Sonoma Winemaker Dies in Car Crash

Following a vehicle crash on May 12 on a back road near the town Sebastopol, Calif., in Sonoma County wine country, a winemaker is dead and a young vineyard manager is facing DUI and possible manslaughter charges.

Mark Osborne, 53, an enologist at Gary Farrell Winery in the Russian River Valley, was riding his bicycle when a pickup truck driven by Ulises Valdez Jr. of Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management struck him, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Valdez was driving his pickup when he allegedly veered onto the shoulder and hit and seriously injured a 12-year-old cyclist. He allegedly swerved back onto the road and then veered onto the shoulder again, hitting Osborne before careening off the road and crashing into a utility pole and a tree. Valdez was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and remains in the hospital with significant injuries. Osborne died Thursday, May 20, as a result of his injuries. The younger cyclist remains hospitalized.

«It’s incredibly difficult for the entire winery staff,» said Theresa Heredia, winemaker at Gary Farrell, adding, «We are a very tight team, and we’ve always functioned as a unit, so the loss feels immense. He was a big personality, and everyone loved him.»

Osborne, a native of Australia, worked as a mail carrier for 17 years before returning to school to study winemaking. Brent McKoy, the associate winemaker for the winery, said Osborne came to Gary Farrell in 2007 for six months as a harvest intern. He returned in 2008 for a few months before being hired fulltime in 2009.

McKoy described Osborne as a very engaging man who focused intently on technical lab analyses in the cellar. But he was also laidback and fun to be around. «He always had a smile on his face and music on in the lab,» said McKoy. «He was like my brother. We were very close after working so long together.»

Osborne is survived by his life partner, Tracy Hinman, his parents, Sean and Anne Osborne, and sister, Paula Matters, all of Adelaide. Gary Farrell’s staff are working to coordinate when Osborne’s family can come over from Australia. Travel restrictions due to COVID are delaying the process, and a memorial will likely be postponed until July.

Valdez had been following in his father’s footsteps as a viticulturist. Ulises Valdez Sr. was one of Sonoma’s most renowned vineyard managers before passing away unexpectedly in 2018. The family has scaled back the amount of acreage they farm since Valdez Sr.’s passing, and now the company faces an uncertain future. If Valdez recovers from his injuries, he faces potential manslaughter charges in addition to felony DUI.

Valdez family matriarch Adelina provided the following statement to Wine Spectator: «There’s nothing we can say to alleviate the pain and grief of the families who have lost and suffered. They’re in our thoughts and prayers.»

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