Napa Grapegrower Richard Perry Dies at Age 65

Champion of Coombsville Cabernet continued growing grapes and making wine well into retirement

Richard Perry, a passionate farmer who planted his vineyard in Napa, Calif., in 1988 and made wine a decade later, died Nov. 30 in a car accident, in the Sierra Foothills town of Murphys, Calif. He was 65.

In 1979 Richard and his wife, Sheila, purchased a 20-acre ranch in the Coombsville area of Napa. The couple began planting their vineyard with guidance from their neighbor, vintner John Caldwell of Caldwell Vineyards.

«Everything [Richard] did, he wanted to do it right,» said Caldwell. «He was a real perfectionist. His vineyard was immaculate; his house was immaculate.»

As much as Perry enjoyed the winemaking process, his real passion was the land, as he bulldozed and terraced the vineyard himself. «He really loved the farming and equipment,» said his wife, Sheila. «He loved [to have] his hands in the dirt.» The Perrys eventually planted 15 acres primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Viognier.

Perry retired from his job as a management consultant for the dental industry to make wine, and was known as one of the first vintners to draw attention to Coombsville Cabernet. The winery’s inaugural release was the Richard Perry Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 (90 points, $40, 400 cases). Until recently the winery also sold its grapes to other producers, including Stags’ Leap Winery and Dunn Vineyards. Today, the winery produces approximately 1,200 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and 300 cases of Syrah annually.

In fall 2005, the Perrys sold their property to move to Murphys for semi-retirement, although they continued making wine under the Richard Perry label, purchasing grapes from their former vineyard (now Porter Family Vineyards), with Ken Bernards of Ancien Wines working as their winemaker. «[Richard] was always looking to the future, the next vintage, the next project,» said Bernards. «He was definitely not in retirement mode.»

Perry is survived by his wife, Sheila, who plans to continue making Richard Perry wines, four children, two stepchildren, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m., Dec. 9, Sunday, at Perry’s former Napa home and vineyard, 1187 Green Valley Road, Napa.

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