Davis Bynum, who made Sonoma’s Russian River Valley synonymous with Pinot Noir, died over the weekend after his long battle with cancer. He was 92 years old.
A former newspaper reporter whose father, Lindley Bynum, wrote California Wines and How to Enjoy Them, the younger Bynum tasted a homemade Pinot Noir made from a not-yet-well-known vineyard called Rochioli, planted in the heart of the Russian River Valley on Westside Road. He was hooked, and at age 40, decided to give the wine industry a try.
In a 2013 interview with Wine Enthusiast, Bynum said that in 1973 Rochioli was getting $150/ton for Pinot Noir that was largely blended into other red wines. He offered $350 to make a varietal wine and got it all.
He singled out the vineyard on the label, the first-time Rochioli was given its due, and also labeled the bottling as Russian River Valley, 10 years before it was made an official appellation. Soon after, he bought 83 unplanted acres and an old hop kiln of his own on Westside Road, and put in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Davis Bynum Winery made wine from 1973−2007 under its namesake owner. Gary Farrell was one the winemakers.
“The quality of some of Davis’s early efforts were literally breathtaking,” Farrell recalled. “I owe him much.”
Along the way, it also made Barefoot Bynum wine, which eventually became Barefoot Cellars, now owned by E. & J. Gallo. For the 52 weeks ending in May 14, 2017, the Barefoot Cellars Brands had $672. 66 million in sales, according to Statista.
In 2007, Bynum sold his family brand to Rodney Strong Wine Estates, but continued to be involved.
Bynum continued to champion Pinot Noir made from the Russian River Valley, an area at the time many resisted as being too cool. He is given credit for recognizing the region’s greatness early on.
“He championed the area more so than a lot of people did from other wineries,” noted winemaker Bob Cabral, formerly of Williams Selyem Winery, after graduating college Cabral went to Russian River Valley in the 1980s.
“He worked to make people aware of Westside Road and that part of the world,” he added, “and how special Pinot Noir from that appellation really was.”
Greg Morthole, current winemaker for Davis Bynum winery, said, “quality and craftsmanship mattered most,” to its founder who “did what he thought would create the best wines possible, and over the years he attracted a large local fan base. In this way, he was a true artist.”
Bynum’s first wife Dorothy Munson Bynum, died in 2001. He is survived by his second wife, Virginia, his daughter, Susie, and his son, Hampton.