The man who most think of when they enjoy a glass California Chardonnay, Koerner Rombauer, passed away on May 10 at the age of 83.
A California native and professional pilot, Rombauer moved to the Napa Valley in 1972 and learned winemaking at Conn Creek Winery. In 1980, he founded Rombauer Vineyards, whose first vintage of Chardonnay debuted in 1982.
The great-nephew of Irma Rombauer, author of “Joy of Cooking,” Rombauer promoted Chardonnay as the lead dog for Rombauer Vineyards, and was vocal about his wine production. In 2011, as the honorary chair of Auction Napa Valley, he famously announced: “If you consider that what we’re making goes in your body, well it should taste good in your mouth, in my opinion. And a lot of people will make excuses for wine and say well, this will be good in 10 years. That’s bullshit. I decided why not make it taste good right off the bat?”
Rombauer’s generosity was another one of his defining characteristics. He founded the Rombauer Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at the University of California, and also donated to the Napa Valley Land Trust and local schools.
Those in the wine industry, such as Adam Lee of Siduri and Clarice Wine Company, thought of him fondly as a man of warmth and hospitality. After learning of Rombauer’s passing, Lee posted a memory on Facebook of when he visited California and stayed at the Rombauer Vineyards. Despite not arriving to the estate on time, “[Rombauer] got me the keys to the guest house. He told me not to worry about being late. He had made me dinner reservations at Terra, where he had an entire range of Rombauer wines lined up to taste. And he picked up the tab for everything… he taught me the meaning of graciousness and hospitality.”
That’s just one of many memories of a beloved figure, a larger-than-life personality, with larger-than-life wines.
Rombauer is survived by his wife, Sandy, children K.R. Rombauer III and Sheana Rombauer, and five grandchildren. His first wife, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer in 2002.
A memorial for Koerner Rombauer will be held at 11 a.m. on June 5 at Grace Church in St. Helena, CA, followed by a public Celebration of Life from noon until 4 p.m. at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Donations can be made in his honor to Rombauer Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at the University of California, San Francisco, V Foundation for Cancer Research or Collabria Care.