Al Brounstein, Diamond Creek Founder, 1920-2006

Al Brounstein, the pioneering Napa vintner who founded Diamond Creek Vineyard in 1968, died Monday, June 26, at the age of 86, from complications of Parkinson's Disease.

Diamond Creek was and remains a very historic winery. It was the first Cabernet Sauvignon-only winery in California, and Brounstein took the concept of single-vineyard designation a huge step forward by dividing the small, 20-acre property on Diamond Mountain into three distinct vineyards based on soil type and exposure: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill. A fourth, Lake Vineyard, was added later; in 1978, it became the first 750 ml. bottle of California Cabernet to break the $100 threshold.

All four wines earned well-deserved reputations for longevity, at the cost of some tannic asperity in youth. In recent years, however, and for a variety of reasons, the wines seemed to be more approachable, although no less ageable. The 2002s, the current releases, which cost $175, in particular are spectacular.

Brounstein was the first vintner since Prohibition to plant vineyards on Diamond Mountain. The story goes that, when he asked Andre Tchelistcheff where he could grow good Cabernet Sauvignon, the late, great Maestro suggested the wooded slopes of that mountain, south of Calistoga and now an appellation in its own right. It's probably fair to say that, in recent years, Diamond Creek's Cabernets became overshadowed a bit by newer "cult" Cab houses, but Diamond Creek was among the original cult Cabernet in California, and Brountsein was largely responsible for that.

Courtly and accessible, he and his wife, Boots, who survives him, were always ready to open their doors and pop open a few bottles. 

Brounstein is survived by Boots, his son, Gary, step-sons Phil Ross and Chuck Ross, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The funeral will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Parkinson's Institute, 1170 Morse Ave, Sunnyvale, Calif. 94089.

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