asks, whether it will further his research goals?  "If
you're not careful, the Nobel Prize is a career-ender," he said. "If I
allowed myself to slip into it, I'd spend all my time going around
cutting ribbons."

"I have a lot of research going on. I'm trying to stick with it."
McFadden hasn't been a total media recluse. He has written an op-ed
piece for the Wall Street Journal on California's energy crisis and
signed a manifesto with other academics calling for higher energy
prices.  "Raising prices is the best way to motivate consumers to
conserve energy, which will ultimately lower prices by creating a
surplus of gas and electricity," he said.  "It's a harsh medicine," he
acknowledged. "It sticks it to consumers, but it's up to them to keep
prices under control."  "They don't call economics the dismal science
for nothing," he said.  "Those are the facts of life."

McFadden's neighbors in Soda Canyon know him not as a professor who
makes pronouncements on national issues, but as a man with a yearning
to make ever better wine.  Growing grapes wasn't the idea when his
wife, a photographer, stumbled upon the Soda Canyon property in
1992. They simply wanted a country get-away.  Banchero Vineyard had
begun winemaking there in 1880, but by 1992 all that was left of the
original operation was the stone base of the wine cellar.  The
vineyards had long since disappeared.  That was fine with McFadden. It
was enough that the operation had cows and chickens and some ancient
olive trees.  "A little working farm," as he put it.

Two years later, a new friend at Atlas Peak Vineyards discovered a row
of over-ripe cabernet sauvignon and merlot fruit that had been missed
at picking. Did he want it?  "I didn't know anything about it. I was
sort of thrown off the dock," said McFadden, who scrambled to buy and
learn the winemaking basics.  "It turned out to be a marvelous
wine. It made a luscious, fruity, meaty wine," said McFadden, who soon
signed up for winemaking courses with his wife at UC-Davis.  He
planted 3,500 vines on two acres, most of it in cabernet sauvignon
which he sells to Dave Cronin at Blackford Wines. He makes a barrel or
two for family use, lavishing extra care on his zinfandel.  Ever the
academic, McFadden is one of the organizers of this year's annual
meeting of the Vineyard Data Classification Society, an international
group that focuses on the quantitative and analytic study of vineyard
and wine technologies.

McFadden has occasionally tried to marry his economic research with
his new interest in wine, with less than spectacular results.  His
statistical tool, discrete choice analysis, showed how a restaurant
could sell more high-profit wine, he said. The trick is to charge the
same price as a wine of inferior reputation and lower profit margin.
Seeing the two choices next to each other on a wine list, diners will
feel compelled to buy the wine with the greater profit, he said.  When
McFadden told this to a friend in the restaurant business, "He said,
'Tell me something I don't know.'"  

"It's all a bit much," said McFadden of his academic responsibilities,
his farm chores, his wine love and now the Nobel hoopla.  "It's hard
to get it all done. And that was before the Nobel business.  Now I'm
really in the soup," he said.  Come crush, McFadden does get a hand
from academia. He imports graduate students and fellow professors who
think harvesting grapes is romantic labor.

McFadden insists he has no plans to retire from Berkeley. "I'm 63 and
enjoying what I do," he said.  Yet, the rural life has its allure,
especially in spring when the landscape is erupting with sweet
blossoms and new life.  McFadden looked contentedly at his beloved
farm before preparing to make the long drive back to campus. "If I
didn't teach, I could be farming, right?"