Adelle “Boots” Brounstein, 92, the owner and co-founder of Diamond Creek Vineyards, passed away on Wednesday, July 31 at the Adventist Health Hospital in St. Helena.
Brounstein died after a short illness, said her son, Philip Ross, who has been running Diamond Creek Vineyards along with his mother. “The legacy that my Mom and my late step-father, Al Brounstein, built with Diamond Creek, as the first vineyard in the state of California to exclusively produce Cabernet Sauvignon, is legendary,” Ross said.
“Mom was the heart of Diamond Creek,” said Ross, adding, “What she and Al did as pioneers, helping to bring the French idea of terroir to the Napa Valley, was extraordinary, perhaps only exceeded by the great work she did over the past decade since Al’s passing in 2006 to maintain Diamond Creek’s renowned place in the wine world.”
Others, too, remembered Brounstein, including Congressman Mike Thompson: “Boots Brounstein was a great woman, a dedicated leader in our local wine community and a dear friend. I’m thinking of her and her family and loved ones today,” he writes.
Diamond Mountain vintner Dawnine Dyer called Boots “an incredible woman and the best neighbor.” The two were fellow vintners and after Brounstein’s husband, Al, passed in June 2006, the two often shared a carpool. Dyer said, “She loved music and the theater,” and Brounstein “continued to support local artists all of her life.”
Additionally, Brounstein loved movies, was devoted to her husband, Al, and she loved to travel. “She was interested in everyone and her employees were as important to her as were her more lofty peers. She will be missed,” Dyer said.
Boots Brounstein was born on Feb. 25, 1927 in Oakland. She was raised in Los Angeles, where she met Al on a blind date in the mid-1960s. Al was a widower and Boots was a divorcee.
They married and found the property that became Diamond Creek Vineyards in 1967. They cleared the land, planted the first new vines on Diamond Mountain since Prohibition, and established the business in 1968.
Peter McCrea, St. Helena resident and former owner of the historic Stony Hill Vineyard, said like many couples who started wineries in the Napa Valley before 1970, “Al and Boots were a team. They started with a vision to make several different Cabernets based on the varied terroir of their mountain vineyard. Al had his own unique view of how Cabernets should be made, and he never varied from his vision. Those who had the patience to wait for his wine to mature were blessed. His wines were deep, full bodied, and, true to his vision, each site producing uniquely excellent wines.”
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In a March 2010 newspaper article, Boots Brounstein remembered buying the property on Diamond Mountain. “Al was shown a lot of properties. When he was shown a property on Diamond Mountain, he fell in love with it. He sought the advice of Andre Tchelistcheff and Louis Martini Jr. Al wanted to plant Cabernet, but there was no Cabernet on Diamond Mountain. Both of them advised Al to go for it. Andre said the climate on Diamond Mountain was right for Cabernet and Mr. Martini told Al it reminded him of his own Monte Rosso vineyard with its red iron-rich soil.”
Al Brounstein created four small Cabernet vineyards on the property, kept the grapes separate when they were harvested and aged and bottled them separately. At first, the single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines were selling for $7.50 a bottle. Later, the “cult” Cabernets would be the first Napa Valley wine to sell for $100 a bottle. Al maintained the wines from the Red Rock Terrace, (seven acres); Gravelly Meadow (five acres) and Volcanic Hill (eight acres) were distinct and each tasted differently. At first, production was 1,500 cases; today, the winery produces about 2,000 cases of wine.
In his 60s, Al was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in a series of fundraising events called “Diamonds in the Rough,” started in 2001, the Brounsteins raised a significant amount of money for the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale.
Phil Ross said, “Whether it was the establishing of Diamond Creek, or the battle fighting Parkinson’s , or the worldwide acclaim the winery has received, Boots and Al were truly a team like no other.”
In October 2007, Boots said she was determined to find answers to the mystery of Parkinson’s Disease.
“I don’t want anyone’s children or grandchildren to suffer,” she said in an article in the St. Helena Star. “Al had such a great attitude in the face of Parkinson’s and was so convinced that with enough funding for research we’ll eventually beat this disease. I’ve always shared that belief with him, so I’ve felt the continuation of the dinner even after we lost Al has been imperative.”
Nearly a thousand people gathered to honor Al Brounstein on July 27, 2006, shortly after his death, at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. He was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2010.
McCrea said after Al’s death, “Boots continued the winery as Al and she had envisioned. She was also a patron of the arts, particularly music. Even as she aged, she was a regular attendee at John Kongsgaard’s music series in Napa and Music in the Vineyards. She was an elegant lady, who loved life and the life she had built for herself here in the Valley.”
Boots is survived by her sons Phil and Chuck Ross, their wives Susan Kopperman Ross and Susan Black Ross, her sisters Renee and Janice, and seven grandchildren. Services were private in Los Angeles. The date for a memorial service in the Napa Valley to celebrate Boots’ life will be announced in the near future.